Ballarat is a long way from Bilbao but Spanish star Iker Guarrotxena was right at home as he led Western United to a statement 4-1 victory over A-League newcomers Macarthur FC.
Macarthur’s Spanish duo Benat Etxebarria and Markel Susaeta have more accomplished resumes but it was United’s own Basque signing — who never made a La Liga appearance for Athletic Bilbao — who put his name in lights.
Guarrotxena opened the scoring with a delightful solo effort in the 26th minute then turned creator for Besart Berisha’s tap-in on the stroke of half-time, with second-half goals to Dylan Pierias and Berisha rounding out the rout.
For his first A-League goal, Guarrotxena played a one-two with Steven Lustica, then ghosted past Etxebarria and rifled a low shot into the bottom corner.
Four minutes later, United came perilously close to doubling their lead. Connor Pain whipped a tantalising ball towards the near post, searching for Berisha, but Bulls defender Aleksandar Susnjar got a crucial foot in the way.
In the 45th minute, Guarrotxena casually turned on the ball and curled a sublime ball across the field to Diamanti. The United skipper took stock of onrushing Bulls goalkeeper Adam Federici and coolly squared for Berisha to tap home.
The Bulls sparked into life after half-time. Striker Matt Derbyshire cracked a shot onto the bar in the 49th minute, Etxebarria fired over two minutes later and James Meredith had a shot cleared off the line in the 53rd.
A minute later, Diamanti slipped through a ball for Pierias to turn on the afterburners and snag United’s third — on his 21st birthday — with Meredith injured in pursuit. There was a lengthy VAR review for a potential foul earlier in the play, but referee Jonathan Barreiro upheld his decision.
United made the result a certainty in the 66th when Guarrotxena took a lovely touch in traffic and curled a close-range shot onto the post, with Berisha on hand to bury the rebound.
Berisha’s second goal was his 138th A-League strike, taking him past Rod Brown and into outright second on the all-time Australian national league scorers’ list, behind only Damian Mori (240).
Derbyshire headed home in the 91st minute but it was little consolation for Macarthur, who spurned the chance to consolidate second spot, while United kept in touch with the top six.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)