Western United closed the Liberty A-League Women regular season on a high with a 2-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers on the final day.
Two goals from Hannah Keane helped secure the win and put the American back on top of the golden boot standings, although the Wanderers set up a nervy final 10 minutes when Sienna Saveska pulled a goal back.
United clung onto the win, finishing the season with a superb 39 points and joint league-best 13 wins, spread across every single opposition team in the competition.
Despite Sydney FC later clinching the Premier’s Plate on Saturday, Western United will carry confidence into the Finals Series ahead of a date with the Sky Blues for a place in the Grand Final.
Mark Torcaso was forced into one change to his starting XI as Emma Robers dropped out due to an ankle injury, but there was a silver lining in Stacey Papadopoulos coming in for her first start since early January.
Sydney Cummings, Hillary Beall and Keane all started for the 18th successive match for United, ensuring they featured in the XI in each regular season fixture.
Western United came sharply out of the dressing room to begin the game, immediately showing a heightened urgency and intensity on both sides of the ball.
Angie Beard and Tyla Jay Vlajnic were causing damage down the left-hand side, combining well before Beard was fouled on the edge of the box. Adriana Taranto very nearly found the top corner with the free-kick, brushing the top netting.
That early move set the tone for United’s attacking play, the hosts quickly looking to take control of proceedings and find an early goal.
It was Vlajnic that ultimately created the opener for United as she whipped an in-swinging corner straight onto Keane’s head, and the No.9 did the rest with a deft flick over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
Beard nearly found the net soon after with an inventive waist-high volley but Shamiran Khamis was equal to it with an acrobatic save.
United continued in search of further reassurance on the scoreboard but Western Sydney maintained a significant threat going the other way, with Sarina Bolden and Sophie Harding central to much of their good play.
The Green and Black’s defence ensured Hillary Beall was left largely untroubled in the first half, though, as United carried the lead into the break.
United burst out of the blocks yet again from kick-off as Taranto very nearly found the net after 20 seconds, but Khamis was able to reach her shot towards the bottom corner of the goal.
Torcaso’s side continued to find joy on the flanks with Vlajnic and Kahli Johnson in the thick of the action on the wings, but Keane took matters into her own hands again with just 10 minutes gone in the second half.
Seizing on some hesitation from Gemma Ferris at the back, Keane won the ball before leaving her opponents in her wake as she streamed in on goal and finished coolly underneath the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner.
That goal stretched Keane’s total to 13 for the season, taking her past Michelle Heyman and into the outright lead in the golden boot race.
But the Wanderers were not about to let up and sensed a route back into the game, continuing to search for a goal that would give them a lifeline.
Saveska found space at the top of the box and shifted the ball onto her left foot, the strike seeming to deceive Beall in the United goal as it flew into the net to create a grandstand final 10 minutes.
United ultimately held its nerve to secure an important win and one the team will look to build upon heading into the Liberty A-League Finals Series.