Western United is through to the Australia Cup quarter-finals for the first time after downing Gold Coast Knights 2-0 in a thrilling Round of 16 clash on Wednesday night.
Both sides traded chances in the first half and it took until the final 20 minutes for the scoring to be opened. After an outstanding performance on debut, Oliver Lavale was credited with the goal as he bundled the ball in on the goal line.
It was a special night for United’s youngsters as Matthew Grimaldi confirmed the result in injury time with a lovely finish on the break, marking his own debut with a moment to remember.
The Green and Black will face Sydney FC away from home in the last eight as the race for the first trophy of the season continues.
John Aloisi made one change to his starting XI with Western United Academy star Lavale coming into the line-up for his senior debut.
Grimaldi stepped onto the bench after signing his first professional contract during the week, while Noah Botic was absent due to international duty with the Olyroos.
Gold Coast Knights started much the more comfortable side on their home turf, immediately putting United under pressure in the opening exchanges.
Bradden Inman had a big chance when he kept the ball under pressure before opening up for a shot, but he dragged his effort just wide of the left-hand post.
That post then came to United’s aid when Max Brown struck it with a brilliant first-time volley before Tom Heward-Belle produced a stunning save to deny Inman on the rebound.
United began to settle into the contest and looked to get on the ball in the final third. Michael Ruhs came close when he drew an unorthodox save from the Gold Coast keeper from his long-range strike.
The Green and Black thought it had the lead on 18 minutes when Riku Danzaki turned in Lachie Wales’ saved effort on the rebound, but the Japanese was denied his first United goal by the offside flag.
It was an end-to-end first half but despite plenty of chances at both ends, the game was still awaiting its first goal when Adam Kersey blew for half-time.
The opening to the second half was nowhere near as chaotic as the beginning to the first half with United able to calm things down and hold more possession early on.
Gold Coast continued to have a lot of joy from corners and nearly opened the scoring from one just before the hour mark.
An in-swinging delivery pinned Heward-Belle right on top of his goal line before a goalmouth scramble ensued, eventually ending with a shot off target and a United goal kick.
A brilliantly worked free-kick finally found the opening goal on 72 minutes as Wales clipped the ball to Josh Risdon at the back post and the captain put his header in a brilliant position across the face of goal.
Lavale slid in to apply the finish and while it initially seemed like it would go down as an own goal, the post-match record credited the 18-year-old with his maiden goal.
Aloisi’s men then went in search of a second goal to put the tie to bed and Grimaldi emerged from the bench to put in a superb cameo in midfield.
The midfielder’s first effort stung the palms of the Knights’ goalkeeper, his second thumped against the crossbar but it was third time lucky for the 19-year-old on his senior debut.
With Gold Coast throwing men forward, Ruhs sped away on the break and squared the ball to Grimaldi who showed excellent composure to control, hold his nerve and chip the ball over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net, wrapping up a big win.
That goal capped off an excellent night’s work for United, who navigated a difficult test to come away with a superb victory.