Western United will play an Elimination Final next week after a 2-1 defeat to Adelaide United means the Green and Black will finish this Isuzu UTE A-League Men season in third place.
United made a fast start in the match with Dylan Wenzel-Halls netting the opener almost straight away before the hosts hit back through Javi Lopez.
John Aloisi’s men continued to press for the go-ahead goal but ultimately Ryan Kitto was the one that found it for the visitors early in the second half.
The Green and Black will now almost certainly meet Wellington Phoenix next weekend for a spot in the semi-finals after a record-breaking regular season.
Aloisi was forced into two changes from the 1-1 draw with Newcastle Jets. Wenzel-Halls replaced Adisu Bayew who succumbed to an injury in that clash, while Jerry Skotadis came in for the suspended Leo Lacroix.
That necessitated a move to centre-back for Rene Krhin and meant the bench had a considerably fresh-faced look to it, with none of the six outfield players older than 22.
Western United got off to the perfect start in the match when Wenzel-Halls opened the scoring just five minutes in.
Lachie Wales won the ball back on the right-wing and had green grass to run into before cutting back to United’s No.9, giving his teammate the simple task of passing the ball into the net.
United continued to up the ante, winning the ball in good areas of the pitch and looking to get on the front foot, with Wenzel-Halls clearly in the mood.
Adelaide got back into the game at the most fortunate time as Western United was reduced to 10 men with Nikolai Topor-Stanley receiving treatment for an injury. There was nothing fortunate about the finish, though, as Lopez sent a curling shot into the top corner off the post.
In a double blow for Aloisi’s men, Topor-Stanley succumbed to that injury and was forced off the pitch, allowing Ben Collins to enter the fray for his A-League Men debut.
Adelaide began to control proceedings slightly from there on but didn’t manage to create many meaningful chances, with United largely limiting the hosts to long-range efforts, while Aleksandar Prijovic had two big chances in succession but was thwarted by Joe Gauci.
Jamie Young was alert as ever in goal for the Green and Black and made one particularly strong save, plunging to his right to beat away a strong header from George Blackwood and ensuring the score remained 1-1 at the break.
United came out of half-time looking to get back in front in the match and very nearly did so when Wenzel-Halls latched on to a long ball in behind.
The centre forward set it back for Neil Kilkenny to run onto and the midfielder decided to aim for Connor Pain rather than shoot himself, and Lopez got back just in time to hook it out for a corner before Pain could apply the finish.
That missed chance proved pivotal as Adelaide went up the other end and took advantage with another long-range strike. This time it was Kitto who cut inside from the left, swung his opposite foot at it and managed to bend the ball into the far corner.
United did its best to get back in the game with a couple of chances falling the visitors’ way. Prijovic very nearly caught Gauci off his line when he shot from behind halfway, but the ball bounced just wide after evading the retreating Adelaide keeper.
Soon after that, Jerry Skotadis did brilliantly to pinch the ball from Juande before teeing up Prijovic in the box, but the Serbian was once again denied by the outstretched hands of Gauci.
There was another debut for a United youngster as Rhys Bozinovski became the Club’s third-youngest ever player when he replaced Skotadis in midfield.
Young made another save in injury time to keep the deficit at one as United ultimately fell to defeat, meaning Aloisi’s men will have to go through the Elimination Finals next week.