Western United has booked a spot in its first ever A-League Men Grand Final with a 4-2 aggregate win in the semi-final against Melbourne Victory.
Aleksandar Prijovic was the star man in the second leg on Saturday night as he opened the scoring inside the first 20 minutes before Jake Brimmer equalised with a free-kick before half-time.
The Serbian striker added his second goal of the match soon after the interval and set up the third for Lachie Wales in the 78th minute.
Dylan Wenzel-Halls added the icing on the cake deep into injury time when he slotted into an empty net, sparking wild scenes of celebration at AAMI Park.
John Aloisi was able to name an unchanged starting XI from the first leg on Tuesday, with the added boost of Steven Lustica returning to the matchday squad.
That saw Wenzel-Halls and Jerry Skotadis start for the third consecutive match in the Finals, while Josh Risdon once again took the captain’s armband.
Both sides started the game at a fast pace with Western United needing a goal to get back in the tie and Melbourne Victory wanting a goal to potentially win it.
Wenzel-Halls was putting a lot of early pressure on the Victory defence but the hosts held a threat with pace and direct running on the counter attack.
Victory had a particularly menacing looking breakaway just past the opening quarter of an hour but United got back in numbers to remove the danger before eventually building up to the opening goal moments later.
United bided its time in possession before working the ball out to the left-hand side where Connor Pain cut onto his right foot and floated an excellent cross into the box which Prijovic thumped into the net with his head at the back post.
Victory began to increase the pressure as United fell deeper in defence, keeping the ball in their attacking third for a sustained period of time around the 30th minute, but a number of key blocks and clearances eventually got the ball away for Western United.
Victory edged back in front in the tie just before half-time as Leo Lacroix fouled Marco Rojas on the edge of the box allowing Brimmer to score from the resulting free-kick.
Prijovic was inches away from getting his second of the game almost straight away as Risdon clipped a ball over the top of the defence, but the Serbian just couldn’t reach the ball as he slid in to prod it towards goal.
There was room for a bit of controversy before half-time when Alex King was directed to the VAR monitor to review a potential Victory penalty some time after the incident occurred, but the on-field referee ignored Shaun Evans’ recommendation and deemed Risdon’s contact on Roderick Miranda to be inconsequential.
Wenzel-Halls thought he had found United’s crucial second goal in first-half stoppage time when he powered an excellent header past Ivan Kelava, but the linesman correctly ruled the No.9 offside.
United has made a habit of making fast starts throughout the Finals and did so again in the second half in this match, with Prijovic scoring his second of the game in the 49th minute.
It was once again down to an outstanding delivery – this one a precise ball by Wenzel-Halls from the right wing which Prijovic buried with the studs on his left boot as he stretched on the floor.
The match continued with its ebbs and flows as both sides traded forays forward until a spectacular final 15 minutes.
The Western United away end went into pandemonium in the 78th minute when Lachie Wales made it 3-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate.
Prijovic was yet again a key protagonist as he gave Wales a delicate lay off just inside the box, which Wales came on to and thumped into the net via a deflection from Matthew Spiranovic.
That set up a hectic final 10 minutes as Melbourne Victory needed to throw everything at goal to get back in the tie.
Jamie Young saved another Brimmer free-kick before substitute Francesco Margiotta scraped a shot onto the post and Chris Ikonomidis smashed the subsequent rebound over the crossbar.
Young was on hand again in injury time to deny Brendan Hamill from long range, and the United goalkeeper had to stay alert as he spilled the ball but quickly stuck out a foot to whip the ball away from danger.
As Victory made one last final push, United got possession on the break and streamed down the other end as Pain set up Wenzel-Halls to roll the ball into the net and well and truly cement Western United’s place in the A-League Men Grand Final.
The Green and Black will meet either Melbourne City or Adelaide United in the Grand Final at AAMI Park on Saturday May 28, with kick-off at 7:45pm