Western United has confirmed its place in the Isuzu UTE A-League Men Finals with a gritty 2-0 win over Macarthur FC at UTAS Stadium on Tuesday night.
A tense first half saw the sides head into the break locked at 0-0, but Connor Pain found the opener soon after the restart with a strong left-footed volley.
Macarthur pushed for an equaliser but United clinched the result right at the end as Aleksandar Prijovic stroked the ball into an empty net after Filip Kurto had pushed up for a late Bulls corner.
The win ensures that United will be in the top six come May and also breaks a new club record for most wins in a season – this the 13th of the Green and Black’s 2021/22 season.
John Aloisi opted to go with a near identical team after the 6-0 thrashing of Perth Glory on Saturday night, with just the one change to the starting XI.
Rene Krhin came into the starting lineup in place of Dylan Pierias, with the rest of the squad backing up after a 72-hour turnaround between games.
Western United was out to back up its big win over Perth Glory and started the match with a positive intensity, looking to play on the front foot and take the initiative.
But it was Macarthur that created the first big chance of the contest when James Meredith robbed Leo Lacroix of possession before scooping a shot over the bar after receiving a return pass from Ulises Davila.
United’s left-hand side ripped Perth apart on Saturday and Pain was lively in the early stages, getting a sharp shot off to force a strong save from Kurto.
The opening half hour turned predominantly into a midfield battle with limited chances at either end, though Jamie Young was forced into a good save to flip an Adrian Mariappa header over the crossbar.
Lachie Wales had arguably the biggest opportunity of the opening 45 minutes when Steven Lustica played him clean through on goal, but his final touch was just too heavy and took his momentum into Kurto before he could get a shot away.
Charles M’Mombwa missed a back post header from close range for Macarthur as the match approached half-time, with both teams heading into the break likely feeling they could easily be ahead or behind in the match.
The second half exploded into life immediately as United carved out two great chances to open the scoring.
The first fell to Krhin who burst through with a run in behind but couldn’t finish off before Prijovic was denied twice on subsequent follow-up attempts.
Almost immediately after that Connor Pain had a huge chance with his head after Tomoki Imai picked him out with a superb cross, but Kurto was equal to the close-range effort with an excellent save.
Macarthur still possessed a threat on the counter-attack and were able to get forward in response, but it was the Imai-Pain link-up that produced the game’s first goal just before the hour mark.
Imai found more space down the right-hand side after a period of sustained pressure from the hosts and sent another outstanding cross towards the back post, with Pain arriving unmarked and lashing a crisp volley into the back of the net.
United had no time to celebrate as Macarthur went up the other end in search of an equaliser, and Lachie Rose almost supplied it with a header in the box but Young made a wonderful close-range save to keep it out.
Mariappa was sent off with around 20 minutes to go when he dragged down Steven Lustica and received a second yellow card, and that decision opened the game up on both sides.
Rose continued to be a threat for Macarthur, who also threw on Tomi Juric, while Pain came close to adding a second on two occasions – one with another header saved by Kurto and one with a left-footed strike that rolled narrowly wide of the post.
Kurto was in fine form against his former side and turned a long-range Prijovic effort onto the crossbar to keep the visitors in the game approaching the dying minutes.
The goalkeeper came up for a series of Macarthur corners deep into stoppage time, and when United finally got the ball away the game was wrapped up.
Neil Kilkenny picked up the ball on the run and played Prijovic running into an open goalmouth, and the Serbian rolled the ball home with his left foot to sew up the three points and a finals berth.