A record home A-League crowd of 16,707 roared Perth Glory into the finals on an unforgettable night at nib Stadium,
A record home Hyundai A-League crowd of 16,707 roared Perth Glory into the finals on an unforgettable night at nib Stadium,
Adrian Zahra and Jake Barker-Daish both finding the net in the second-half as Perth Glory claimed the point needed to ensure their involvement in the knockout phase of the competition for the third time in four seasons.
Shrugging off the absence of several key first-team regulars, the hosts dominated the high-flying visitors right from the off and should have put the game well beyond Adelaide's reach before Barker-Daish's stoppage-time leveller ensured a frantic finale.
Glory coach Alistair Edwards had insisted that his side would play for the win regardless of what result was required in terms of qualifying for the finals and they did exactly that in a pulsating first-half, throwing bodies forward and stretching the United defence at every opportunity.
The new-look front three of Nagai, Adrian Zahra and Dean Heffernan impressed with their mobility, pace and work-rate, the latter emphasising his versatility by settling seamlessly into the unaccustomed role of centre-forward.
It was Nagai who carved out the first opportunity of the night, cutting in from the left and stinging Eugene Galekovic's gloves with a fierce right-foot strike before Bruce Djite reminded Glory of United's attacking threat, firstly heading narrowly over from an Iain Ramsay corner and then being foiled by a perfectly-timed Steve Pantelidis challenge as he prepared to pull from just inside the box.
But those offensive forays from the Reds steadily decreased as the half progressed, while Nagai continued to menace at the other end, tormenting Cameron Watson and eventually tempting the hapless full-back into impeding him as he raced into the box on 25 minutes.
And even after Galekovic produced a superb save to tip his spot-kick onto the post, the Japanese appeared undaunted, flashing another shot just over the bar two minutes later and then dragging an angled effort wide having been released via a slick one-two with Heffernan.
Heffernan almost bagged his second goal of the campaign moments later, his header from a Scott Jamieson corner drifting just off target and there was still time before the break for Zahra to escape the attentions of Anthony Golec down the Glory right and whip in a teasing cross which Nagai volleyed centimetres wide of Galekovic's right-hand post.
With the tension building around the ground as the second-half got underway, the on-field narrative remained the same with Glory continuing to dominate. On 52 minutes they again came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock, Zahra turning neatly in the box only to shoot wide having been teed up by the tireless Heffernan.
But the former Melbourne Heart man was not to be denied six minutes later, this time reacting quickest to a cross driven in by McGarry and forcing the ball past Galekovic despite the best efforts of the in-form 'keeper who almost pulled off another of his trademark wonder-stops.
Zahra's spectacular summersault celebration was one to savour, as was the reaction of the home fans whose thunderous reaction tested out the foundations of the new Eastern Stand.
Glory then proceeded to keep the ball as effectively as they have all season, content to patiently build from the back and keep a tiring Adelaide side on the move.
The visitors did almost conjure a leveller on 76 minutes, Vidosic carving out an opportunity for substitute Jeronimo Neumann who just failed to claim what would have been his third goal against Glory this season when he scuffed wide from close range.
Normal service was swiftly resumed, however, with Glory again carving the Reds' defence open, this time through Heffernan, only for Steven McGarry to somehow fire wide with the goal gaping.
Clearly relishing his new advanced role, an undeterred Heffernan duly laid on another gilt-edged opportunity five minutes from the end, with substitute Daniel De Silva this time the recipient.
As the Shed prepared to celebrate a fairytale goal from the 16-year-old prodigy, however, he directed his downward header just wide of the far post.
And then came the sting in the tail as the Glory rearguard failed to clear a Watson cross and Barker-Daish found the net to set up an agonising final three minutes of stoppage time.
Hearts were well and truly in mouths when Vidosic fired a long-range free-kick towards the top corner with what proved to be the final kick of the game, but Danny Vukovic, who had barely been called into action all night, went full-length to his right to keep the ball out and his side's season alive.