Perth Glory have secured an historic place in next weekend’s Granf Final Qualifer place courtesy of a thrillingly dramatic 3-2 extra-time victory over Wellington Phoenix.
Perth Glory have secured an historic place in next weekend-s Grand Final Qualifer place courtesy of a thrillingly dramatic 3-2 extra-time victory over Wellington Phoenix.
Todd Howarth was the man who wrote himself into club folklore, coming off the bench to grab the most dramatic of winners with just ten minutes of extra-time remaining. Previously Bas van den Brink had bagged his first Glory goal to hand the home side a first-half lead, but Wellington struck back through Manny Muscat and Chris Greenacre and Ian Ferguson-s men required a Billy Mehmet strike to take the game into extra-time.
In sharp contrast to last week-s cagey opening, the game was stretched and open right from the outset with plenty of goalmouth action at either end.
Within six minutes Travis Dodd sent a warning shot across Phoenix-s bows when he glanced an inswinging Andrezinho corner narrowly wide, before the visitors replied in kind two minutes later when the dangerous Tim Brown fired in a spectacular long-range half-volley that flashed over Danny Vukovic-s crossbar. Brown was again in the thick of the action seconds later as he nodded a Leo Bertos corner wide of the target before the action swiftly returned to the other end of the field.
And it was the same Andrezinho - Dodd combination that threatened the Phoenix goal once again, with Mark Paston this time forced to turn the latter-s header around the post. From the resulting corner, however, Glory made the breakthrough. Jacob Burns provided the delivery, Vince Lia inadvertently flicked on at the near post and although Tony Lochhead managed to scramble the ball off the line in the ensuing melee, van den Brink reacted first to gleefully fire into the roof of the net.
Clearly keen to build on their early advantage, the home side continued to press forward and came close to doubling their advantage as Shane Smeltz was sent clear by Liam Miller, but delayed his shot and was eventually foiled by a sprawling save from the alert Paston. Miller-s range of passing has been a joy to behold all season and he was at it again shortly before the break, this time bending in a sublime cross from a deep position, but although Billy Mehmet got a decent contact on his placed volley, it ultimately flashed wide of the upright.
Perth Glory 1-0 Wellington Phoenix
If Glory thought the Kiwi side might crumble, however, those illusions were shattered within two minutes of the re-start. Chris Greenacre started the move, releasing Bertos down the right and when Brown cleverly chested the winger-s cross into his path, the Englishman needed no second invitation to thunder the ball past a helpless Vukovic.
In keeping with the rest of the game, Glory-s response was swift, Miller this time foregoing his creator role to lash in a long-ranger that had Paston scrambling but ultimately flashed over the bar.
The Shed upped the volume sensing another goal, but were stunned into silence when it arrived at the other end. Dani Sanchez-s sweeping cross-field goal released Manny Muscat down the right and in a carbon copy of his only other A-League goal to date scored against Newcastle earlier this season, he cut inside and bent an inch-perfect left-foot shot past Vukovic.
While the home fans may have been stunned, the home players clearly were not and almost conjured an equaliser within two minutes as Paston was forced to make a spectacular save to keep out a close-range effort from Mehmet, while Burns couldn-t keep his subsequent strike from the rebound under the bar.
Then on 65 minutes it was Smeltz- turn to threaten his countrymen-s goal, but although he got up well to meet a fine cross from Andrezinho his header drifted over.
With the tension rising palpably around the ground, Glory desperately needed a cool head and Mehmet duly provided one as he restored parity on 72 minutes with the neatest of finishes. Dean Heffernan-s long throw from the left was only half-cleared by the Phoenix defence, Smeltz made a nuisance of himself to hook the ball back into the danger area and Mehmet-s side-foot volley beat Paston low to his left to send the home fans into raptures.
By this time Steven McGarry had been introduced from the bench and the Scot almost made an instant impact as he latched onto another clever knockdown from the tireless Mehmet but was slightly off balance as he hit his shot and couldn-t quite keep it on target.
Deep into stoppage time it looked as if Glory-s moment had arrived when Mehmet picked put Smeltz with a superb cross-field pass, but although Smeltz got the better of Lochhead, his tame left-foot finish was easily gathered by a grateful Paston.
Perth Glory 2-2 Wellington Phoenix
So into extra-time we went with several players from each side having received treatment for cramp in the meantime and it was Glory who looked the more likely in the opening period. On 98 minutes Mehmet fired one in from range and Phoenix were grateful to Muscat for getting a brave block in on a shot that would have had Paston scrambling. Moments later Ricki Herbert-s men again failed to deal convincingly with a long throw from Heffernan, but Miller fired the loose ball wide and then shortly before the break McGarry galloped away down the right and found Mehmet with his cross only for the former West Ham trainee man to head over.
Perth Glory 2-2 Wellington Phoenix
Glory continued to press as the shadow of a penalty shoot-out loomed large and the next serious goal threat arrived on 110 minutes as substitute Todd Howarth floated in a free-kick and McGarry-s glancing header drifted agonisingly over the bar.
But just as spot-kicks seemed inevitable the hosts finally got the breakthrough their pressure deserved and the goal was West Australian made and finished. Scott Neville was the architect, slipping a clever short pass into the path of the onrushing Howarth and he calmly beat Paston with a low shot.
Cue pandemonium all over the ground as the fans erupted, the Glory bench erupted and Howarth was booked for removing his shirt in celebration.
Five anxious minutes followed as the visitors threw everything forward in search of a leveller, but Glory hung on and the final whistle prompted scenes of celebration at nib Stadium that will live long in the memories of all Glory supporters.
Perth Glory 2 (Van den Brink 14', Mehmet 72', Howarth 112') Wellington Phoenix 2 (Greenacre 47', Muscat 55')
Match report to follow.