A second-half hat-trick from the in-form Shane Smeltz secured Perth Glory’s maiden Hyundai A-League Finals victory as they comfortably saw off the challenge of Melbourne Heart at nib Stadium.
A second-half hat-trick from the in-form Shane Smeltz secured Perth Glory-s maiden Hyundai A-League Finals victory as they comfortably saw off the challenge of Melbourne Heart at nib Stadium.
Having bagged four against Melbourne Victory last weekend, Smeltz struck in the 65th, 72nd and 92nd minutes as the hosts, who had dominated from the outset, finally found their way through a stubborn Heart rearguard to secure another home final next week, this time against Wellington Phoenix.
The starting eleven showed four changes from the side that took to the field against Melbourne Victory, with Bas van den Brink restored along with the midfield trio of Liam Miller, Jacob Burns and Steven McGarry.
And it was in the engine room where Glory set the platform for their first-half dominance.
Burns barely missed a tackle or header during the opening forty-five minutes, reducing the usually-dangerous Fred to a largely peripheral role, while Miller showed no hint of rustiness despite his lengthy lay-off, picking out widemen Travis Dodd and Andrezinho with a series of sweeping cross-field passes.
McGarry too caught the eye with his energy and mobility and he was almost gifted a goal on 21 minutes as Curtis Good under-hit a back-pass, forcing Clint Bolton into a desperate last-ditch clearance as the Scot bore down on the loose ball.
With Dodd and Andrezinho frequently swapping flanks to keep the youthful Heart defence on their toes, Glory continued to probe away searching for the breakthrough, but despite dominating in both terms of possession and territory, they struggled to carve out anything in the way of clear-cut chances.
Indeed it was the visitors who arguably came closest to breaking the deadlock before the interval as, on a rare foray into Glory-s box, Brendan Hamill flashed a header narrowly over the bar having latched onto a deep cross pumped in by his central defensive partner Good.
Hamill was then involved at the other end some eight minutes later, providing a key header to prevent Shane Smeltz from latching onto a clipped through-ball supplied by Dodd at the end of a fine passing move prompted yet again by the impressive Burns.
Half-time Perth Glory 0-0 Melbourne Heart
The half-time respite was a brief one for Heart as Glory immediately resumed normal service at the start of the second stanza, piling on the pressure and penning the visitors into their own half for long periods.
The tension grew as the second-half minutes ticked past but shortly after the hour mark Smeltz picked up from where he left off last week, showing exactly why he is the greatest goalscorer in A-League history.
Josh Risdon-s free-kick into the box was half-cleared, Burns nodded it back in, van den Brink-s flick played it into Smeltz-s path and the New Zealand international calmly swept home from close range to bag his 14th goal of the season. nib Stadium erupted as Smeltz and co celebrated in front of the packed Shed and just seven minutes later the decibel level soared again as Glory-s marquee man made it 2-0.
Andrezinho whipped in a superb cross to the far post, Smeltz got above his marker Wayne Srhoj to head goalward and eagle-eyed assistant referee Mathew Cheeseman was bang in line to correctly adjudge that the ball had crossed the line before Bolton could claim it.
With the home fans swinging into full party mode Heart tried to launch a late rally, but although Danny Vukovic was forced into his first meaningful save of the night to tip a rasping shot from Eli Babalj over the bar, there were few anxious moments for coach Ian Ferguson to endure.
And to round things off in style, deep into stoppage time Miller-s threaded pass unlocked the Heart backline and there was Smeltz to slip the ball past the helpless Bolton and make it 3-0.
The celebrations after the final whistle were long and loud and the countdown to next week-s Minor Semi-Final is well and truly under way.