Tony Popovic praised his side’s ability to stay calm and composed during Brisbane Roar’s early onslaught before Western Sydney Wanderers’ incredible extra-time Hyundai A-League semi-final win on Sunday night.
Wanderers' season looked over and they appeared headed for a heavy defeat as they found themselves 3-0 down inside 23 minutes at Pirtek Stadium.
But buoyed on by more than 20,000 fans and inspired by hat-trick hero Romeo Castelen, the Wanderers prevailed 5-4 over Roar after 120 minutes - it was one of the greatest Hyundai A-League games ever.
“We started so brightly and before you know it we were down 3-0. For us on the side-line it was about ‘let’s not throw it away’ and hope that the players can keep a clear, calm mind and work their way back into the match,” Popovic told reporters afterwards.
“Had we conceded a fourth by trying to force things I’m sure it would have been game over. It was crucial to stay calm.
“Once we got that first one you could see that the belief grew within the group and also in the stands. Slowly but surely we got back on top.
“We’ve had some memorable nights here,” he added.
“Our crowd was magnificent again, they helped us get back into the game, they helped us at the end to close it out.
“It was a special night off the field and on the field I’m sure it will go down in the history books ...”
While substitute Dario Vidosic scored the decisive goal in the first period of extra-time, there’s no doubt Castelen was the man-of-the match.
He started the comeback with a cracking free-kick midway through the first half, before adding two more after the break to edge the home side in front for the first time.
“He was outstanding and he’s been very good for us [all season],” Popovic said of the Dutchman.
“I think this last six weeks he’s really stepped it up, physically he’s on top of his game and he was a constant threat.
“Even in extra-time he was causing them problems…I’m delighted for him of course.”
The Wanderers now move into next Sunday’s decider against Adelaide United at what will be a jam-packed Adelaide Oval.
This will be the club’s third decider in four seasons, although both other grand finals have ended in defeat.
With so many new faces in the squad, Popovic insists this one isn’t about redemption but hopes the club can finally land the one piece of silverware that’s so far eluded them.
“I’m proud of everyone at the club, not just the team but I think this football club is special,” he said.
“I’m honoured to be the head coach. Just to take our team to another final, take our fans who I’m sure will go in huge numbers and I’m sure they will make a lot of noise next week to try and help us get that one thing that’s eluding us.
“We’ve got a few survivors from season one here but we need this group to make history in their own right and we have a chance for that next week.
“It will be a special week. I want everyone to enjoy it at our football club but Sunday there is one job to do and that’s to win.”