Glory set up Semi-Final showdown with Sydney FC after tense win over Phoenix
Perth Glory’s hopes of a first Hyundai A-League Championship are still alive after Joel Chianese’s goal earned them a nail-biting 1-0 win against Wellington Phoenix in Saturday’s opening Elimination Final.
Chianese was recalled to the starting line-up and repaid his coach Tony Popovic’s faith with a crisp 18th-minute strike that proved decisive as Glory scrapped through and knocked the New Zealand outfit out of the Finals Series following their first ever top-three regular season finish.
Last year’s beaten Grand Finalists used the big-match experience that their Distance Derby rivals were lacking to navigate their way through a contest where Wellington controlled possession and rained in shots on Liam Reddy’s goal but their free-flowing attack, led by Mexican magician Ulises Davila, were unable to force an equaliser.
Veteran gloveman Reddy once again delivered an outstanding Finals Series display to claw on to victory and set up a Semi-Final showdown on Wednesday night, back at Bankwest Stadium, against the Premiers and Champions, Sydney FC, who shattered Glory's dreams at Optus Stadium in last season’s big dance.
Missing powerful English striker Gary Hooper to injury, Ufuk Talay’s side spurned a series of late chances and fell short of a first post-season win since 2012, as a thrilling campaign under their rookie head coach came crashing down with five straight matches without a win.
Six-seeds Glory will need to record two more triumphs over eight days to seal a historic maiden Championship title and end coach Popovic’s unwanted Grand Final record of four straight defeats – but they will first need to avenge the heartache of last season’s finale against the defending Champions, Sydney FC.
Glory started brightest and soon had Phoenix pinned back as Tomi Mrcela headed narrowly over from Neil Kilkenny’s well-flighted second-minute free-kick but the Kiwi club hit back with full-back Callan Elliot stampeding forward to threaten and his right-sided partner-in-crime Rene Piscopo hitting a tame shot into Reddy's waiting grasp.
After Bruno Fornaroli was denied at close range by ‘Nix keeper Stefan Marinovic, David Ball came to Wellington’s rescue with an athletic goal-line clearance from Chianese's goal-bound header on 14 minutes. But there was no stopping the versatile attacker two minutes later when Chianese collected Jake Brimmer’s pass, broke free of Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and lashed in a composed finish from the edge of the area to claim his fifth goal of the campaign.
The strike proved to be a jolt for Wellington, who seized control of the contest. Perth had veteran gloveman Reddy to thank for denying Hudson-Wihongi’s flicked header on 22 minutes and thwarting a pair of efforts from Mexican playmaker Davila – one of which, a stinging strike on 41 minutes, seemed bound for the top corner of the Glory net.
Talay’s men generated 17 attempts and controlled a 68% of possession in the first half but a stubborn Glory side were digging in and disrupting play, as Wellington upped the tempo further after the interval. Jaushua Sotirio and Steven Taylor missed the target around the hour mark and Phoenix became more frantic as the 39-year-old Reddy once again came to the rescue to deny Sotirio from close range.
There were worrying moments for the New Zealand-based outfit as Talay committed players forward, with Jake Brimmer shaving the Phoenix post from a free-kick and Chianese keeping Marinovic alert with a low drive, but it was Sotirio again who came agonisingly close to a leveller when he slashed a strike wide from Elliot’s smart cutback in the 75th minute.
Ball led the charge for the ‘Nix in the closing stages and his low drive deflected up, over Reddy, and on to the roof of the Glory net on 83 minutes, before the English forward hooked a hopeful half-volley goal-wards that bounced off the top of Perth's crossbar, perhaps with a touch from Reddy's out-stretched fingers.
More last-gasp Phoenix efforts were sent towards the Perth goal as substitute Callum McCowatt dragged a volley wide in stoppage time and Popovic's warriors held on to bring a painful end to Wellington's historic campaign.
Elimination Final 2
Brisbane Roar v Western United FC
When: Sunday, August 23
Kick-off: 6pm AEST
Venue: Bankwest Stadium
Broadcast: ABC ME delayed at 8.25pm, FOX Sports 507
Stream: MyFootball Live App, Kayo Sports, ABC iView