City fend off resilient United to seal club-first Grand Final appearance
Melbourne City are into their first-ever Hyundai A-League Grand Final after defeating a gallant Western United 2-0 in a tense Semi-Final at Bankwest Stadium.
United impressed throughout the opening hour of play but a Jamie Maclaren penalty and Tomoki Imai's own-goal sealed City's path to their first appearance on the Hyundai A-League's biggest stage.
The competition newcomers came into the contest with City as genuine underdogs and their chances seemed all that slimmer when experienced defender Andrew Durante was exempt from Mark Rudan's starting 11.
With all eyes on the strikers at both ends, it seemed Maclaren would be first to write his name into the script when he netted the opening goal of the game, before an offside call on Lachie Wales in the build-up put an end to City's celebrations.
United excelled in the moments surrounding Maclaren's offside opener in the first-half; long-range left-footed strikes from Josh Risdon and Max Burgess highlighted the best of their first-half chances but City stopper Tom Glover handled both of those efforts with relative ease.
City emerged from the break a livelier outfit and almost took the lead when Florin Berenguer nutmegged Risdon and sent a close-range attempt wide of the mark, but from then on United reasserted their dominance, camping outside City's box and calling Glover into even more crucial blocks.
After soaking up waves of Green and Black pressure, City finally managed to gain the ascendancy thanks largely to Maclaren, who won a spot kick from a clumsy Aaron Calver tackle and buried the subsequent penalty past Filip Kurto to put the favourites in the lead.
With the lead in their hands and the pathway to a club-first Hyundai A-League Grand Final clearing ahead of them, City then proved their Championship credentials by turning their slender advantage into a two-goal lead.
Richard Windbichler was credited by his City teammates for a headed goal off a Craig Noone corner but, in reality, the ball hit the back of the net thanks to deflection off United defender Imai, extending City's lead to two and confirming their pathway into the Grand Final.
Early Maclaren strike ruled offside
The Hyundai A-League Golden Boot winner thought he had his 23rd goal in 24 games when he swept a deflected Wales strike past defender Imai and into the back of the net.
Kurto had done well to get off his line and sprawl in front of Wales' initial strike but Maclaren was quickest to react, getting to the loose ball to score what he thought was the all-important opening goal.
But Wales was caught offside in the build-up, getting ahead of United's defensive line to connect with a Maclaren flick on before driving toward goal and creating the scoring chance.
Risdon, Burgess test Glover from similar angles
United's best chances of the opening half both came in similar circumstances when Burgess and Risdon fired left-footed strikes from distance to test Glover in City's goal.
The Australian under 23 international was up to the task of keeping the Green and Black out on both occasions, diving to his left to twice stifle the ambitious attempts from distance.
Berenguer wasteful with goal at his mercy
City's number 10 did all the hard work when he played the ball through Risdon's legs to set up a clear sighter on goal.
But the class which helped Berenguer create the chance evaded him when it mattered most. Positioned on the left-hand side of the box, the Frenchman dispatched an attempt on goal which faded past the right post.
Glover comes up big for City once again
United's push for an opening goal would not have been nearly as much of a challenge if not for Glover in City's goal, who kept his team in the game once again with a terrific block from close range to deny Steven Lustica.
The chance came after a prolonged spell of pressure on City's defence; Alessandro Diamanti found Connor Pain and his header was flicked on by Besart Berisha to Lustica at the back post.
The United midfielder flicked an attempt toward goal but Glover was quick to get a palm on the ball and divert it out for a corner.
Maclaren punishes costly Calver mistake to send City toward the Grand Final
City appeared second-rate in comparison to the Green and Black throughout the majority of the contest, but that didn't stop them from taking the lead through a Maclaren spot kick.
The decision to award the penalty came after a clumsy challenge from Calver who laid a boot on Maclaren's standing leg from behind the City number nine.
Maclaren struck the ball into the bottom-left corner from the penalty spot to net his 23rd goal of the season and put City on the path toward victory.
Imai own-goal puts result beyond doubt
Any signs of life in a comeback were quashed when a dangerous corner from Noone found its way into the back of the net off the head of United defender Imai under extreme pressure from Windbichler.
The City players embraced their Austrian defender as the ball struck the back of the net but he knew next to nothing about the goal which travelled goal-ward off the head of Imai crunching into Windbichler's back.
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