Western Sydney Wanderers will have a chance at redemption after reaching the A-League grand final for the second successive year with a result that had more than a tinge of revenge.
In earning another tilt at the title, the Wanderers knocked the crown off a team who are fast becoming their fiercest on-field rivals, champions Central Coast Mariners.
The two killer blows were from star winger Youssouf Hersi, who struck the Wanderers first and provided the second to send a packed Pirtek Stadium into delirium as a club that didn't exist two years ago sealed their second shot at glory.
"I'm happy for them that they get a chance straight away," said Wanderers coach Tony Popovic. "These players get an opportunity one year later to play in a grand final again and this time we have to perform better. If we perform better, I'm very confident that we give ourselves a very good chance of holding up that trophy."
The Mariners’ game plan was clear before a ball had even been kicked as coach Phil Moss deployed another defensive formation while all outfield substitutes were attacking players.
It was no surprise, given the fatigue of travel they were no doubt still battling while coming up against the might of Western Sydney Wanderers at their intimidating home in Parramatta. But even so, their deep tactics were all too frequently punished by opponents who appeared far more fresh.
Wanderers captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley was the first to rattle the nerves of the travelling supporters, who were left as shaken as the crossbar that prevented his header from opening the scoring.
The breakthrough arrived on the half-hour mark. A Mark Bridge shot from outside the box was palmed away by Liam Reddy but only so far as Brendon Santalab, who hit back with an immediate low cross to Hersi at the far post.
The Dutch winger provided a simple finish and celebrated by diving into a sea of red and black supporters that nearly swallowed his tiny frame.
When the Mariners did earn a breakthrough, they didn’t have the nerve to make the most of their chances. Bernie Ibini, who again looked their most dangerous, latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the box and despite room to shoot and space to move into, his indecision was punished by the resulting loose footing.
Hersi, playing in perhaps his last home game for the Wanderers, supplied what could be a final gift for his club in the form of a superb through ball that split the Mariners defence to find the onrushing Iacopo La Rocca.
Few saw the Italian bursting through the park, not even the fans who had their backs turned doing their ‘‘Poznan’’, but with only the 22 players’ eyes on him, the midfielder slotted the ball with the composure of a striker to seal the Wanderers passage to yet another grand final.
It was a killer blow to the brave Mariners, who had landed in Australia just 36 hours before. Although Moss hailed their spirit, he couldn't help but lament what could have been had they been able to prepare fully.
"I can’t speak highly enough of my players," he said. "I think you can see tonight that there were some mistakes out there that came down to mental fatigue and that came down to travel."