Harry Kewell of the Heart shoots for goal in his farewell game. Photo: Getty Images
Melbourne Heart’s name and colours may never be seen in the A-League again but in their final game of the season on Saturday night the players flew their flag with pride.
But the defensive frailties that have dogged them all season appeared in the final 10 minutes and left them with yet another loss.
The Heart lost 3-2 to the finals-bound Western Sydney Wanderers at AAMI Park as Wanderers locked in second place on the ladder and direct passage to the second week of the A-League finals.
After Heart led 2-1 with 80 minutes played, late goals from Brendan Santalab in the 81st minute and Youssuf Hersi in the 86th minute gave the Wanderers all three points in front of 10,003 fans.
With Harry Kewell making his farewell along with former Holland international Orlando Engelaar, the Heart had every reason to get a result and with the eyes of new owners Manchester City omnipresent, all those without contracts had much to prove as well.
Man City is reportedly keen to install the name Melbourne City and their famous sky-blue jerseys next season.
While Kewell was the centre of attention forming some impressive combinations with Engelaar and Stefan Mauk, Wanderers departing import Shinji Ono set up the first goal for the visitors as his lofted free kick was headed into goal by defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley in the 28th minute for a fitting 1-0 lead.
But the Wanderers couldn’t take control of the game and Topor-Stanley received a yellow card for hacking down Kewell soon after the goal.
In the 35th minute Kewell drew a foul on the right wing then got up quickly to take the free kick, passed to Engelaar who steadied himself then rocketed a sublime left shot low off the left post and into the net for 1-1.
Australian football will miss Kewell but the Heart will truly miss Engelaar whose creativity and scoring ability were only on show in the final months of the season after he broke his leg before the first match.
Wanderers striker Tom Juric threatened late in the first half but, despite finding space, his shots from outside the box missed.
The second half was welcomed in with some crushing tackles from both sides and Hersi, Patrick Kisnorbo and Ben Garuccio all earned yellow cards for poor tackles.
Kewell looked to have his chance at a fairytale goal on 62 minutes when Aziz Behich worked into the left touchline and pulled back a low ball that deflected to Kewell inside the box.
Kewell turned and volleyed the ball with pace but his 2006 Socceroos World Cup teammate Ante Covic turned spoiler in the Wanderers goal with a stunning, leaping save.
On the following corner, Covic was again reaching for the crossbar, turning over a pacey Jonatan Germano header that was surely bound for goal.
The Wanderers drew a penalty on 69 minutes after Heart defender Rob Wielaert and Germano tangled with Mateo Poljak, bringing him down.
But Ono’s penalty hit the crossbar and that reprieve was all the Heart needed as on 71 minutes Jason Hoffman dribbled towards the box and hit a left-footed strike that deflected off the back of a Wanderers’ defender and past Covic for a 2-1 Heart lead.
The Wanderers put super-sub Santalab into the game with 13 minutes left.
Santalab was soon on the scoresheet in controversial circumstances; as the ball came into the box he appeared to push Wielaert off balance, which left him open to volley home a goal to make it 2-2 with 81 minutes gone.
On 85 minutes, the Heart were unable to clear the ball in the box after a prolonged Wanderers possession and Hersi stripped the ball from Germano and smashed it home to make it 3-2.
Santalab clashed with Behich in the final seconds and received a yellow card, making for a sloppy ending to a historic occasion.
Western Sydney Wanderers 3 (N Topor-Stanley, B Santalab, Y Hersi goals) d Melbourne Heart 2 (O Engelaar, J Hoffman goals) at AAMI Park on Saturday night. Crowd: 10,003.