Seeing Brisbane Roar hoist the Premier’s Plate the night before must have been a deflating sight for the Western Sydney Wanderers.
For so long this season have they been in contention, only to slip away at the vital stage. Unfortunately for them, Mike Mulvey's side didn’t so much relent as crank up the gears.
Consequently, there was a sense of the underwhelming around Parramatta Stadium at kick-off on Sunday – the real question being how flat the home side would be as they welcomed the A-League’s worst side, Perth Glory.
But this Wanderers team remains built on a mix of professionalism and discipline, with any signs of slackness a fast path to the wrath of coach Tony Popovic.
Besides, Brisbane’s win had meant Melbourne Victory had lost and so a simple proposition unfolded for the Wanderers. Defeat the league’s bottom side and an invaluable place in the top two – where they have resided since round two until last week – would be theirs again.
The Wanderers certainly started with the more attacking intent, flooding down the right and left flanks, looking to stretch the visitors’ defence. It worked, albeit without reward for the first 40 minutes.
Youssouf Hersi hasn’t always been at his best this season but he was giving young Jack Clisby a torrid time, nipping in, darting out, charging forward and being a general menace whenever the ball met his feet.
Hersi had two of the best chances of the half, the first from a wonderfully dug-out cross from Shannon Cole, which floated over Jack Duncan, who proceeded to tip over Hersi’s resulting header. The Dutchman should have scored when he was through on goal minutes later, only for Duncan to block his effort and the rebound was squandered.
Tensions bubbled away for a time, no surprise for a side that counts Jacob Burns – who grew up only down the road – as their spiritual leader. Perth right-back Matt Davies picked up a card for halting Mark Bridge, drawing exasperated cheers from the crowd and Popovic alike. Moments before, the coach was hammering the fourth official at what he felt was the one-sided decision-making.
The pressure was at breaking point for Perth but just as the half-time respite was coming into view, they cracked.
Polenz meandered down the right before cutting inside, and while his first effort was blocked by Clisby, the ball popped up delightfully for the German, who volleyed in a low, bouncing shot.
The second half ambled without intent until the hour mark, when Mark Bridge broke forward. He stood up Davies, dummied, and then cut onto his right, curling a shot around Duncan. Call it his signature move, with the finish very much the sign off on all three points.
In a possibly concerning sign, central defender Matthew Spiranovic came off shortly after, and spent time chatting to the physio on the bench. Lacopo La Rocca filled in at centre-half and substitute Shinji Ono took Aaron Mooy’s place at number 10.
Less than 24 hours before he gives evidence on the accusation of allegedly abusing Sydney FC’s Ali Abbas, Brendon Santalab headed for the bench, a solid shift without reward. Tomi Juric, a more natural finisher, was given the opportunity to crush Perth in the final 20 minutes.
He wouldn’t require much of an invitation. Hersi, causing yet more trouble, made it deep into the box before cutting a sharp ball out. Juric positioned his body in waiting and snapped his effort into the roof of the net.
While there would be no silver plate to play with at full-time, second spot, at least for now, is some consolation. Especially when there’s still a bigger prize on the line.