Western United have booked their place in a huge A-League Semi-Final against the Melbourne Victory after sweeping aside the Wellington Phoenix with a 1-0 victory after an early goal.
After a relatively nondescript opening to proceedings, the home team sprung the game to life with an opening goal. Western’s marksman Aleksandar Prijović struck a sublime finish after being given time to turn and smash the ball into the roof of the net after a Ben Garuccio cross.
Prijović often looked to use his physicality to overpower Wellington’s centre-halves while strike partner Dylan Wenzel-Halls sought to occupy the last line and make runs off the shoulder. In addition, the Garuccio to Prijović combination became commonplace as Western looked to overload numbers on the left hand-side before using the Serbian’s aerial threat and artistry in the box to carve out opportunities.
In a fashion characteristic of Western this season, they resorted deeper after the opening goal in the 10th minute and looked to break in transition. Aside from a strong palm from Reno Piscopo’s well taken shot from outside the box in the 6th minute, Jamie Young was rarely tested early in proceedings.
The second half began much the same as the first as Wellington maintained control of possession but struggled to manufacture many shots on goal. Western continued to break in transition as Prijović’s used his intelligence to drop deep, face forward and make decisive passes to his teammates.
This came to the fore in the 53rd minute when the Serbian laid off a great chance to Connor Pain in transition before the mercurial winger spurned the chance with Oli Sail bearing down upon him.
The chances kept coming for Aloisi’s side as they found joy down the right hand side with Neil Kilkenny become ever more active as the game grew on. Inexplicably, the score remained 1-0 despite a superb delivery from Lachie Wales putting the ball on the platter for Wenzel-Halls before his header was blocked by Tim Payne.
However, after bringing James McGarry and Ben Wine onto the pitch, Wellington appeared to find a new lease of life as they started to put pressure on Western’s back four. In fact, they thought they had equalised in the 71st minute when McGarry’s header looked set to sail into the top corner before Young pulled off one of the saves of the season and clawed the ball off the line in mid-air.
Unfortunately, after a tumultuous season – most of which was played away from home – Wellington could not muster the attacking acumen to outmuscle the home side as Western United deservedly booked their place in the Semi-Finals against the red hot Melbourne Victory.
CHARACTERISTIC COMPOSURE FROM WESTERN
Despite the Nix holding the lion’s share of possession, Aloisi’s side seemed happy to maintain a compact block and surrender the ball to the opposition – at times almost daring Wellington to commit numbers forward.
Oftentimes, Wellington’s spells in possession were truncated and passive as Clayton Lewis and Nico Pennington struggled to gel. With one always dropping in between the centre-halves in possession and the other positioning himself between Western’s midfield and attacking line, neither demonstrated the confidence nor capacity to make daring passes that could disorganise Aloisi’s side.
Much has been said of Talay’s capacity to inculcate a strong brand of transition football at the New Zealand-based side and Aloisi clearly made a point of attempting to curb that. The hard work of Jerry Skotadis and Neil Kilkenny in midfield left makeshift centre-half Rene Krhin well protected while Leo Lacroix was at his imperious best.
Never one to depart from his ‘Plan A’, Aloisi deserves credit for his side’s organisation and the manner with which they work to keep the ball away from their penalty area.
YOUNG SAVE THE GAMECHANGER
After six minutes, Jamie Young made a crucial save to deny Piscopo from opening the scoring for the away side. Shortly after, Western opened the scoring and they chose to do what they do best – sit deep and defend resolutely.
Given the amount of games that Western has won by a narrow scoreline after scoring the opening goal, Young’s save was one which significantly altered the state of the game. Even in the second half, Young was almost impenetrable at the back for the home side as he made some superb stops to keep Wellington at bay.
SAIL KEEPS NIX IN THE GAME
One of the shining lights behind Wellington’s Finals tilt, Oli Sail was no different against Western as he kept his side in the game making seven saves among a flurry of opportunities from the home team. Having led the league for saves per 90 (minimum 1000 minutes played) during the regular season, Wellington’s captain made a string of good saves in the second half to give his side a chance going forward.
Despite Sail’s heroics, Wellington could not find a way to breach Western’s last line. WIth that said, however, their captain can hold his head high for the way he has played throughout the season and during their sole finals fixture.
A-League Men Elimination Final, AAMI Park
Western United 1 (Prijović 10m)
Wellington Phoenix 0
Image sourced – Western United
What the coaches said:
Western United (John Aloisi):
“We were really happy with the win because it’s our first finals home game…we’re trying to create history with the club.
“We’ve had our difficulties…but [the players] never put their head down, they keep playing.”
Wellington Phoenix (Ufuk Talay):
“Disappointed that we lost the game, I think Jamie Young was probably the best player on the park…we created enough chances to get ourselves back in the game.
“They showed the resilience and perseverance to get where we got to this season.”