April 26, 2014 – 9:14PM
Youssouf Hersi delivers a telling first-half strike to send the Wanderers ahead in the first half. Photo: Getty Images
Western Sydney Wanderers have reached the A-League grand final for the second successive year after toppling the reigning champions Central Coast Mariners.
Two defining moments by star winger Youssouf Hersi propelled the A-League’s youngest club to the season decider at the expense of a club fast becoming their fiercest on-field rivals.
Western Sydney were well supported at Pirtek Stadium. Photo: Getty Images
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.
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.
Defensive midfielder Mateo Poljak surged forward and responded to the home fans’ cry for ‘‘shoot’’ but his long-range effort forced a comfortable save from Mariners goalkeeper Liam Reddy. It finally arrived on the half-hour mark – Mark Bridge shot from outside the box was palmed away by Reddy but only so far as Brendon Santalab, who hit back with an immediate low cross to Hersi at the far post.
Injury concern: Mark Bridge left the pitch in the second half with an ankle injury. Photo: Getty Images
The Dutch winger provided a simple finish and celebrated by diving into the sea of red and black supporters that nearly swallowed his tiny frame.
The tide continued to surge in favour of the hosts and Shinji Ono came close to doubling their tally minutes later.
The Japanese star struck a superb free kick that was destined for the near corner but Liam Reddy outperformed Ono with an even better save, clutching the ball with two hands mid-air to hold firm before the break.
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 on to 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.
As the clock ticked away against their season, the Mariners eventually became more experimental in attack and took the game to the hosts. A wicked Mitchell Duke attempt from distance almost levelled the score as a late bend fooled Wanderers keeper Ante Covic, although his fumble was collected before the ball crossed the line.
At the other end, sluggish defender gave the Wanderers two chances to seal the result but Hersi’s close-range header was narrowly wide while an unmarked Santalab couldn’t provide a finish at the far post.
Hersi, playing in perhaps his last home game for the Wanderers, supplied perhaps 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.
Source : The Sydney Morning Herald