The Western Sydney Wanderers will play in the 2012/13 grand final after a highly professional 2 - 0 victory over defending champions Brisbane Roar in the semi-final at Parramatta Stadium. A first-half strike from Dino Kresinger and a wonder goal from Shinji Ono led the Premiers Plate winners into the big dance, but the win was soured by a late send-off to crucial midfielder Youssouf Hersi. They will face either the Central Coast Mariners or Melbourne Victory.
It was a frenetic start from both sides, unsurprising given the enormity of the occasion. Brisbane had much of the early possession, settling into their passing style, while Western Sydney remained typically rigid and well structured in defence.
Impressive feet from Youssouf Hersi led to a couple of inviting free-kick opportunities, but they amounted to nothing in a tightly contested opening quarter-hour.
The first meaningful shot of the contest came from Wanderers’ striker Dino Kresinger. From a standing start on the edge of the box, the big number nine hit a decent driven effort on target.
Moments later, Kresinger was in the right place at the right time to put Western Sydney 1 – 0 ahead in the 16th minute.
From a positive Hersi run, Mark Bridge played a dangerous low cross to Kresinger, who cleverly flicked the ball passed the helpless Michael Theo.
It was just the second goal for the centre-forward this season. The first came against Adelaide United in a 6 - 1 win just prior to Christmas.
The Roar continued to own around sixty percent of possession but were unable to breakdown the A-League’s best defence. The Wanderers looked dangerous on the counter, with Hersi’s speed causing headaches for Mike Mulvey’s men.
Full-back Shannon Cole’s wonderful stepover and cross from the byline almost allowed Hersi to strike, while Bridge’s strong effort off one step was parried by Theo.
Jerome Polenz was surprisingly substituted in the 41st minute, replaced by Tarek Elrich in the right-back position. Polenz didn’t appear to be in any physical discomfort and was a valuable contributor in his defensive post.
The latter stages of the first half were dominated by Western Sydney, who looked capable of putting the game beyond Brisbane’s reach. Although, against the tide, Brisbane could have been given the chance to restore parity.
Luke Brattan was nudged by Yianni Perkatis just inside the box, but the penalty shouts were waved away by referee Alan Milliner.
Hersi failed to hit the target from the top of the box in stoppage time, however he was arguably the most valuable contributor in the opening stanza. Shinji Ono’s class was also coming to the fore, setting up numerous forward thrusts from midfield.
Both sides came strongly out of the blocks following the interval, creating quality goalscoring chances.
Hersi provided a wonderful cross to the back-post that marginally eluded Kresinger, while Ben Halloran fired a powerful swerving shot that appeared to be tipped wide by an outstretched Ante Covic despite no corner being awarded.
Another promising build-up by the Wanderers led to three shots in quick succession from Bridge, Mateo Poljak and Perkatis, with Theo the savior again for Brisbane.
Then it was the Roar’s turn. Mitch Nicols played a delightful ball across the face of goal that couldn’t find a teammate, and he turned provider again to setup Halloran for a glaring sight at an equalizer. He only managed to shoot straight at Covic.
The game was becoming increasingly stretched, a rare sight in a match featuring the Wanderers, particularly at Parramatta Stadium.
Bridge almost doubled the Wanderers’ lead with an audacious right footed curling effort and moments later, Ono capped off a brilliant performance with an even more audacious and clinical finish to make it 2 – 0 in the 71st minute.
On the edge of the box, the Japanese international chipped with his left boot into the far corner – his eighth and undoubtedly best goal of the campaign.
Just as the result looked beyond doubt, Hersi threw a spanner into the works with a rash sliding challenge that prompted his second yellow card and marching orders. It gave Brisbane just over 10 minutes to reverse the two-goal deficit.
Pushing numbers forward to try and provide an unlikely turnaround, Roar full-back Ivan Franjic’s cross almost led to one of the required goals. Enigmatic striker Besart Berisha, closely checked all game, was well marked and sprayed his shot over the bar.
In the 94th minute, a scrambling ball inside the box fell to substitute Kwame Yeboah, but he could only hit the side netting.
Western Sydney’s defence stayed resolute, keeping the match at 2 – 0 and marching into the grand final in their first season.