Shane Smeltz scored a second-half hat-trick to inspire Perth Glory to a 3-0 A-League triumph over Melbourne Heart in Sunday’s A-League elimination final at nib Stadium.
Just eight days after putting four goals past Melbourne Victory, Smeltz booked Perth’s passage through to next week’s minor semi-final against Wellington Phoenix with goals in the 65th, 72nd and 92nd minutes, taking his season tally to 16 goals.
Wellington knocked Perth out of the finals race two years ago, but the Glory will be confident of avenging that defeat on their home turf.
Melbourne Heart’s loss ended the two-year reign of coach John van ‘t Schip, who will return to the Netherlands for family reasons.
Smeltz was barely sighted in a first half that failed to reach any great heights.
But the New Zealand international made up for it after the break, sending the 12,600 crowd into raptures when he latched on to a flick-on header and calmly side-footed in the first goal of the match.
Although the first goal was elementary, Smeltz’s second was far more dramatic.
After some trademark magic from Andrezinho on the wing, Smeltz sent an awkward header across the face of goal.
The ball struck the upright and bounced before being claimed by Heart goalkeeper Clint Bolton.
Smeltz appealed for the goal and the linesman agreed, with replays showing the ball had in fact bounced across the line.
The demolition job was completed in stoppage time when a beautiful through-ball from Liam Miller found a surging Smeltz, who had no problem finding the back of the net with only the goalkeeper to beat.
“Everything he touches turns to gold,” Glory midfielder Travis Dodd said of Smeltz.
Perth, playing in their first home final since defeating Adelaide United 5-0 in the 2004 NSL preliminary final, welcomed back Miller (hamstring), Jacob Burns (ribs) and Bas van den Brink (calf) from injury, while Dean Heffernan took his place at left-back after serving his one-week suspension.
The Heart were forced to field 19-year-olds Brendan Hamill and Curtis Good as their centre-half pairing after Simon Colosimo succumbed to a hamstring injury,
Good would have had his heart in his mouth in the 20th minute when his sloppy back-pass was almost intercepted by Steve McGarry.
The Glory dominated play in a scrappy opening half but failed to create any clear-cut chances, while Melbourne had even fewer looks on goal.
Their best chance came in the 28th minute, when Eli Babalj and Fred created a two-on-one situation on a fast break.
Glory defender Heffernan saved the day when his lunging effort cleared away Babalj’s dangerous square-up, while Hamill came close with a header just a minute later.
Scores were locked 0-0 at halftime, but Smeltz broke the match wide open with three goals in the space of 27 minutes.
“We couldn’t see it from the bench … but I heard from Clint it was clearly not a goal,” van ‘t Schip said of Smeltz’s second goal.
“To lose is something we didn’t want, but not playing the way we actually can was the most disappointing thing for everybody.
“We didn’t play our game. We didn’t create enough.
“I think it was a very poor game in total.
“Perth at the end deserved to win.”
Glory coach Ian Ferguson praised the influence of Smeltz.
“He’s in top form at the moment and his confidence is sky high with him, so long may it continue,” Ferguson said.
“I’m absolutely delighted.
“To get through is fantastic. It sets us up for next week.”