It was two years in the making, but Perth Glory finally got their revenge over Wellington Phoenix with a thrilling 3-2 extra-time triumph in Saturday night’s A-League minor semi-final at nib Stadium.
Glory were left heartbroken in 2010 when they were knocked out of the finals race via a penalty shootout against the Phoenix.
But this time it was Wellington who were left to feel the pain, with substitute Todd Howarth’s 112th-minute winner sending Perth through to next Saturday’s preliminary final, where they will take on either Brisbane or Central Coast.
Glory defender Bas van den Brink scored the game’s opener in the 13th minute, but the 13,695 crowd were left stunned when goals to Chris Greenacre and Manny Muscat gave Wellington a 2-1 lead after 55 minutes.
However, there would be another twist in the tale, with import Billy Mehmet scoring the equaliser in the 72nd minute after a beautiful double-touch from Shane Smeltz in the box.
Smeltz, who had bagged seven goals in his previous two matches, had a rare off night, wasting three golden chances.
But Howarth, a defender by trade, showed him how it’s done, tucking away the winner deep into the second period of extra-time to send the Glory through to their first ever A-League preliminary final.
Wellington defender Ben Sigmund infuriated Glory players during the week when he claimed Perth were merely a one-man band led by Smeltz.
Sigmund backed away from the claims pre-match, saying: “to be honest a journalist sort of made that one up. Whoever wrote it has caused a few fights.”
Whatever the case, the comments fired up the Glory early on, with the home side creating numerous opportunities in an entertaining first half.
Mark Paston did well to keep out Travis Dodd’s glancing header in the 12th minute, but the Phoenix custodian was helpless a minute later when van den Brink pounced on Tony Lochead’s goal-line clearance to bang home the Glory’s opener.
A charging Smeltz should have done better with a one-on-one opportunity against Paston in the 18th minute, while Mehmet almost scored with a wonder volley in the 34th minute when Glory skipper Jacob Burns delivered an inch-perfect lob into the box.
Chances were few and far between for the Phoenix in the first half, but whatever was said in the half-time break seemed to work a trick.
The visitors were back on level terms in the 47th minute when a beautiful chest down from Tim Brown allowed Greenacre to score.
And when Muscat found an acre of space on the right, cut inside and then put a curling effort past a diving Danny Vukovic, it looked as if Wellington would steal victory.
But Mehmet’s equaliser and Howarth’s late winner ensured Perth’s fairytale season would continue for at least another week.
Brisbane and Central Coast face off on Sunday, with the Mariners needing to turn around a 2-0 deficit from the first leg.