Perth Glory rode their luck all the way to the A-League grand final and inflicted more penalties heartbreak on Central Coast in Saturday’s preliminary final at Gosford.
The Glory triumphed in a penalty shootout, after the match was locked at 1-1 after 120 minutes, to advance to a showdown with Brisbane Roar next Sunday in what will be their first grand final appearance.
Premiers’ Plate winners Central Coast were denied after defender Patrick Zwaanswijk missed a second-half penalty and a host of other chances went begging.
Mariners’ coach Graham Arnold was also incensed that Shane Smeltz’s first-half equaliser to Adam Kwasnik’s opener was allowed to stand despite clear suggestions of offside in the build-up.
It was a case of deja vu for Arnold, after the Mariners were beaten in last year’s grand final against the Roar in a shootout after conceding two late goals.
Arnold said his men were “much better” than the Glory and he could not hide his frustrations at officialdom, even fronting referees’ boss Mark Shield after the match.
“I think we didn’t take our chances at the end of the day. You’ve got to take ownership of your own performance,” Arnold said.
“But overall, that’s why I’m a traditionalist. I look at the Premiers’ Plate with more value than the trophy for winning the grand final.
“Finals games are lotteries. It comes down to things you can’t control, like decisions.
“That’s two (bad decisions) in two weeks and, even if I look back at last season’s finals series, we copped three.”
With speculation of a possible move to Sydney FC, Arnold dropped a hint he might leave the club, saying “Maybe it’s time I went to a big club, because the small clubs don’t get the decisions” before claiming it was tongue-in-cheek.
The Mariners have to bounce back quickly for Wednesday’s Asian Champions League clash away to Korea’s Seongnam Ilwha.
Glory coach Ian Ferguson admitted luck came into the result to some extent but was thrilled for his players.
“I’m delighted with the effort and the commitment the boys have shown this year and they deserve it,” Ferguson said.
Kwasnik was immense for the home side but could only capitalise on one of his many chances as he handed the Mariners the lead from close range in the 33rd minute.
That was shortlived, Smeltz equalising two minutes later despite replays showing provider Billy Mehmet was just offside in the build-up.
A stack of chances went begging in the second half before Zwaanswijk thumped his penalty into the cross bar after Steve Pantelidis brought down Kwasnik in the box.
Perth could have stolen victory late in regulation time but Smeltz’s unmarked header was saved by Mat Ryan.
However, the Glory had the final say as Jacob Burns slotted the winning penalty after Michael McGlinchey had missed for the Mariners, and they’ll head to Brisbane full of belief.
“Anybody can beat anybody in the finals,” Ferguson said.
“We’re going to go there with the attitude and confidence that we can beat them.”