The man who scored the most famous penalty in Australian football history has led underdog Western United to a historic A-League men’s crown.
The sun will rise in the west and set in the east of Victoria, as one reign begins and another comes to an end.
Given no chance at the start of the season and little heading into finals, Western United has upset the applecart, knocking off defending champions Melbourne City to claim its maiden championship and complete coach John Aloisi’s incredible redemption arc.
Both sides were willed on by two terrific sets of active support at either-end, as 22,495 fans packed into AAMI Park for the first-ever all-Victorian A-League Men’s Grand Final – but ultimately, it was the fans in green and black who will be singing long into the night.
Just like he did a week earlier in the semi-final against Melbourne Victory and under the bright lights of the UEFA Champions League just over five years ago, Aleksandar Prijovic rose to the occasion – literally and figuratively – backing up his own words of being a player for the big occasion.
The Serbian forward may not have scored the opener, but it was his presence which helped it on its way, rising highest to put the City defence under the pump – leading to the ball bouncing in off an unaware Nuno Reis for an own-goal – which was ultimately the quickest goal in Grand Final history.
On the half-hour mark, Prijovic did what he does, putting his predatory striker instincts to good use and being rewarded on the scoresheet.
Initially, the 32-year-old was deemed off-side, but after a quick review from the VAR, the call was overturned by referee Chris Beath, as a result of Connor Metcalfe touching Connor Pain’s rebound from his shot – which then fell into the path of Prijovic.
After halftime, City found a new lease of life and began to pepper the United goal after only registering a single shot in the opening 45, but was unable to breach the resilient Western wall.
The 2-0 win caps off a sensational turnaround for United, who even without a home-ground, did what no one thought was possible heading into the season – going from 10th to champions in under 12 months and becoming the second-team to win it from outside the top two.
Not only is it the club’s first-ever piece of silverware in only its third year of existence, it’s also the first for Aloisi, who has re-emerged from the coaching wilderness to lead United to the promised land.
City, on the other hand, fall short of history, missing the chance to become the first team to win back-to-back premierships-championship doubles and continuing its lean streak against United – a run extending to five straight games over two seasons.
While Prijovic was getting it done at one end, it was Leo Lacroix who was patrolling things at the other.
The one-time Swiss international, who has been a revelation at United since arriving at the club, put in arguably one of his best performances of the season to date by completely blanketing reigning Golden Boot winner Jamie Maclaren who wasn’t given an inch throughout the 90.
Lacroix, along with centre-back partner Tomoki Imai have been sensational all finals series, forging one of the great defensive partnerships in the competition which has ultimately gone a long way in helping United achieve the championship.
It was the ‘almost’ flashpoint moment of the first-half, which almost heaped further pain on City heading into halftime.
Carl Jenkinson and Connor Pain had been in a battle up and down the left-flank for the entirety of the opening 45, with the latter’s energy and speed allowing him to get a leg up in the battle against the former Arsenal fullback – who struggled to keep up with the veteran.
Jenkinson’s frustrations boiled over as he clashed with Pain, seemingly headbutting the former Victory winger just in-front of the benches. However, after a review by the VAR, Jenkinson was allowed to play-on only momentarily as he was substituted at the interval.
MELBOURNE CITY 0
WESTERN UNITED 2 (Reis OG 2’, Prijovic 31’)
Venue: AAMI Park
Originally published as A-League Men’s Grand Final: Western United defeats Melbourne City in historic decider