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May 22, 2022   |  9:40AM AET

A picture you never thought you’d see explains a game you can’t believe

A picture you never thought you’d see explains a game you can’t believe

Neil Kilkenny, an A-Leagues hard man, was in tears. 

Jamie Young, a goalkeeper, sprinted 100 metres to pile into a celebration. 

Joshua Risdon, who underwent surgery two months ago, just completed 180 minutes in five nights. 

Dylan Wenzell-Halls and Connor Pain proved decisive in a contest featuring Ben Folami, Marco Rojas and Chris Ikonomidis. 

A side missing Alessandro Diamanti, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Rene Krhin and lost Steven Lustica again after he came on, outwitted Melbourne Victory. 

Melbourne Victory brought on a Socceroos international from the bench; Western United summoned 18-year-old Rhys Bozinovski. 

Lachlan Wales, who was playing National Premier League 2 with Central Coast just four years ago, proved the match winner. 

And John Aloisi, a coach no one wanted to touch for three years, has made a Grand Final. 

There was so much about Saturday night’s stunning 4-1 Semi Final second leg that just didn’t make sense, as Western United progressed 4-2 on aggregate.

Especially so, once Jake Brimmer slotted his world class free-kick past Jamie Young to put Victory back ahead in the tie. 

Normal business ought to have resumed then. Melbourne Victory, in front of their boisterous support, looked on track to completing the extraordinary turn around from last to Grand Finalists. 

But it didn’t happen. From the moment Aleksandar Prijović opened the scoring, the script felt different on Saturday night.

You could sense it too, amongst the fans, clamouring for their players to shoot as raids amounted to nothing; groaning after a misplaced pass, or watching a growing anxiety emerge as the equation, and reality, became clearer amongst their players. 

This was Western United’s night.

It was no accident. 

“We wanted to come out fast, put them on the back foot,” Aloisi assessed. 

“They might have felt they have one foot in the grand final…there might have been nerves, we don’t know, but we wanted to make sure if there were any nerves we put them under pressure … and we did that. 

“We said to the boys to remain calm…then we said: we’ll get our chances, we’re well and truly in it, don’t panic, stick to what we’re doing and the result will be there in the end.”

Photo by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline)

Although it is a team full of contradictions, they have coalesced into a formidable football unit – one which has a reputation for being defensively well organised and frugal, but in the clutch moment, proved ruthless, and decisive with four goals from six attempts on target and an Expected Goals mark of 0.91, with Prijovic in predatory form. 

If anyone sums up Western United, you could say it is 22-year-old midfielder Jerry Skotadis. 

He has been at the club since 2019, no nonsense, under the radar. Amidst injury troubles and the maelstrom of the finals, he has sat in the middle of the park and just worked. In lieu of their bigger names, Western United rediscovered form that had left them as they slipped out of the top two. 

“It just shows the group how strong they are,” Aloisi said.

“They know their roles, they know what to do. Jerry has hardly played this season and we’ve put him in the last three finals games but he hasn’t missed a beat…. He’s wanting to learn, wants to get better.” 

Western United, as a club, have so far to go in their journey. Aloisi himself says that. Moments like this can only help. Playing on a Grand Final stage can only assist in capturing hearts and minds. 

Photo by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline)
Photo by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline)
Photo by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline)
Photo by Rachel Bach (@bythewhiteline)

But as a football team, they are formidable, re-built from third last in 2021 with an eclectic group of players from abroad, and around the A-Leagues. 

“They defend very well,” Tony Popovic said while digesting the defeat.

“On the break, they scored two goals which changes the game; they took their moments well. We had a lot of attempts, without troubling the keeper too much. That’s how it was.” 

Pain, Wales and Wenzell-Halls, an unlikely trio for an unlikely side, were key to that, and over 180 minutes arguably won the arguable the key battle, along with Ben Garuccio and Risdon, against Messrs Rojas, Folami, Geria and Davidson. A calculated, but well executed, tactical gamble. 

“It was decisive,” Aloisi said. “Because we end up setting up goals and scoring from those areas; but we knew on the flip side it was one of their strengths as well.” 

“On our side it is one of our strengths; our wide players work hard and are also dynamic when they go forward. It helps when you have fullbacks who can go forward as well.” 

And so, Grand Final week beckons. Aloisi told his players inside the dressing room that no one outside that inner sanctum gave them a shot. 

“We knew we were going to get there,” he told his players. 

“Enjoy tonight, but it is not over, we want to win the Grand Final.”

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