Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
Western United goalkeeper Jamie Young makes a crucial save to fend off an attempt by Phoenix.
At AAMI Park, Melbourne: Western United 1 (Aleksandar Prijovic 10′) Wellington Phoenix 0 HT: 1-0
Wellington Phoenix’s season is over after Western United goalkeeper Jamie Young pulled out all the stops to deny them a place in the A-League Men semi-finals.
The Phoenix was unable to get past the veteran goalkeeper after falling behind early in the elimination final, with Western taking a thrilling 1-0 win – their first over the Phoenix since their first-ever meeting in 2019 – thanks to Young’s heroism between the sticks.
Young produced a save from the season contender in the 71st minute as he displayed amazing reflexes to fend off a strong header from substitute defender James McGarry.
McGarry looked destined to score and tie the game to 1-1 when he made good contact with a cross from Tim Payne from the right and sent the ball away from the veteran Western shotstopper.
† Wellington Phoenix one win away from a home play-off at the end of a challenging season
† History on Wellington Phoenix’s side en route to A-League Men’s elimination final
† The penalty that saved Wellington Phoenix and sank Sydney in the 2012 Elimination Final
But Young had other ideas: he ducked to the right and chopped the ball with one hand before he could cross the line.
“It was a good header from Jimmy and a great save from their goalkeeper,” said Phoenix coach Ufuk Talay.
“I think he made some very good saves tonight and kept them 1-0.
“I think he helped them get the result at the end of the day.”
Western coach John Aloisi compared Young’s efforts to the legendary save of England goalkeeper Gordon Banks who stopped Brazilian Pele’s header at the 1970 World Cup.
“It was like a Gordon Banks rescue, wasn’t it?” said Alois.
“It reminded me of that. I wasn’t alive at the time, of course, but I’ve seen that rescue many times, when Pele had that head and Banks saved him.
“It was an incredible save. He clearly has the reflexes there and to put that strong hand around the post was impressive.”
The Phoenix continued their record of losing every game when they conceded the first goal this season, with Aleksandar Prijovic’s attack in the 10th minute proving decisive.
The early goal came when Gael Sandoval showed no urgency to take out Ben Garrucio, giving the western left-back time to deliver a dangerous ball to Prijovic, who was lurking at the back post.
Prijovic controlled the ball before slashing it past a helpless Oli Sail from the right side of the goal.
Talay thought it was a soft goal to concede.
“We didn’t put enough pressure on the ball carrier, which can happen at the end of the day, but we still had enough numbers in the box to handle the delivery.
“But I don’t think we cleared the ball well enough and it fell on them and it was a good finish.
“I was disappointed that we conceded early, but we had a lot of time to get ourselves back into the game and we had plenty of opportunities to do that.”
The Phoenix started the game promisingly with their best first half shot at six minutes when Reno Piscopo tried his luck from the edge of the penalty area.
But Young did well to go low to his right and clear the ball in a corner.
Piscopo came close again from a great distance early in the second half, but his shot, which dropped in the last second, was stopped by the woodwork.
The Phoenix had a few more chances to equalize from the set-pieces in the final five minutes, but couldn’t find the breakthrough they needed to take the game into extra time.
They have now failed to make it past the first round of the play-offs in their last four attempts, including two during Talay’s tenure.
Despite the disappointing result, Talay said he was still proud of the Phoenix for finishing in the top six after being away from New Zealand for most of the season due to international travel restrictions.
“I’m very proud of the group,” he said. “The perseverance and resilience they have shown to even reach this point and play final football, on that side I can’t complain, I’m just disappointed with the result.”
The big moment
Western got off to the perfect start when the ball fell friendly to Prijovic after a beautiful cross into Garrucio’s penalty area and the great Serb made no mistake, hitting the roof of the net.
Where the match was won
The Phoenix have lost every game when they conceded the first goal, so they faced an uphill battle as Prijovic opened the scoring for Western from the right side of the penalty area after just 10 minutes.
Player of the Day
Young did everything he could to prevent the Phoenix from scoring, including making a stunning save to reject McGarry midway through the second half.
the big picture
The Phoenix’s season should still be considered a success after overcoming so many hurdles to finish in the top six and qualify for the final series, but this feels like a missed opportunity. The Phoenix had beaten Western three times this season, but failed when it mattered most.
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