Mandurah City survived an outrageous late charge from Wanneroo City on Wednesday night to book their place in the Division One/Two Promotion & Relegation Play Off Final.
Having won the first leg 2-1, Mandurah – despite having had Maxwell Snelson sent off in the first half – had all but put the tie to bed with three further goals to lead 5-1 on aggregate.
Yet astonishingly Wanneroo scored three goals in the five minutes allotted for injury time as they attempted to claim the unlikeliest of rescue acts.
PLAY OFF FINAL DATES
First Leg: Sunday, September 30 – Swan United v Mandurah City (Swan Italian Club, 3pm)
Second Leg: Wednesday, October 3 – Mandurah City v Swan United (Securitas Protect Stadium, 7.30pm)
In the end the clock was against them and it was the 10-man Dolphins who hung on for a 3-3 draw and 5-4 aggregate win to set up a two-legged final against Swan United.
City’s experienced player-coach Alexander Grayson could barely contain his excitement post-match, heaping praise on his youthful team.
“To go a man down against an experienced side like Wanneroo and then defend as well as we did, I’m speechless, I’m just so proud of the boys,” Grayson said.
“Forget how the game finished with those three late goals, I’m just absolutely buzzing with the performance and delighted with the positive way we have finished the season.”
Joseph O’Brien, who scored two goals in the first leg, repeated the trick on Wednesday night and Grayson praised his display.
“He’s frightening, he’s got so much ability and physicality, he’s so tough for opposition teams to defend against,” Grayson said.
“He’s been sensational all season and for him to be doing what he’s doing after some tough times for the club, it is fantastic.”
Wanneroo City coach Tim Kantor wasn’t fooled by the closeness of the result and said Mandurah deserved to progress.
“The scoreline tonight was flattering for us to be fair to Mandurah, the way it looked to me was that they had more to play for than us,” Kantor said.
“We were playing for the possibility of promotion and they were playing for survival, we just seemed a bit flat at the end of a long season and there didn’t seem to be that will from our players tonight.”
Grayson gave himself a rare start for Mandurah and it paid dividends when the former Liverpool Academy striker scored courtesy of a thunderous left-footed shot on 21 minutes.
Wanneroo adopted an aggressive approach and continually tested referee Anthony Walsh’s patience, however it was Mandurah who were reduced to 10 men when Snelson saw red for violent conduct on 27 minutes.
Mandurah’s defence has become a powerhouse of late, conceding just twice in their previous five games, and they continually forced Wanneroo to utilise long balls as a means to attack.
Wanneroo started to dominate possession but struggled to create clear-cut chances, their best opportunity in the first half coming when a deflected Nathan Scully strike forced a diving save from Mandurah keeper Kieran Shail.
First leg hero O’Brien entered the fray for Grayson shortly after half-time and the silky striker didn’t take long to find the net again.
O’Brien’s pace and skill provided consistent problems for an ever-rising Wanneroo defensive line and on 60 minutes he doubled Mandurah’s lead by beating the offside trap and shooting past keeper Andy Williamson.
A sumptuous through ball from Michael De Beliss put O’Brien through on goal again five minutes later and he repeated the dose by beating Williamson to give Mandurah a seemingly unassailable lead.
But Wanneroo kept pressing and they opened their account on 90 minutes when towering centre-back Kye Douglas got forward to head home a Shakeel Alexander cross.
It was soon a double for Douglas when four minutes later he headed home a Jack Hailstones cross, before a goalline scamble just seconds after the restart saw Alexander tap the ball home and create the most dramatic of finishes.
Despite vociferous visiting support, it wasn’t to be for Wanneroo as Walsh blew for full-time and sent the home fans into ecstasy.
It has been a difficult past two seasons for Mandurah City. They were relegated from the NPL WA last season after an injury ravaged campaign and have struggled with inexperience and inconsistency in State Division One this year, finishing second bottom. Perhaps they have found their form at just the right time.
Mandurah City 3 (Grayson 21min, O’Brien 60, 65)
Wanneroo City 3 (Douglas 90, 90+4, Alexander 90+5)
Mandurah City win 5-4 on aggregate
Securitas Protect Stadium
Wednesday, September 26
MANDURAH CITY: 1. Kieran SHAIL (20. Niall DIXON 78) 2. Mitchell FIRTH 3. Jeffrey BRIGHT 4. Matthew STARES 5. Maxwell Snelson 6. Aidan CLARK 7. Joshua WARDEN 9. Michael DE BELISS 10. Cohen AITKEN (17. Dylan URQUHART 52) 12. Alexander GRAYSON (11. JOSEPH O’BRIEN 46) 16. Reece ALLAN
Substitutes not used: 13. Regan DAVIDSON 14. Jack WILD
Yellow cards: Aitken 28
Red cards: Snelson 27
WANNEROO CITY: 1. Andy WILLIAMSON 4.Dave WHILLIANS 8. Kye DOUGLAS 9. Scott JOHNSON 11. Nathan SCULLY (35. Flynn NOLAN 47) 16. Connor LYNCH (7. Jake HAILSTONGS 63) 21. Ash CORKER 23. Godfrey ASIMWE 26. Matt FRANKEN (30. Shakeel ALEXANDER 66) 36. Gareth LLOYD 40. Adam O’NEILL
Substitutes not used: 13. Ryan BROWN 59. Joe ALLSOP
Yellow cards: Scully 32, Franken 36, Corker 42
Red cards: Nil