It’s been a long time coming for Perth Glory. It’s taken seven seasons in the Hyundai A-League to earn a home final; that’s a long time to be remembering the club’s great history, which, as any footballer will tell you, means nothing.
It was difficult to know if they were ever going to make it. After a typically blistering start to season 2011/12, Ian Ferguson’s men fell away mid-season, punished by injuries and unable to put together a decent run of results to keep them in touch with the title race.
But the tide turned after the epic 3-3 draw with Brisbane Roar in week 13.
That late, great comeback against the reigning champions seemed to stoke the belief within Perth, and they won nine of their next 13 games, taking 27 points from a possible 39, scoring 25 goals in the process.
That turn-around also saved their season, and probably the job of Ian Ferguson, who has just signed a new two-year deal.
After looking like another season that could crash and burn, it’s all come good for Glory at the right time, topped off by striker Shane Smeltz returning to his devastating best just as the finals arrive.
His four-goal haul against Melbourne Victory was the perfect example of what Smeltz can do when he’s fit and getting the service he needs. It’s fair to say most A-League fans – excluding Melbourne Heart – would have been thrilled to see the All Whites striker back to his best.
As well as being Perth’s first home A-League finals appearance, Sunday’s elimination final against Melbourne will also be Smeltz’s 100th appearance. Perth fans might see it as an omen; Heart fans will just be hoping he slips on a banana skin or drops a bottle of sauce on his toe on the morning of the game.
Sunday’s game represents an interesting contrast between the league’s newest club and it’s oldest; two differing strategies and styles, and coaches who have been lauded or criticised by the football media.
Despite Glory’s history, Melbourne Heart are the more fashionable club. From the smart set-up and professional handling of a new franchise, to the imported coach who places the emphasis on youth and a more technical style, this will also be a finals debut for the Red and White, and a pass mark for the new franchise.
A win against Glory would set a new club undefeated record, and although they make the power of Glory, Melbourne have proved themselves to be resilient and often deadly.
Given the location, Perth go into the game as slight favourites but whoever wins, the presence of both in the elimination final is a vindication of their commitment and ability.