Like their Grand Final counterparts, Perth Glory also came into the A-League season with a new start.

Following the departure of Kenny Lowe as their manager, Tony Popovic was appointed as the new boss of the Western Australian club.

His selection was a strong one, however Perth also made key acquisitions to their squad. Firstly, their defence was bolstered by the addition of Ivan Franjic, Tomislav Mrcela, Matthew Spiranovic and Jason Davidson. Brendon Santalab and Juande also came into the squad, with Neil Kilkenny, Diego Castro, Andy Keogh and Liam Reddy among the many that extended their contract with the club.

Off the field, the Glory announced Tony Pignata as their new CEO, who previously helped Sydney FC achieve their success in recent seasons.

The attention was on Perth in the early part of the pre-season, when Chelsea came to Optus Stadium to face the club. Chelsea prevailed 1-0 in front of a massive crowd of 55,000 people.

Their FFA Cup run ended prematurely shortly after however, falling 1-0 to Melbourne Victory in their round of 32 match at Dorrien Gardens.

With many thinking that another long season was to come, the Glory did not lose a game until round nine of the A-League, with wins away to Melbourne Victory, Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets being highlights.

24-year-old Chris Ikonomidis was integral during this period, netting multiple goals which led to him being called into the Socceroos squad for the Asian Cup.

Their first defeat of the A-League season came against Sydney FC in December, however this spurred them on to a 13-game unbeaten streak that lasted until the end of March.

The Glory were unstoppable during this period and produced a series of strong performances. They overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Western Sydney Wanderers in January to win 4-3, while they outclassed Sydney FC 3-1 and beat Melbourne Victory 2-1 on their own turf again. Many had now realised that the Glory was back in Perth and Popovic’s men would be a threat during the finals.

They fell to the Victory at home at the end of March, however, were able to secure the Premiers’ Plate with two rounds remaining. As a result of this, Perth have now qualified for the Asian Champions League for the first time in their existence.

A 5-0 thrashing of the Wellington Phoenix signalled to the rest of the competition just how serious they were heading into the finals.

Perth had the luxury of a week off in the first week of finals, where they faced an Adelaide United side coming off the back of a 120-minute match.

Despite being up 2-0, Adelaide managed to come back and equalised in dramatic fashion at the end of normal time.

Scott Neville gave the Glory the lead again, however Michael Marrone levelled the scores once more and sent the match into penalties.

With last season’s semi-final between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory in mind, the Glory would have felt nervous, given that their place in the Grand Final was not secured despite finishing the regular season on top of the table.

The penalty shootout was one of the most dramatic finishes to an A-League match, with five consecutive misses by both teams. Goalkeeper Reddy was the hero for the Glory, while Adelaide goalkeeper Paul Izzo performed remarkably to try and win United the shootout.

It was scenes reminiscent of the 1999/2000 NSL Grand Final between the Glory and the Wollongong Wolves, however Perth was able to get the job done this time.

With the Glory in the Grand Final again and back into the spotlight, it will be a special week for Western Australian football fans. The celebrations would continue for many months to come should they succeed on Sunday.

Despite going down to Sydney FC twice this season, Perth have also beaten their opponents and the massive home crowd expected at Optus Stadium will give them a push and an advantage.

If they go down however, they should be congratulated for their strong campaign and there will be hope and belief that they can go one better the following season.

Regardless of what happens, Glory fans can now know that their side is back at the summit of Australian football.

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Tim Sperliotis
tsperliotis@gmail.com

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