Having sealed Western Sydney's progression to the A-League grand final with a sublime finish, Shinji Ono has won praise from opposing coaches Tony Popovic and Mike Mulvey
|By JOHN GRECO
Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic admits he is continually amazed by the class of Shinji Ono after the Japanese midfielder's wonder goal helped the Wanderers book a spot in the A-League grand final.
Ono put an incredible exclamation mark on what has been a fairytale debut season for the Wanderers with a sublime strike to ensure a 2-0 win over Brisbane Roar on Friday.
Picking up possession after a flick-on from Croatian striker Dino Kresinger, Ono controlled the ball with a feathered touch before spotting Roar goalkeeper Michael Theo slightly off his line and curling a chip over his head.
It will go down as one of the A-League's great goals and ensured the Wanderers have the opportunity to add the championship to the Premiers' Plate they wrapped up a fortnight ago.
They will play the winner of Sunday's second preliminary final between Central Coast and Melbourne Victory.
While Popovic has been in awe at some of Ono's exploits this season, he could not help but be impressed by the latest illustration of his brilliance.
"When you see goals like that, that is special," a beaming Wanderers boss said afterwards.
"It's why marquees are so special in this league.
"He's been out of the team for a few weeks now with his injury and to come in, in a pressure game with that intensity and to produce like that is why he's a special player."
Brisbane coach Mike Mulvey conceded the Wanderers fully deserved their victory but felt his side were starting to get on top before Ono's moment of magic.
"What an outrageously brilliant goal... that was the nail in the coffin for us, it knocked the wind out of our sails," Mulvey said of Ono's goal.
"We had got back into it, were creating chances but he scores a goal like that. It's moment of genius and it's not the first time he's done it.
"We didn't give him that much space, we didn't back off too far and he just picked his moment.
"It's a terrible thing for me to witness for our team but it's a great thing for Australian fans to witness, someone that can do something like that."
It was a cautious start by both sides, but the Wanderers took the initiative on the quarter-hour when Kresinger produced a classy back-heel finish from Mark Bridge's cross.
The visitors pushed hard for an equaliser after the break before Ono's goal ensured there would be no comeback.
The only downside for the Wanderers was the late red-card to winger Youssouf Hersi, which rules him out of next Sunday's grand final.
But a proud Popovic could not fault his side, who are now just one win away from completing a remarkable debut season.
"The players have been doing this for a long time now... they are proving continually that they can handle [whatever is thrown at them]," he said.
"They can handle the expectation, they can handle the pressure and they keep producing.
"But there's one more to go and we know there will be a huge contingent of our fans at that grand final and we hope to give them something more to cheer about."
Midfielder Aaron Mooy [knee] was not risked for the Roar clash but Popovic is confident he will be right to go for the decider, while defender Jerome Polenz is a 50-50 chance after he was forced off in the first half with a recurrence of his quad injury.