Gold Coast United exorcised their demons of last season with a last-gasp Dino Djulbic header bundling Melbourne Victory out of the A-League finals.
With a tense affair between the two sides looking destined for extra time, defensive lynchpin Djulbic rose to meet a perfect corner from German import Peter Perchtold and tucked his header away brilliantly into the top left-hand corner of the net to seal a 1-0 triumph in sweltering conditions at Skilled Park on Sunday.
The win gave Miron Bleiberg’s men their first ever finals win and erased the memories of last season’s penalty loss at home to the Newcastle Jets in the opening week of knockout action – but it could have been an entirely different story had the visitors made the most of their chances.
Victory looked dangerous in a tense first half and by just the sixth minute, Victory had already demanded two top-class saves from Glen Moss – the first from Danny Allsopp, then Socceroo Robbie Kruse.
As the match settled, Melbourne looked more inventive in attack but United went closest to taking the lead in the 29th minute after a typically mazy run through the heart of the Victory defence from Adama Traore.
The Ivorian unleashed Tahj Minniecon, who wheeled onto his right foot but his shot from the top of the box whizzed just inches high of the target.
In the second half, substitute Joel Porter almost broke the deadlock at 55 minutes, latching onto a cross from Perchtold with a first-time volley on his non-preferred right foot that rattled the crossbar.
United continued to assert control on the game, with a Zenon Caravella shot five minutes later stinging the palms of Michael Petkovic, and in the 78th minute a goalmouth scramble nearly gave them the edge – but Victory captain Adrian Leijer saved the day with a backheel clearance on the line.
With just five minutes left, some Carlos Hernandez magic split the United rearguard open for Allsopp but the burly striker spurned what was, until then, the best chance of the game from close range – and it came back to burn him.
Just as extra time looked a certainty, Djulbic rose for that match-winning header to send the small but vocal home crowd into raptures and United through to a match-up with Adelaide at Hindmarsh Stadium next Sunday.