Ola Toivonen’s thumping first-half header spoiled Mark Bridge’s farewell as Melbourne Victory edged Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
Victory’s marquee striker netted the only goal of the game midway through the first half to imbue Kevin Muscat’s men with winning momentum leading into next weekend’s Elimination Final, which will be against either Wellington Phoenix or Melbourne City.
Fan-favourite Bridge stepped off the bench for his 251st and final Hyundai A-League appearance just prior to the hour but there was no scoring send-off for the retiring Wanderers great, his side’s season ending on a 15th defeat.
Victory constructed some neat passing moves in the early exchanges and their patience was rewarded in the 22nd minute.
Deng fizzed in a cross from deep and Swedish star Toivonen beat Jack Greenwood with a textbook centre-forward’s header.
Raul Baena might had added a second before half-time, but the midfielder guided a left-footed effort over the bar from just inside the area.
Western Sydney started well after the restart, only to fluff two presentable opportunities for an equaliser.
Matt Acton, selected ahead of Lawrence Thomas, first denied Bruce Kamau at close range, before an unmarked Alexander Baumjohann scooped over the crossbar following Mitchell Duke’s backheel.
Kosta Barbarouses appeared destined to punish that wastefulness when he raced into an empty half for a one-on-one, but the forward lost his composure at the critical moment and teenager Greenwood ultimately made a simple save.
Toivonen next teed up substitute Elvis Kamsoba for a wayward header and it proved the final real chance for either side.
Victory can now focus on defending their Champions crown in the Finals Series, while Markus Babbel begins work on reshaping his Western Sydney squad ahead of next season’s much-anticipated move to Bankwest Stadium.