Shinji Ono has inspired Western Sydney Wanderers to yet another famous win in the club’s short history as the A-League side earned passage into the AFC Champions League quarter-finals at the expense of J-League powerhouse Sanfrecce Hiroshima through a 2-0 victory on Wednesday night.
Crowd favourite Ono, in his final match for the Wanderers before returning to Japan, was the architect behind second-half goals for Shannon Cole and Brendan Santalab as Tony Popovic’s side edged through on away goals in a 3-3 result overall over two legs.
The Wanderers had little margin for error in their hunt for a last-eight berth, chasing a 3-1 opening leg scoreline from last week in Hiroshima.
Popovic fielded four non-starters from the A-League grand final ten days ago, with Michael Beauchamp, Labinot Haliti, Jason Trifiro and Antony Golec all lining up.
The home side started with intent without making any real inroads and in fact it was Sanfrecce who created the first sight on goal.
It was a stereotype-defying long-ball straight down the middle from the Japanese side that nearly caught the Wanderers out but goalkeeper Ante Covic blocked the shot from Naoki Ishihara.
Almost immediately Ono flashed a sharp effort just narrowly wide of the post.
Another departing crowd hero, Youssouf Hersi, then had a half-sight of goal but couldn’t wrap his foot around an awkward effort and the ball looped over the crossbar.
In truth it was a half in which the Wanderers struggled to find any real fluency.
Labinot Haliti saw two shots blocked in quick succession by some desperate defending early in the second period as the Wanderers desperately sought to make up the deficit.
Iacopo La Rocca then spurned a gilt-edged chance eight minutes after the break powering a close-range header over the crossbar.
Almost immediately, however, the Wanderers got their reward as Cole rifled home a loose ball from near the penalty spot after Ono chipped in a clever cross from the byline.
Suddenly the Wanderers were energised and enjoying all the momentum.
Substitute Tomi Juric fired a shot narrowly wide following a deft strikers turn on the edge of the penalty area as the match remained on a knife-edge.
Juric flew through the air with an athletic bicycle kick and Hersi’s diving header went agonisingly wide of the post, denying the Wanderers a spectacular equaliser with ten minutes remaining.
Finally the decisive moment came with five minutes remaining as Sanfrecce again failed to clear an Ono cross and Santalab gleefully crashed home the loose ball to send the decibel levels into overdrive in Sydney’s west.
Western Sydney Wanderers 2 (Shannon Cole 55, Brendan Santalab 85)
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0
10,639 at Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta