Ikonomidis winner sends Victory into ALM grand final

Melbourne Victory are into the A-League Men grand final after a semi-final win for the ages, with Chris Ikonomidis' extra-time goal defying Wellington Phoenix.

Victory emerged triumphant from a titanic struggle at Sky Stadium on Saturday, where a best-ever Phoenix crowd of 33,297 willed the league minnows into a first grand final.

After Paul Izzo saved a dubiously-awarded second-half penalty, Tony Popovic's side thought they were through courtesy of Adama Traore's 82nd-minute thunderbolt.

Substitute Oskar Zawada instead sent the crowd into delirium with a 99th-minute equaliser, and Giancarlo Italiano's side into extra time.

After a best-ever campaign marked by late drama, at that moment it felt impossible Wellington's fairytale season would end in defeat.

Chris Ikonomidis (R) scored the winning goal for the Victory.
Chris Ikonomidis (R) scored the winning goal for the Victory.
Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Instead, Ikonomidis beat his marker at the back post to bundle home an extra-time corner, before Victory's defence finished the job by holding out wave after wave of Nix attacks.

The prize for Victory is the chance to win a fifth title next Saturday after stunning the Phoenix on the biggest night in the Kiwi club's history.

They may even host the decider, should Sydney FC defeat Central Coast in the second semi-final to be completed on Saturday night.

Wherever it takes place, Popovic may feel his side's claims to the title are undeniable given the nature of Victory's finals triumphs.

"We showed quality. We showed resilience. We showed character," Popovic said.

"We're overjoyed ... but there's one more to go."

A fortnight ago, a 10-man Victory side came from behind to defeat rivals Melbourne City, with Izzo the hero in a penalty shootout.

After a goalless first semi-final in Melbourne last week, and a tense and bruising opening hour without a breakthrough in Wellington, Izzo was on hand to deny Wellington.

On the hour mark, and after a lengthy delay, Daniel Elder awarded the Phoenix a penalty kick after replays showed a Tim Payne cross had ricocheted off Daniel Arzani's body and into his hand.

Opponents of video replays were delighted when Izzo dived to his right to stop both the penalty from Alex Rufer, and Bozhidar Kraev's follow-up.

Ben Old, like Rufer, a contender for best afield also hit the post as Wellington pushed on, but instead, Victory's Traore struck.

The Ivorian defender found himself with space on the edge of the box and unleashed an unstoppable strike past Alex Paulsen inside the far post for his first A-League goal in over a decade.

Still Wellington pushed, the minnows were rewarded when substitute Zawada raced onto Kosta Barbarouses' headed knockdown for an equaliser with the last kick of regulation time.

Unable to rally a second time after the Ikonomidis goal, Italiano was left crestfallen that the club's best-ever season would not end in a maiden grand final outing.

"It's a numbing feeling," he said.

"We had all the momentum at the end of the game. I've never felt a buzz like that in my life ... but we got punished."

Wellington remain the only A-League club without silverware of any description, and without a maiden grand final appearance.

The Victory march on into a seventh grand final, their first since 2018, when they will attempt to add to their four titles and join Sydney FC with a fifth championship: the most in Australian history.

It will also afford Popovic the chance to end his personal title drought, after four grand final losses with previous clubs Western Sydney Wanderers and Perth Glory.