Wollongong Wolves took a step away from the massive disappointment of the cancellation of this year's World Club Championships with a narrow, but sufficient, win against South Melbourne at Bob Jane Stadium on Sunday. Matt Horsley scored with a header five minutes after the interval, and then a killer goal from Sasho Petrovski just a minute after South had equalised meant the game was firmly in Wolves' grip.
"Everyone was shattered", said Wolves' coach Ron Corry about the FIFA decision that robs Wolves games on the international stage against Spain's Deportivo La Coruna and Argentina's Boca Juniors. "(But) that was out of our control. (Playing today) was not out of our control."
Sturdy Centre-back David Cervinski said "We've got a very focused bunch of boys, so I don't think there's much that can distract (us) out there on the field."
Once Wolves had netted its second, South now needed another three to win the tie after being one behind from last weekend's first-leg encounter. But South rarely looked likely to fight its way back into the contest, and obtained not a skerrick of assistance from the now mute support in its endeavours.
Horsley had the easiest of conversions to open the scoring as Stuart Young's lead-up work on the right completely split the South defences. Young's chipped cross fell as neatly as Horsley could ever have wished for.
Things had looked a little better for South after an error from Dean Anastasiadis who dropped a long-range effort from Con Boutsianis at the feet of Vaughan Coveny for Coveny to blast home, but the home supports' belated optimism was short-lived.
Barely had the hubbub had died down, than Wolves had restored its lead. Sasho Petrovski ghosted through the South back-line to earn Wolves the direct Grand Final berth. The silence from the home support and their quiet departures with ample time on the clock was their assessment of the game's likely outcome. If there was to be a two-goal margin of victory, it seemed more likely to be Wollongong's, rather than South's.
Indeed in the after-match media conference, both Cervinski and Boutsianis sensed the decisiveness of Wolves' second.
"(It was won) definitely when the second goal went in", said Cervinski.
"That's where they won the game", said Boutsianis. "It was (going) to be difficult to score another three goals against such a good defence."
But the win was something Wolves had deserved, such was its approach to the game.
"I wasn't coming here to lose, and I wasn't going to play defensive (football)", said Corry. "We came to play attacking football."
The tightness of the game between the two top sides of the League meant that despite the endeavours of both teams' prolific strike-forces, their defences held firm and the first half ended scoreless.
Young had Wolves' best chance as early as the second minute with a 30 metre drive, and Paul Reid's effort from a similar range brought out a sparkling one-handed save from Michael Petkovic just before the half ended.
In between, all the other chances of substance were South's.
Steve Panopoulos had an early shot after being set up by Con Boutsianis, then - on the half-hour - Boutsianis headed over after a fine cross from Andy Vlahos.
But it was defender Steve Iosifidis who troubled Wolves the most when his cross from the right looked ready to loop over the tall Anastasiadis and drop in at the far-post, but for a last effort touch by the frantically back-pedalling goalkeeper.
South rung the changes mid-way through the second half in an effort to wrest the game from Wolves' grasp, but not even a floodlight failure with six minutes to go was going to change the fact that for them to have a re-match, they'd need to qualify with a Preliminary Final win.
"I'm going to stick by (my) boys", said South coach Mickey Petersen after the game. "We've had a great season - they are entitled to have an oridnary day. It's our first loss at home (this season). We're still alive, we've just got to (get to the Grand Final) the hard way."