Western Sydney Wanderers have held premiers Brisbane Roar to a 1-1 A-League draw in Sydney.
It was billed as Shinji Ono’s farewell home match but Western Sydney failed to send him off with a victory on Saturday night when they drew 1-1 with premiers Brisbane.
The result ensures the race for the prized second spot on the A-League table will go down to the final round next week with the Wanderers to battle it out with Central Coast for the runners-up position.
It was Ono’s last home game of the regular season before the star playmaker returns to Japan to join Sapporo Consadole.
With the Wanderers not yet assured of the hosting rights in the finals series that come with a top-four finish, the club staged a tribute to the former Japanese international.
Parramatta Stadium erupted with fireworks in the 21st minute with the 15,573-strong crowd unleashing confetti into the air and sporting Ono masks in honour of the No.21.
But the Wanderers, who have only tasted victory once in their last six outings, couldn’t guarantee the fans more celebrations after the full-time whistle as they settled for a draw.
Liam Miller put the visitors in front in the opening half with striker Tomi Juric levelling in the second.
The Wanderers were under pressure and chasing from the outset but still managed to create some early chances with an Aaron Mooy strike blocked and Nikolai Topor-Stanley heading over the crossbar.
It wasn’t long before the Roar returned fire with Luke Brattan forcing the first save of the match in the 10th minute.
Jack Hingert put Ante Covic to work again, the Wanderers keeper pulling a great save to diffuse the strike.
The Roar were afforded another chance and this time they made it count with Miller breaking the deadlock in the 35th minute.
Ono had a chance to level just before the break with a perfect free-kick drawing a save from Michael Theo.
It was a much more attacking Wanderers side who took to the field in the second half.
Coach Tony Popovic brought on Juric for Shannon Cole and the move paid off with the Wanderers’ leading goal-scorer finding the equaliser in the 61st minute.
Desperate to leave with a bang, Ono continued to threaten while Kwabena Appiah also troubled the Roar defence.
The Roar weren’t done with, late substitute Henrique keeping Covic on his toes until the final whistle, but neither side were able to find a winner.
The Wanderers are yet to beat Brisbane this season but Popovic praised his side’s second-half fight back.
“Of course we wanted to win but the performance, especially in the second half, I’m very proud,” he said.
“They took it right to Brisbane.”
Popovic lauded Ono but stressed his time at the club was not over.
“On the field he brings his quality, his class, his creativity,” he said.
“He’s very professional and very dedicated … that’s why he’s had a great career and that’s why at 34 he’s still playing and getting another contract in Japan.
“Tonight he showed his quality again but unfortunately we couldn’t capitalise on his good play and he couldn’t get a goal.
“But it’s not the time to talk about Shinji’s time ending for the Wanderers there’s still a lot of football to be played for this club.”
Roar coach Mike Mulvey thought his side deserved to win.
“To be honest I thought we probably should have won the game in the end,” he said.
“I was extremely pleased with the performance tonight because it means we’re building up momentum before the finals.”