The Western Sydney Wanderers Academy's quest for three consecutive NPL 2 U18 Championships fell at the final hurdle on Saturday, as the Red & Black suffered a heartbreaking defeat on penalties to the Central Coast Mariners.
With the game goalless after extra time, Central Coast won the penalty shootout 7-6.
The Wanderers signalled their attacking intent early with efforts from George Antonis and Nicolas Milanovic.
The side then had a great chance when Emmanuel Dolo set up Yousef Sawalha, who was stopped by an excellent save from Mariners goalkeeper Zenden Hart.
Jacob Casha then had the Wanderers next opportunity, beating two opponents before Hart managed to push his shot wide of the goal.
The Red & Black continued their dominance into the second half and Sawalha had a powerful effort tipped over, while Ashton Ahluwahlia went close from long range.
Kristian Popovic also tested the keeper before Dolo played it through for Milanovic with Hart again equal to the task.
As normal time drew to a close, the Wanderers almost got caught out at the other end when Kyle Johnson had a good chance for the Mariners, but goalkeeper Elliot Carwardine pulled off a brilliant save.
Wanderers substitute Michael Osei-Adomako was then very close to winning it at the end of normal time, surging past three defenders only to be denied by Hart.
In extra time, Dolo forced another save from Hart while Wanderers other substitute, Gabriel Popovic, nearly made an instant impact when his goalbound header was cleared off the line.
With the teams unable to be separated, the game went into penalties.
Angelo Kalamovkis, Isaac Hovar and Ahluwahlia got the Red & Black off to a good start but they were matched by conversations from Mariners players James Bayliss, Jacob Villablanca and Jordan Preston.
Milanovic was then unlucky to see the Wanderers fourth penalty come off the back of the post and the pressure was on when Ottie Clarke scored for the Central Coast.
Kristian Popovic kept the side alive with the Wanderers fifth penalty and then Carwardine came up big, saving from Johnson to take to shootout to sudden death.
Both teams were also successful with their next two attempts, Gabriel Popovic and Sawalha scoring for the Red & Black, Anthony Sparacino and Ashour Chiba doing likewise for the Mariners.
Unfortunately, the decisive moment came when Hart tipped Stephan De Robillard’s spot kick onto the post with Joey Jevtic finding the back of the net to give the Mariners the win.
Despite the heartbreaking finish, it has been a fantastic season for the U18s who have maintained the record of making the U18 Grand Final every year since the Wanderers Academy has been formed.
Central Coast Mariners 0
Western Sydney Wanderers 0
Central Coast won 7-6 on penalties
Western Sydney Wanderers: Elliot Carwardine, Leonardo Belz (Isaac Hovar 69’), Angelo Kalamvokis, Mark Natta, Ashton Ahluwahlia, George Antonis (Michael Osei-Adomako 75’), Kristian Popovic, Nicolas Milanovic, Emmanuel Dolo (Gabriel Popovic 96’), Jacob Casha (Stephan De Robillard 82’), Yousef Sawalha (c)
Unused substitute: Gabriel Osinga