Western Sydney Wanderers can 'deal with' away elimination final - Popovic
Both history and a gruelling test of endurance now stand between Western Sydney and the A-League Grand Final, yet defiant coach Tony Popovic remains undaunted by such hurdles.
An inability to pick apart a 10-man Melbourne Victory in Saturday night's stalemate scuppered the Wanderers' hopes of a top-four finish and home final to reward their late-season revival.
They can now only finish fifth or sixth, to be decided after next weekend's final-round match in Adelaide.
That means a road trip to an elimination final, likely against either Melbourne City or Brisbane, before they then, if successful, must contemplate an away semifinal with premiers Sydney FC or second-placed Victory.
To progress any further than that would be to overcome the weight of history.
Only two grand finalists have come from outside the top two, when third-placed Central Coast (2005-06) and Perth (2011-12) both lost their respective season-deciders.
Not only that, the Wanderers must balance Asian Champions League commitments, namely a midweek trip to Japan to face Urawa Red Diamonds sandwiched directly between their A-League elimination final and a potential semifinal.
Yet Popovic remained as staunch in his belief as he has been throughout a season so often afflicted by on-field inconsistencies and external doubt.
"I don't think any of those places matter for us," Popovic said.
"You have to win three games to win it. So yes, if you come third or fourth there is the added bonus of a home final.
"We were never guaranteed of that -- we needed other results to go our way.
"We had a chance to keep it alive for another week. We've lost that now, but if we keep playing this way I'm sure we'll give a good account of ourselves in the finals.
"We've got Champions League wedged between the finals. That's what we knew all along and that's no excuse, we'll deal with that."
The Wanderers entered the Victory meeting already guaranteed finals football thanks to seventh-placed Wellington's 1-1 draw with Sydney FC earlier on Saturday.
But even with a 35-minute numerical advantage they struggled to match their recent vein of form and intensity, and couldn't break down the defensively resolute Victory to clinch a fourth-straight win.
"That's the first time we've played against 10 men this year," Popovic said.
"Given another opportunity I'm sure we'll deal with it a bit better."