City lift Premiers Plate after edging tense battle with Mariners
Melbourne City clinched its first piece of A-League silverware on Saturday night, beating Central Coast Mariners 1-0 at AAMI Park to earn the 2020/21 Premiers Plate with three games to spare in the regular season.
City opened the scoring in the second half through Craig Noone who netted a headed goal from close range in the 59th minute to give the home side a one-goal lead with half an hour to play.
That's how the score remained until the final whistle - however getting there was no simple task for City as the contest came to a dramatic end.
Jamie Maclaren's 87th-minute finish looked to have sealed all three points for the home side until a VAR check found the City striker had handled the ball in the build-up to the goal when fighting for possession with Mariners defender Kye Rowles.
And so, the score remained at 1-0 leading into extra time. The Mariners put on a commendable performance against the league-leaders and got on top for large parts of the contest before goalkeeper Mark Birighitti ventured forward for a late corner and won his side a penalty after being dragged down in the box by City midfielder Aiden O'Neill.
But referee Shaun Evans was to get assistance from VAR one last time before the game was over, as he ventured over to the sideline monitor to assess the incident once more. After a lengthy delay Evans decided to overturn his original decision, as Mariners captain Oliver Bozanic was forced to step away from the penalty spot as play continued.
City held on until the final whistle blew with their 1-0 lead still intact to seal the all-important points needed to ensure the Premiers Plate fell into their hands at the end of a dramatic night at AAMI Park.
The opening 45 played out with intensity and commitment from both sides as the Mariners looked to make it difficult for City on an important night for the club at AAMI Park.
Maclaren received a pair of early chances to open the scoring in the first ten minutes of play. The City striker was picked out twice by Noone with balls whipped off the left flank; Maclaren tried first with his head and then with his left foot but sent the initial attempt over the bar and his second just wide of the left-hand goalpost.
Marco Tilio was denied on the half-hour mark by a committed block from Kye Rowles which sent the City forward's shot from a tight angle looping over the crossbar, before Noone invaded down the other flank to lash a shot from a similarly narrow angle past the wrong side of the post and into the side-netting.
Connor Metcalfe and Curtis Good saw their two headers late in the half drift wide of the mark as the game remained goalless at half time.
Noone was involved in everything throughout the opening 15 minutes of the second half for City, leading to the Englishman's opening goal netted on the hour-mark.
He went close to notching an assist early in the second 45, putting a ball in for O'Neill to attack. The midfielder made solid purchase with his header that had Birighitti beaten, but the ball flashed just wide of the right-hand goalpost.
A Noone free-kick on 50 minutes troubled Birighitti once again, and the Mariners gloveman did well to tip the ball out for a corner as it sailed off the City winger's boot into a dangerous area. Noone went on to flash a right-footed shot wide of the mark moments later before finally producing the finish to give his side the lead in the 59th minute.
Adrián Luna provided the ball for Noone to rise above Lewis Miller at the back post to head home from close range. The Mariners players and coaching staff objected the decision to award the goal after Noone jumped all over the back of Miller before nodding it home, but a VAR investigation upheld the decision as City's priceless opening goal was allowed to stand.
The away side reacted brilliantly to falling behind, getting well on top of City as a nervy wait ensued for the home fans eager for the final whistle to blow. But after withstanding a strong reaction from the Mariners the home side netted for the second time on the night when Maclaren bundled home a cross from Stefan Colakovski.
The home fans and players celebrated in unison as it seemed the Premiers Plate was all wrapped up at AAMI Park - but a VAR check was to come. Maclaren - who had fed Colakovski the initial ball down the line - was caught handling the ball when contesting with Rowles, and the potential sealer was suddenly wiped from the record.
A dramatic end to a tightly-contested game was to follow when Birighitti ventured forward for a late Mariners corner to win a penalty for his side under a challenge from O'Neill in the box.
VAR was called on for the second time within minutes, and referee Evans ventured over to review the incident on the monitor. After a lengthy delay the referee decided to reverse his initial call on the field, which deprived Oliver Bozanic the chance to equalise from the spot.
City went on to hold their slender advantage to the final whistle to seal the club's first piece of A-League silverware on a tense night at AAMI Park.
Brisbane Roar v Melbourne City
Tuesday, May 25 2021
Moreton Daily Stadium
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEST
Macarthur FC v Central Coast Mariners
Thursday, May 27 2021
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEST
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