In a season defining match at AAMI Park on Saturday evening, Melbourne City beat the Central Coast Mariners 1 – 0 to clinch the 2020/21 A-League Premiers Plate.
This is the first time the club has achieved this accolade, and they have done so with two matches still to be played.
It was another controversial game for the VAR, with two lengthy checks being employed to deny goals, one against City and one against the Mariners.
The Mariners survived an early onslaught from City, with two chances from City narrowly missing the mark in the first five minutes.
This pressure was maintained by the hosts throughout the remainder of the first half but without success.
The opportunities on goal were limited for the Mariners, although their sturdy defence kept the scoreboard static.
The breakthrough goal finally came for City in the 59th minute, put away by Craig Noone.
The Mariners were unable to clear the ball from their penalty allowing City’s Adrián to lob a ball across the face of goal.
Noone then climbed all over defender Lewis Miller to get his header into the net.
With one hand on the premiership, City kept pushing their advantage.
A second goal appeared to come for the hosts in the 85th minute with a close to the line, and seemingly accidental, touch from top goal scorer, Jamie McLaren.
Only after the home fan celebrations had died down did a VAR check begin to assess a possible handball by McLaren earlier in the play.
As a result, the on-field decision of a goal was overturned and play resumed at 1 – 0.
The Mariners responded with a new level of pressure in attack.
The tension in the stadium reached a peak when a late corner in injury time was awarded to the Mariners and goalkeeper, Mark Birighitti, was sent up into the penalty box.
The ball was swung in too close to City keeper, Tom Glover, who gloved it cleanly, only to hear the referee’s whistle for a penalty against City’s Aiden O’Neill for pulling down Birighitti in the box.
After going the full game without a shot on target, the Mariners now had a golden opportunity to equalise.
But the chance never came.
Another lengthy VAR check found Birighitti had accidentally stepped on O’Neill’s foot, causing him to fall in the first place.
To the great delight of the home fans, the on-field decision was again overturned and Melbourne City took possession, quite fittingly, of the A League season Premiers Plate.
With two more match days to go, City have reached 48 points, ten points clear of second place Sydney FC and have earned themselves straight passage into the Semi Finals.
As of May 27, the Mariners now find themselves in 5th place on 36 points with a crucial away game Thursday night (7:05pm) against Macarthur who are also on 36.