Melbourne Victory secured the Premiers’ Plate in style with an entertaining 3-1 win at home to the Central Coast Mariners in the A-League on Sunday.
Kevin Muscat’s team were already likely to end the regular season in top spot but made absolutely sure with a comprehensive victory at AAMI Park, where Daniel Georgievski, Archie Thompson and Besart Berisha all hit the back of the net.
Eddy Bosnar’s deflected free-kick was a mere consolation for the Mariners, who will welcome retiring veteran John Hutchinson into the coaching staff and say goodbye to stalwart striker Matt Simon, the long-serving duo having made their final appearances in yellow and navy blue.
Having lost each of their previous two semi-finals, Victory will be determined to reach a first grand final since 2009-10 and go on to win a third A-League title, a prize they haven’t claimed since 2008-09.
Earlier, Sydney FC sealed second place with a hard-fought 2-1 win over the Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium.
“I honestly believe that we are the form team in the competition,” said Sydney coach Graham Arnold.
“Since Christmas, that’s 32 points from a possible 39 and we’re getting better and better. I don’t think there’ll be too many teams in the finals series who would be happy to play us.”
An early Bernie Ibini goal and Shane Smeltz penalty helped the Sky Blues on their way and they held on despite Wellington staging a fightback in the second half, including pulling a goal back through Michael Boxall.
It all could have been so different for Ernie Merrick’s Phoenix side had they made the most of an 11th-minute penalty, but Roly Bonevacia dragged the spot-kick wide.
It means the Phoenix will host Melbourne City in an elimination final, while Adelaide United take on Brisbane Roar.
Victory and Sydney have the first week off before hosting semi-finals.
Perth were firmly in the running for the Premiers’ Plate before a Football Federation Australia investigation revealed the club had breached the league’s salary cap for the last three seasons.
As a result, Kenny Lowe’s side were disqualified from the play-offs and will be deemed to have ended the regular season in seventh place – even though they finished third.
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