Melbourne Victory secured the Premiers' Plate in style with an entertaining 3-1 win at home to the Central Coast Mariners in the Hyundai 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 visitors.
Victory will now enjoy a week off before hosting a semi-final, while the Mariners, whose season is over, will welcome retiring veteran John Hutchinson into the coaching staff and say goodbye to stalwart striker Matt Simon, who will be released at the end of the season, the long-serving duo having made their final appearances in yellow and navy blue.
1-0 (Daniel Georgievski, 32')
Receiving a pass from Georgievski and advancing into the area, Berisha did the hard work, holding off two opponents with his back to goal and returning the ball to the on-rushing left-back, who dispatched a perfectly-weighted shot over goalkeeper Matthew Nash and into the far corner of the net.
2-0 (Archie Thompson, 34')
The Mariners defenders stationed at the near post failed to clear Guilherme Finkler's corner from the left and a glancing header was all it took from veteran Thompson to double the home team's advantage.
2-1 (Eddy Bosnar, 45')
The man with the most powerful free-kick in the A-League unleashed a rocket from 20 metres outside the penalty area which smashed into the Victory wall, taking a wicked deflection that wrong-footed Lawrence Thomas, the ball nestling in the back of the net and giving the away team hope.
3-1 (Besart Berisha 47')
Victory restored their two-goal buffer with a sumptuous team effort early in the second half. Archie Thompson charged down the left flank and cut the ball back to the penalty area, where Guilherme Finkler received possession. Unable to shoot, the Brazilian playmaker scooped a pass to the back post, where Mark Milligan brought the ball down and took it around Nash before passing to Berisha, who threaded a finish between the legs of two covering defenders to score.
One of the Mariners' best attacking moves of the game saw Nick Fitzgerald cut inside and drive toward goal, exchanging a one-two with Anthony Kalik at the top of the penalty area before entering the box and having his shot from close range saved by Thomas. The chance occurred just minutes after Victory netted their third and would have given the visitors hope had it gone in.
Opta Data key stats
The home team dominated the shots tally by 23 to 11, telling the story of an aggressive performance in which the Big V rarely eased up despite having the result – and the Premiers' Plate - in the bag.
Veteran Mariners skipper Hutchinson earned a yellow card for a crude two-footed challenge on Leigh Broxham close to the touchline mid-way through the first half. The tackle wasn't pretty but the heated conversation between 'Hutch' and nearby Victory coach Kevin Muscat, formerly the hardest of A-League hard men, brought a smile to faces. Whatever was said between those two fierce campaigners as Carl Valeri led the visiting captain away, it surely wasn't for public consumption.
Back to the drawing board
Tony Walmsley's Mariners certainly work harder out of possession and press more aggressively than the team did in the dog days late in the tenure of Phil Moss, but all the work-rate in the world won't prevent them from conceding when defensive mistakes are made in crucial areas. The Gosford outfit need to be tighter at the back and sharper up top if they're to make an impact next season.
The Final Word
Victory are sure to use their time off wisely in the fortnight ahead, resting tired bodies and ensuring they are in peak condition for their third consecutive semi-final appearance. Having lost both of the previous two, they will be determined this time 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.
Melbourne Victory: Lawrence Thomas, Leigh Broxham, Nicholas Ansell, Mathieu Delpierre, Daniel Georgievski (Scott Galloway 72'), Carl Valeri, Mark Milligan, Kosta Barbarouses, Guilherme Finkler (Rashid Mahazi 78'), Archie Thompson (Connor Pain 90 + 1'), Besart Berisha.
Central Coast Mariners: Matthew Nash, Storm Roux, Zachary Anderson, Eddy Bosnar, Joshua Rose, John Hutchinson, Liam Rose (Glen Trifiro 66'), Anthony Caceres, Isaka Cernak (Matt Simon 64'), Nick Fitzgerald, Anthony Kalik (Matthew Sim 77').
Scorers: Georgievski (32'), Thompson (34'), Bosnar (45'), Berisha (47')
Red cards: None
Yellow cards: Rose (24'), Hutchinson (31'), Cernak (45+1'), Bosnar (68')
Conditions: 14 degrees, dry
Attendance: 22,285 @ AAMI Park