A strong performance against the ladder leaders fell just short on Saturday night for the Mariners as Melbourne City claimed the A-League Premiership at AAMI Park with drama right up until the final stages.
In Oliver Bozanic’s 150th A-League match, the Mariners captain was set to attempt to level the scores from the penalty spot in stoppage time before VAR intervened, rubbing out the chance and leaving Craig Noone’s second half strike as the only goal of the contest.
Alen Stajcic named an almost unchanged side from last week’s #F3Derby win, Daniel DeSilva returned to the starting lineup after two matches out through injury, with Daniel Bouman moving to the bench.
The hosts looked to come out fast but spurned two early chances, and the Mariners settled into the flow of the game after a frenetic opening 15 minutes.
Kye Rowles and Ruon Tongyik were in great touch at the back, while Bozanic and Gianni Stensness grew into the game and began to dictate the flow in midfield.
Bozanic nearly teed up Simon on the half hour mark with a lovely chip in behind, but Curtis Good was on hand to clear the ball away and the two sides headed into the break all square.
Aiden O’Neill headed wide early in the second half and Mark Birighitti was called into action from a set piece, and Stajcic made his first changes of the game as Alou Kuol and Lewis Miller replaced Simon and Stefan Nigro 12 minutes into the half.
City would strike first though, as Noone climbed over the back of Lewis Miller to head into the far corner, with the goal standing despite protests following it.
That spurred the visitors on though, and City were forced into a number of rash fouls, with Jack Clisby, Bozanic and Miller all brought down in promising positions as the Mariners looked to get back into the game.
Jaden Casella and Bouman were introduced and added to the attacking impetus with time winding down, and Stajcic’s side pinned City back.
The hosts thought they had their second with five minutes to play but it was brought back for a handball, and late drama unfolded as Birighitti headed up for a stoppage time corner.
As the ball hung over the area the Mariners goalkeeper appeared to be dragged down, and the referee pointed to the spot, before the decision was overturned via VAR, leaving City to see out the game as 1-0 victors.
The result leaves the Mariners in third spot, with an important clash against fellow finals hopefuls Macarthur up next on Thursday.