Melbourne City are A-League Champions for the first time in the club’s 11-season history, after coming from behind to notch a comprehensive 3-1 Grand Final victory over the ten-men of Sydney FC on Sunday, June 27.
The Premiers were on the back foot after Kosta Barbarouses put the visitors 1-0 up in the 21st minute but it was one-way traffic from that moment on, sparked by a Nathaniel Atkinson strike which rattled into the top corner to restore parity just two minutes after Sydney’s opening goal.
Luke Brattan received a yellow card from referee Chris Beath in the 25th minute for a dangerous challenge on Aiden O’Neill before disaster struck for the pivotal Sky Blues midfielder ten minutes later. Attempting to curtail the dangerous threat of City live-wire Marco Tilio, Brattan flew in to a late challenge with studs raised to catch the attention of Beath for a second time in the first half.
A second yellow came out of the pocket of Beath, as did the red card to send Brattan trudging down the tunnel, and Sydney down to ten men.
Once trailing in the first half, City went into the break with a 2-1 lead after Anthony Caceres conceded a penalty to the hosts after sending Adrián Luna to the deck inside the 18-yard box. City captain Scott Jamieson stepped up to bury the spot-kick in first-half stoppage time to put the Premiers in a strong position heading into the second 45.
Sydney goalkeeper Thomas Heward-Belle impressed throughout the second half, pulling off an array of stops to keep the score at 2-1.
But there was nothing he could do to prevent Scott Galloway adding his name to the scoresheet in the 93rd minute, as the flying City full-back cut across the penalty area to drive the sealing goal into the bottom-right corner, sparking pandemonium in the stands at AAMI Park as the full-time whistle confirmed City’s status as Premiers and Champions in 2020/21.
Young City gun Tilio was involved in all the early action as the hosts looked to harness the vibrant support in the stands to take an early lead at AAMI Park.
City earned two corners in as many minutes to kick-start proceedings, and continued to ramp up the pressure in the 10th minute when Tilio dribbled toward the penalty area, played a one-two to open space to dispatch a shot which deflected off Ben Warland, wrong-footing Thomas Heward-Belle and only just fading wide of the target.
But after enduring the early onslaught, the Sky Blues turned to Barbarouses who, as he always seems to do, got on the scoresheet on Grand Final day.
Gathering the ball in space in midfield, Barbarouses took two touches toward goal and dispatched a driven shot which beat Tom Glover as it rattled into the back of the net to put the visitors into an unlikely lead at AAMI Park with his third Grand Final goal in A-League history.
But Sydney’s advantage was to last just two minutes before Atkinson got the hosts back on level terms. City product Stefan Colakovski continued to show a decisive touch in big Finals Series moments by driving across the 18-yard box, leaving Paulo Retre, Caceres and Alex Wilkinson in his wake before sliding Atkinson down the right side of the box.
Atkinson sized up Joel King, feinted to shoot twice before unleashing a shot past Heward-Belle’s near post to find the top corner and drag City level.
Brattan was treading a fine line after collecting an early yellow card for a rash challenge on O’Neill, and in the 35th minute that line was crossed for the second time by the Sydney midfielder.
The second yellow and resulting red card brandished by referee Beath changed the complexion of the contest at AAMI Park after Brattan left his studs raised while catching Tilio with a late challenge in midfield. Both Brattan and his teammates objected the decision but Beath was not eager to listen to their appeals as Brattan was forced to walk, leaving the Sky Blues with ten men for the remainder of the contest.
Adapting to the situation at hand, Sydney boss Steve Corica withdrew Bobô for Harry Van der Saag, who ventured to right-back as Paulo Retre moved into midfield. But the away side were unable to get to the break without conceding once more after Caceres conceded a penalty in first-half stoppage time.
Beath pointed to the spot as Luna went down under contact from the Sydney midfielder on the right-hand side of the penalty area. City captain Jamieson planted the ball on the spot and sent Heward-Belle the wrong way to spark manic celebrations in the stands as the Premiers went 2-1 up before the break.
Shortly after emerging from the break, City centre-back Nuno Reis unleashed a long-range strike which Heward-Belle scrambled across to save, only for the ball to evade his outstretched glove as it faded wide of the target.
A cagey period of play was to follow before Atkinson played Colakovski into the box with a neat lofted pass scooped off the outside of his right foot which Colakovski controlled off his chest before calling Heward-Belle into an excellent save. Luna collected the rebound but his meek attempt on goal lacked a the clinical touch needed to test the Sydney gloveman once more.
The Sydney ‘keeper continued to keep his side in the game as the second half progressed with City all over the ten men of Sydney FC. Heward-Belle kept the score at 2-1 with a magnificent double save in the 81st minute, denying Tilio from a tight angle before Florin Berenguer wiggled into space in the box to poke a shot toward the bottom-right corner.
The shot was on target, but Heward-Belle pounced across to his left to deny the Frenchman a sealing goal.
Despite dominating the play in the second half, that all-important sealer was not to come until Galloway got forward to drive the dagger through Sky Blue hearts in the 93rd minute of play. Galloway cut across the box to open up space on his left foot, before drilling the ball into the bottom-right corner to put the icing on the cherry on top of City’s unforgettable campaign.