It’s a fitting perplexing conclusion to a confusion-riddled campaign of the A-League Men for 2021/22.
Melbourne City in their first game in over a month, having played eight games in between returned to their home turf of AAMI Park and silenced Victory supporters as they secured the A-League Men Premiers Plate with a 2-0 victory over the Wellington Phoenix.
A startling sight for all in attendance, a bloc of Victory supporters in the North End masqueraded as Phoenix supporters at a Melbourne City home fixture.
The occasion? Should the Phoenix have drawn or lost, the Victory would have secured their first Premiers Plate in seven years.
Something previously considered unforeseeable and near impossible turned into reality in the heart of the cool Melbourne night as the identity of the Victory played a significant background role in a night that didn’t even explicitly involve the Vuck in any capacity whatsoever on the pitch.
The Victory/Wellington brief alliance led to a full north end, significantly outnumbering those within the City Terrace.
The means in which the star-studded City lineup sought to inflict pain upon the Phoenix and Victory supporters would be through a Taras Gormulka corner only in the third minute, it was unfortunately headed on by Sam Sutton who put it into his own net.
The art of the corner kick was on full display with City well and truly taking the ascendancy as Jamie Maclaren headed in a goal off of another corner in the 11th minute.
City continued their assertive style of play, making several forays into the perimeter of the 18-yard-box, demonstrative through Andrew Nabbout’s driven shot that forced a relatively easy save from Oli Sail in the 29th minute.
As the half ran to a close, Patrick Kisnorbo’s men demonstrated what they’ve been sorely lacking in their last two A-League Men hit-outs, a killer instinct and a desire to operate with a high line moving forward as Jamie Maclaren narrowly missed two chances from close range.
City began the half feeling frustrated, giving away needless yellow cards and the ‘Nix capatilised with the additions of Reno Piscopo and a returning Clayton Lewis as they edged one back through an unbelievably timed finish from All White Ben Waine early in the second half.
The tide began to shift, the script slowly going off pace as the ball zipped with aplomb along the AAMI Park surface. The title fortunes firmly in the balance with City in control. Yet the composure and calmness that the likes of Jordan Bos and Leckie exuded as the game worn on led City to maintain their lead and also the Premiers Plate as they lifted the trophy in May as they did last year.
For Kisnorbo, he’s well and truly etched himself into the list of Australia’s current best coaches. This second premiership with the mid-season departure of star fullback Nathaniel Atkinson, a plethora of Covid-enforced postponements and a 14-day stretch in which six Asian Champions League games were played, emphasises and equally exaggerates the extent to which Kisnorbo’s man management has had a positive effect on his side.
Yet the tangible gold of the Premiers Plate is inextricably linked with the players Kisnorbo has nurtured and assisted in their development over the course of the season.
Despite Marco Tilio not starting each week, his technical ability and footballing IQ has been raised to another level this season. Moreover, the emergence of Jordan Bos and Taras Gormulka provides continuity, with the latter proposed as the successor to outbound midfielder Connor Metcalfe, who links up with FC St. Pauli next season.
In clinching the premiership for the second successive season, City position themselves as the only side to repeat championship winning exploits alongside the Graham Arnold Sydney FC side of the 2016-18 seasons.
That 2017/18 campaign, the seemingly invincible Sydney FC faltered in the semi-final to a miraculous and infamous extra-time goal from Terry Antonis which came from the Muscat-led Victory.
Should Victory be able to spoil the party for the Premiers once again and secure another championship if these two teams meet on the 28th of May it will add another chapter into the rich tapestry of the Melbourne Derby.
The enemy lines have been drawn, with a re-energised and impassioned Victory side (at the time of writing) on a club record 15-game unbeaten run.
As for the Phoenix, they return to Melbourne on Saturday to face Western United at AAMI Park while Melbourne City earn themselves a much-needed break ahead of the first of their two semi-final legs.
Melbourne City 2 (Sam Sutton OG 3m, Jamie Maclaren 10m)
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Ben Waine 54m)