Melbourne City have broken through for their first A-League championship, coming from behind to beat a 10-man Sydney FC 3-1 in the grand final.
Sydney’s Kosta Barbarouses opened the scoring in the 21st minute, with the brilliant Nathaniel Atkinson responding two minutes later, before Luke Brattan’s 35th-minute red card turned the game in City’s favour at AAMI Park.
Captain Scott Jamieson put City ahead from the penalty spot late in the first half, while Scott Galloway slammed home a long-range belter in injury time to seal a premiership-championship double in Patrick Kisnorbo’s first season as coach.
“It’s a credit to them [the players] because they’ve had a fantastic attitude, a fantastic work rate,” Kisnorbo said. “When things weren’t looking promising at the start (of the season), there was never doubt, never questions asked – it was ‘how can we keep working, and improving?’ And that’s what they did to put them in a position like tonight.
“I’ve always said about character. We went 1-0 down and straight away, (two minutes later) Nathaniel scored which was fantastic. So I’m happy with their character and the way they’ve gone about this season.”
City were without Socceroos Jamie Maclaren, Curtis Good and Connor Metcalfe while Sydney missed internationals Rhyan Grant, Andrew Redmayne and Ryan McGowan. In their absence, Atkinson proved the star of the show, with the 22-year-old claiming the Joe Marston Medal for man of the match after giving the Sydney defence headaches throughout from the right wing.
City started off like a house on fire in front of a parochial sell-out crowd at AAMI Park – at 50 per cent capacity. But Sydney struck the first blow when Barbarouses cut inside and unleashed a scintillating right-footed strike from outside the box past Tom Glover for his third grand-final goal.
City hit back almost immediately. Stefan Colakovski picked up the ball inside his own half, powered down the left wing and danced past the Sydney defence before squaring the ball for Atkinson, who blasted a shot into the roof of the net in the 23rd minute.
Three minutes later, Berenguer sent a bouncing header wide. Then, Brattan, who had been booked for a challenge on Aiden O’Neill in the 25th minute, up-ended Marco Tilio with a sliding tackle and received a second yellow card – his send-off handing his former club City the upper hand It was the 31-year-old’s first red card of his career.
Eleven minutes later, City made their numbers advantage count, when Sydney’s Anthony Caceres clattered into Adrian Luna’s back just inside the area. Referee Chris Beath had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot, with Jamieson coolly putting his spot-kick past Tom Heward-Belle just before half-time – and pointing to his captain’s armband in celebration.
Colakovski spurned a golden chance to make it 3-1 in the 61st minute when he volleyed straight at Heward-Belle.
Sydney called on Johnny Warren medallist Milos Ninkovic, who missed their semi-final with a calf strain, in the 72nd minute. But they were unable to find an equaliser and AAMI Park erupted when Galloway charged forward in the 93rd minute and unleashed a brilliant left-footed strike to seal the deal.
Sydney FC were seeking a record third straight championship crown but City’s win avenged their loss in last year’s grand final.
Sydney coach Steve Corica felt Caceres had not fouled Luna, while he also lamented Brattan’s first yellow card.
“The game was shaping up to be a very good game until – obviously in my opinion, the referee made the wrong decision in sending Brattsy off, and the penalty,” Corica said. “Two decisions that changed the whole game completely and destroyed everything.”