MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A-League champions Sydney FC are within reach of a record-extending fifth title after easing past Perth Glory 2-0 in a rematch of last year’s Grand Final decider on Wednesday.
Early strikes from Milos Ninkovic and Adam Le Fondre, who punished goalkeeper Liam Reddy for a howling error, secured the Sky Blues a place in Sunday’s championship match against first-time finalists Melbourne City.
“We set out to go back-to-back this season and hopefully we can do that on Sunday,” said Briton Le Fondre. “We can take a lot of credit out of this game.”
City booked their Grand Final ticket with a 2-0 win over A-League newcomers Western United, ending their home-town rivals’ fairytale run in the opening semi-final of the double-header at Parramatta Stadium.
A second-half penalty from Golden Boot winner Jamie Maclaren put City in front before a late own-goal by Tomoki Imai ensured Erick Mombaerts’ side finally broke through after four fruitless trips to the semi-finals.
After a marathon season punctured by a three-month shutdown due to COVID-19, the championship will be contested by the two most dominant teams.
Though winless in their previous five matches, Steve Corica’s Sydney had claimed the Premiers Plate by winning the race for top spot at the end of the regular season.
Level with Melbourne Victory on four titles in the 15-year-old league, the Sky Blues will be favoured to claim the outright record in front of home fans.
They have had the luxury of sleeping in their own beds, with the league contested in biosecure hubs in Australia’s eastern states since the July restart.
City, however, have been camping out for six weeks, chased away from their home state of Victoria by a COVID-19 outbreak.
Sydney were switched on from the start against Glory, who might have been 2-0 down after 10 minutes but for Spaniard Juande who blocked two shots in close.
Glory could do little about former Serbia international Ninkovic, though, who fired home in the 24th minute when a rebound dropped obligingly for him on the left side of the penalty area.
Four minutes later, Le Fondre doubled the advantage by chasing down a backpass to a lead-footed Reddy and then poked the ball into goal with a sliding tackle to leave the keeper red-faced.
In the earlier semi-final, City also benefited from their opponents’ largesse, with Japanese defender Imai heading the ball into his own net from a corner kick to crush United’s hopes in the 84th minute.
Maclaren had earlier notched his 23rd goal of the season from the spot in the 68th minute after being brought down in a challenge by Aaron Calver.
For all their class, Manchester City-owned Melbourne have struggled to shrug off perceptions of being brittle under pressure, but Frenchman Mombaerts said they had reached a new level.
“This season has been fantastic,” he told reporters. “Today we showed that we were strong mentally and I think that (will) help, maybe, for the future.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by David Holmes
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