Soccer: A-League's longest regular season concludes, playoffs to come

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The A-League’s heavily disrupted regular season finally came to a conclusion on Wednesday evening when title contenders Melbourne City beat newcomers Western United 3-1 in the last of 27 matches played over 34 days.

The loss means United will play Brisbane Roar in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday with a spot in the championship semi-final up for grabs. Wellington Phoenix face Perth Glory in the other elimination final on Saturday.

City had already locked up second place in the standings and go straight through to next Wednesday’s semis along with table-toppers and defending champions Sydney FC.

The club heads into the playoffs unbeaten in three matches since a season which started last October resumed on July 17 after a four-month interruption forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was very important to finish the championship well,” City’s French coach Erick Mombaerts told reporters.

“I think it was the best way to prepare for the semi-finals. I’m very pleased.”

The derby was played at Sydney’s Kogarah Oval because Melbourne is still in lockdown because of a second spike in COVID-19 cases, which has forced the southern city’s three teams to conclude their seasons in exile in New South Wales.

Moudi Najjar opened the scoring for City before Jamie Maclaren notched his 21st and 22nd goals of the campaign to secure the league’s Golden Boot as leading scorer ahead of Sydney FC’s Adam Le Fondre (20).

United’s 35-year-old striker Besart Berisha, the A-League’s all-time leading goalscorer, replied from the penalty spot with his 19th goal of the season after coming on as a substitute.

“I’m very excited,” said the Albanian, who won four Australian titles with two clubs before joining United for their inaugural season.

“I want to play every game and I’m looking forward to the finals.”

Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Christopher Cushing