SYDNEY (Reuters) - The battle for second place in soccer’s A-League regular season intensified over the weekend with Melbourne City beating Sydney City 2-0 and sending a message to the newly crowned minor premiers their fifth title was nowhere near guaranteed.
Sydney last week sealed their fourth Premiers Plate and ensured top seeding in the championship playoffs that start later this month.
It was Melbourne’s first match in 131 days after the shutdown of the league in March and their mandatory two-week quarantine after they and the two other Victoria-based sides had to relocate to New South Wales due to a fresh outbreak of the new coronavirus.
“Its been a long time coming,” Melbourne forward Jamie Maclaren said of the victory that moved them to 43 points on the table, eight behind Sydney.
“We’re the last team to play. It’s been a bit of a challenge but I guess that’s made us a bit stronger. We’re not going to come here and just roll over. We want to come here and make it worth it.”
The Wellington Phoenix had been in second on 40 points before they crashed to a tempestuous 1-0 loss to Western Sydney on Friday.
The New Zealand side had defender Luke DeVere sent off, while a sickening accidental head clash between the Phoenix’s Louis Fenton and Nicolai Muller left the Western Sydney forward unconscious.
Wanderers coach Jean-Paul De Marigny was incensed after the match and said Fenton’s challenge warranted a red card.
He added that Muller was “not in a good place” but the club later said that he had not needed to go to hospital.
The victory lifted Western Sydney to 30 points and within striking distance of sixth-placed Adelaide United, who have 34 but have played one more game.
The top-six advance to the playoffs, with the teams in first and second automatically qualifying for the semi-finals.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by William Mallard