Melbourne City earned a place in their first-ever A-League Grand Final as Socceroos striker Jamie Maclaren was on target once again in a 2-0 win over newcomers Western United.
The Golden Boot winner converted his own penalty in the 68th minute, before a late own goal to United’s Tomoki Imai ensured City finished 2-0 winners – and put an end to Western United’s fairytale finals run in their debut campaign.
United was in the ascendancy for much of the game, with Maclaren’s penalty coming against the run of play.
But City withstood a late assault and looked the fresher side in the late stages of the game, having benefited from their extra week’s rest as second-place finishers in the regular season.
Watch every match of the 2019/20 Hyundai A-League Finals LIVE on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
The win extended City’s perfect record against their new Victorian rivals, the knockout victory being the fourth win from four attempts against United.
And Maclaren’s penalty added to an impressive individual record against United, having scored a brace in each of their past three meetings.
City move one step closer to their first piece of A-League silverware, the squad backed by the global might of the multi-club City Group (which includes Manchester City) having only claimed one FFA Cup title in their history.
City defender Richard Windbichler said: “It means a lot. The City group is very big. I’m sure all over the world they are watching us. We are representing the City group as well.
“We want to achieve something big and we have the chance to do so on Sunday.”
United started the match brightly, despite their short turnaround from a 1-0 win in Sunday’s Elimination Final against Brisbane Roar.
Melbourne City struggled to maintain their defensive structures in what was their poorest start to a match since the competition’s resumption.
But things turned after a quarter of an hour, when Jamie Maclaren flicked on a header behind the defensive line for teammate Lachlan Wales to sprint onto.
Wales was cleaned up by keeper Filip Kurto on the edge of the box, only for the ball to fall to Maclaren who buried the strike. But his celebrations were soon overturned by the nearby linesman, who deemed Wales offside in the leadup. VAR – having been brought back for the finals – confirmed the decision.
It was the first real display of the clinical City attack that has shone so brightly this season, but which seemed almost entirely absent in the opening half.
On the other end, Besart Berisha – the A-League’s all-time top scorer – slashed a half-volley when off balance from range, as his Western United seemed the more settled in the early going.
Things continued in the same fashion in the early part of the second stanza, with Western United ‘pretty much all over them’ according to former Socceroo Mark Bosnich.
But a couple of great saves from City keeper Tom Glover denied United an opening goal, before Jamie Maclaren was brought down in the box by United defender Aaron Calver with 25 minutes to play.
VAR – quite rightly – confirmed the incident was a penalty, and Maclaren stepped up and buried the penalty into the bottom left corner.
The game opened up in the final twenty minutes as Western United chased the game, playing expansive football as City happily dropped deeper and hit on the counterattack.
Western failed to find what would have been a deserved goal considering their dominance throughout the match, and their chase was further dented when Tomoki Imai – a sterling centre-back for United this campaign – headed the ball into his own net from a City corner.
The 84th-minute own goal doubled the lead, which could have been extended even further when City raced away on a counter-attack, only for the attempted pass to Jamie Maclaren to be completely mishit.
United came close to pulling one back as the clock ticket down, with Besart Berisha holding off a defender on the edge of the box and teeing up the on-rushing Tomi Uskok.
But Uskok couldn’t dig the ball from under his feet and his tame shot dribbled wide.
Follow the action in our live blog below. If you can’t see the blog, click here.