After a trophyless six years, Melbourne Victory are once again A-League premiers with a 3-1 final-day win over Central Coast Mariners.
First-half goals to Daniel Georgievski and Archie Thompson set Victory’s premiership party in motion.
While Eddy Bosnar’s deflected free-kick reduced the Mariners’ deficit, it was never going to deny Victory.
Instead Victory celebrated their first Premiers’ Plate in six years with a half of champagne football, capped by an exceptional third goal to Besart Berisha.
Berisha’s goal was Victory’s season in a nutshell – perseverance, teamwork and stunning attacking football.
Thompson chased down a loose ball on the left wing, crossing to Gui Finkler via a neat Kosta Barbarouses touch.
The Brazilian wizard flicked the ball up for Mark Milligan, who laid off for Berisha to lash home his first goal at AAMI Park for Victory.
It was a sweet moment for premiership coach Kevin Muscat, who celebrated richly with the 22,285-strong crowd.
In truth, there was only ever an infinitesimal chance of Victory throwing away the premier’s plate to Sydney FC on the final day.
The Mariners, confirmed in eighth place and with nothing to play for, needed a seven-goal win to deny Victory the premier’s plate.
They began as if their holidays had already arrived and were behind after half an hour.
Georgievski’s neat chip from his own rampaging run gave Victory a lead.
Three minutes later, Thompson’s glancing header from Finkler’s corner beat Matthew Nash in the Mariners goal.
On the stroke of half-time, Bosnar’s 30 metre rocket found the net via the Victory wall.
But after halftime it was all Victory, who deserved their win and premiership.
The joyous crowd chanted “Super Kevin Muscat” and there was even acknowledgement for former coach Ange Postecoglou.
The Socceroos boss was appointed as Victory coach three years ago to the day, and enjoyed a huge applause when showed on the big screen.
Barbarouses was agonisingly close to adding a fourth with four minutes remaining but his volley was centimetres wide.
Muscat said the Premiers’ Plate was a fitting reward for the effort given by his players over the season.
“I’m over the moon, ecstatic,” he said.
“You give so much, it’s been a massive effort over 27 weeks.
“I’m not naive, I know there’s a massive game in a couple of weeks … but to achieve this with that group, it’s certainly special.”
Mariners coach Tony Walmsley paid tribute to John Hutchinson, who finished his A-League career with the match.
“He’s had a great send-off at home and to finish his game here with that atmosphere was fantastic,” he said.
Hutchinson played in his 227th A-League match, becoming the league’s most capped player, and will join Walmsley’s coaching staff for next season.