A-League: City win Premiers Plate despite late drama, Phoenix dazzle on Wellington homecoming

By Sports Desk May 22, 2021

Melbourne City celebrated their first A-League silverware as a narrow 1-0 triumph over Central Coast Mariners secured the Premiers Plate amid a dramatic finish at AAMI Park.

Craig Noone's headed effort just shy of the hour was enough to earn City the three points and the trophy with three games to spare, but only after enduring a tense finale.

City thought the points were wrapped up when Jamie Maclaren netted with three minutes to play, only for the hosts' striker to be denied when a VAR check found he had handballed in the build-up when tussling with Kye Rowles.

The Mariners then thought they had a chance to snatch a point in injury time when goalkeeper Mark Birighitti - up at a late corner - won the visitors a penalty.

But once again, VAR intervened with referee Shaun Evans reversing his original call after checking the pitchside monitor, to leave the home fans breathing a sigh of relief and celebrating the confirmation City will finish top at the end of the regular season.

Elsewhere, Wellington Phoenix dazzled on their New Zealand homecoming in a 3-0 win over Western United that keeps them on the coattails of the A-League's top six.

It had been 433 days since Phoenix had played a home fixture at Sky Stadium due to the coronavirus pandemic and a bumper crowd of 24,105 was not disappointed.

Clayton Lewis's deflected 38th-minute opener had Wellington in front at the break and two goals in the space of six second-half minutes from Reno Piscopo and Tomer Hemed had the patient crowd celebrating a comfortable win.

While having the fans back in attendance was a victory itself, the win means Phoenix are just three points shy of Brisbane Roar in sixth with three games to play before the A-League Finals.

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    Di Maria opened the scoring on his debut and provided an assist for Dusan Vlahovic in the 3-0 triumph, where the striker also won and converted a penalty.

    After a slow start, it was largely plain sailing for Juventus after Di Maria's debut goal, but concern was raised after the former Paris Saint-Germain ace limped off in the second half with a suspected adductor injury.

    Juventus also saw Denis Zakaria pick up an injury during the match, but Allegri insisted that he was not concerned about the prospective setbacks.

    "I am not worried. We'll see what the tests say tomorrow," he told DAZN.

    "Unfortunately, these things happen in football. He had this adductor issue a week ago too, perhaps I should've taken him off when we were 3-0 up, but he was enjoying himself out there. 

    "Zakaria just had a cramp, nothing more. The important thing is that we won a game that we really wanted to win, which was by no means simple."

    Juventus' may make further additions before the close of the transfer window on September 1, with Di Maria's compatriot and former PSG teammate Leandro Paredes heavily touted to make a move to Turin.

    The midfielder was shown on social media to be following the game but Allegri played down the significance.

    "They are friends, both from Argentina, so that's natural. I don't know if they can play together, I have to work with the players at my disposal," he added.

    "The club has done well, we lost important players and brought in good replacements."

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    The former Paris Saint-Germain star opened the deadlock with a bouncing volley and teed up Vlahovic in the second half, which came either side of the Serbian winning and converting a penalty.

    Sterner tests will await for Juventus this season, particularly when their Champions League campaign begins next month, but the performance from the two attackers will provide encouragement after last season's frustrations.

    Di Maria's creativity is likely to add further opportunities for Vlahovic to extend his excellent record for Juventus, and he took the opportunity after the win to praise his new teammate.

    "It's an incredible sensation to play with Di Maria, it's so pleasing to work with such champions and I thank him for the assist. He had an extraordinary game," he told DAZN.

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    The Serbian forward struck five minutes either side of the interval to put the Bianconeri in control after Angel Di Maria marked his Juve debut with a maiden goal at the Allianz Stadium.

    Massimiliano Allegri's side were not at their best in possession but made their chances count, with their attacking contingent laying down a marker to their rivals.

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    Five minutes before the break, Vlahovic bullied Gian Marco Ferrari to win the hosts a penalty and stepped-up to confidently smash home from the spot to open his account for the season.

    Sassuolo were the architects of their own downfall following the restart, Kaan Ayhan giving the ball away to Di Maria who fed in Vlahovic to double his tally and continue in the vein that saw him star last term.

    Juventus took their foot off the gas in the remainder of the half to ease out a win, with Filip Kostic introduced for the final half hour in a comfortable debut environment.

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