Star striker Bruno Fornaroli has continued his rich goal-scoring run to help Melbourne City overcome Central Coast and lock up an A-League home elimination final.
Fornaroli found the AAMI Park net early in the second half of the 1-0 victory on Saturday night to ensure City won't finish lower than fourth heading into the finals. With one round to play, if they hold third above Melbourne Victory City will take the all-important Asian Champions League qualifying spot.
The form of the 30-year-old, who missed much of the season with an ankle injury, will send a warning to other finals contenders about the threat posed by City. He's now scored four goals in their past in five games.
While the home side got the win, it was a frustrating match thanks to the defensive mindset of the Mariners.
"Obviously at this stage of the season three points are vital," said City coach Warren Joyce. "They've come with a game plan and tried to frustrate us and done it well. We had to break them down and create chances and score and we found that hard to do tonight."
The Uruguayan striker missed a first half chance thanks to a strong save by keeper Dean Bouzanis, while the Mariners' defensive formation of three at the back caused some frustration for the home side. He also missed a stellar opportunity to seal the result with six minutes remaining when he went one-on-one with Bouzanis but the keeper got a hand to it.
The win gives Melbourne City some breathing space in third place on the ladder ahead of cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory, who host bottom-placed Wellington on Sunday night.
Fornaroli's goal came in the 49th minute when Scott Jamieson fed it to his teammate, who had a great first touch at the edge of the box and then sweetly slotted it into the bottom corner.
City continued to press but were able to add to their tally thanks to some willing defence by their ninth-placed opponents, who haven't won in Melbourne in four years.
The only sour note for City was a yellow card to Daniel Azarni for a reckless tackle, with the youngster replaced in the 55th minute.
Joyce said Azarni had got through a ton of work in recent weeks and didn't look as sharp as usual.
"He's been top of all the stats in the last few weeks and there's going to come a time when he's not going to quite at those highs," Joyce said.
City will travel for Wellington for their last round match.