Melbourne Heart have booked their first A-League finals berth, despite Sydney FC substitute Shannon Cole scoring twice to snatch a comeback draw at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
The Sky Blues remained in seventh spot, despite showing typical fighting spirit to turn a two-goal halftime deficit into a 2-2 result.
That means they still need to beat the Newcastle Jets at Allianz Stadium next Sunday to reach the finals.
While the fifth-placed Heart are only one point clear of both the Jets and Sydney, their far superior goal difference to the Sky Blues means only one of those sides can overtake them next weekend.
The Heart would have stayed in the frame for a home final had they won, which looked likely when they scored twice in five minutes in the first half.
First, a clever 31st-minute chip from captain Fred found Mate Dugandzic in the penalty area, Dugandzic’s sharp left-footer rolling between the legs of Sydney goalkeeper Ivan Necevski.
Fred and Dugandzic were again involved in the second goal.
Fred’s perfect long ball put Dugandzic clear down the right flank.
Dugandzic’s cross deflected off Sydney’s Scott Jamieson, then bounced to a bending Eli Babalj, who headed home.
Sydney made up for a lack of first-half urgency with a desperate second period.
They twice went agonisingly close to scoring within minutes of the restart.
An attempted clearing kick from Heart keeper Clint Bolton was partly blocked by Sydney’s Joel Chianese, and fell to a wide open Bruno Cazarine, whose shot flew high.
Nicky Carle hit the crossbar with a blistering first-touch long-range shot soon after, with Cazarine latching onto the rebound, only for Bolton to produce a brilliant reflex save.
Cole, who came on at halftime, finally gave Sydney their first goal in the 66th minute, with a straightforward finish, after the Heart defence failed to deal well with a Brett Emerton cross.
Cole added his second 11 minutes later, Scott Jamieson picking him out with a free kick into a crowded penalty area, with Cole producing a crisp near-post header.
He celebrated with a backflip.
But Sydney really needed another goal to make a difference to their finals chances and, despite some late penalty box scrambles, could not find one.