THE Melbourne Stars will have to win the Big Bash on the road and have cost their cross-town rivals a semi-final spot after an ugly loss to the Sydney Sixers at the MCG.
Minus five walk-up starters from their best team, the Stars collapsed in an all-too familiar fashion with the bat losing 6-25 in the final five overs then floundered when in a winning position with the ball to surrender any chance of finishing in top spot.
Instead the Stars, still searching for a maiden Big Bash League title, finished fourth after the three-wicket loss and will face off against the table-topping Perth Scorchers in Perth on Tuesday, with much work needing to be done.
The loss consigned the Melbourne Renegades, who kept their finals hopes alive with a last-ball win in Brisbane on Friday night, to another Australia Day weekend on the sidelines as the Sixers leapfrogged both Melbourne teams to finish third.
In a game of fluctuating finals fortunes the home team shot out of the blocks with the bat, but limped to a mediocre total of 8-156.
The Stars then got on top of the Sydneysiders with the ball and had them struggling at 6-97 knowing they only needed to roll the Sixers for less than 133 to finish on top of the table.
But it all went pear-shaped from there as Sydney all-rounder Sean Abbott got on the front-foot, hitting five boundaries after his teammates had struggled, and his quick-fire 33 off just 17 balls helped guide his team in to a semi-final showdown with the Heat in Brisbane.
Stars skipper David Hussey said his players failed to put their foot on the throat of the Stars when bowling and may have got ahead of themselves.
"When you take your foot off the pedal in a crucial game cricket does come back and bite you," he said.
"I think that's what happened; we went away from our plans ... and got burnt at the back end.
"But we go to Perth still with a little bit of confidence. We all really get up for that challenge.
"We've been in the semi-finals since the first Big Bash ... but we need to go one step further.
"We've got to revisit that loss pretty quickly and reset or plans recalibrate and get the confidence back up for guys who can execute under pressure."
Hussey said the Stars would put in a call to Australian one-day team officials to see if any of Glenn Maxwell, Peter Handscomb, Adam Zampa, James Faulkner or Marcus Stoinis could be released from the national squad for Tuesday's game.
Sent in to bat by the Sixers, who wanted to know what they had to chase to climb in to the final four, the Stars started brightly.
Openers Luke Wright (62 off 47 balls) and Rob Quiney (35 off 19) powered thorough the opening five overs and put on 59 before Quiney was out flicking the final ball of the power play to Dan Hughes at short fine leg.
Wright and Kevin Pietersen controlled the next phase of play and the pair got the Stars to their 100 in the 12th over, albeit slowly with a run of a dozen singles broken by a rare boundary.
But as Test spinner Nathan Lyon (2-18) put the slows on the home team they tried to hit out, without success. First Wright was bowled by the spinner before Evan Gulbis, batting at four and highlighting the lack of Stars batting depth, was stumped two balls later.
Pietersen remained but could not bat his team out of trouble and wickets continued to tumble around him as the overs flew by, and he too fell after a painstaking 39, made in nearly 14 overs at the crease.
It was left to wicketkeeper Sam Harper and finally seamer Ben Hilfenhaus to hit the only two boundaries for Melbourne in the final five overs as that bright start turned dark, as did the Stars' semi-final chances.