Sydney FC hold their shootout nerve to become champions of the A-League

Sydney FC hold their shootout nerve to become champions of the A-League


Andrew Redmayne and Reza Ghoochannejhad have etched themselves into Sky Blue legend as Sydney FC secured their fourth A-League title with a penalty shootout win over Perth Glory.

Though generally second best throughout the contest – not even recording a shot on target – the Sky Blues nonetheless held the nerve in the pressure cooker environment that is the shootout after proceedings ended at 0-0; Redmayne saving shots from Andy Keogh and Brendon Santalab to allow Ghoochannejhad to win it.

Though in the end it mattered not, Sydney may have won it in regulation had it not been for a controversial first-half incident that saw a Harboursider goal disallowed by the flag of the linesman in the 28th minute.

Replays seemingly indicated that the decision should be overruled, and the goal allowed to stand, however, VAR failed to overturn the decision on the field: ensuring that scores remained level at half time.

On the other side of the equation, Perth Glory Head Coach Tony Popovic has now become a familiar bedfellow with Grand Final disappointment, Sunday’s defeat in front of a Grand Final record crowd serving as his fourth unsuccessful attempt at ascending to the top of the mountain.

Clearly a cut above the rest of the league as they romped to the clubs first premiership over the course of the regular season, Glory will now be left to rue what might have been; a fairytale ending denied.

Reza Ghoochannejhad’s penalty sealed the championship for Sydney FC

The first twist in Sunday evening’s game occured before a ball had been kicked at Optus Stadium, delivered in the form of a team sheet.

Whilst Sydney FC brought in a side unchanged from the 6-1 shellacking that they handed out against Melbourne Victory in their semi-final on Sunday night, Perth Glory sprung a surprise on Sydney Head Coach Steve Corica; withdrawing Keogh from the starting XI that downed Adelaide United last Friday night and, in his place, slotting in Joel Chianese.

It was, in the words of Popovic, a “tactical decision,” one designed to exploit “something that we see with Sydney FC.”

In a surprise move, Tony Popovic opted to start striker Andy Keogh on the bench

Whatever their tactics, Glory flashed their intentions early; wingback Jason Davidson flashing a left-footed volley wide of the post in just the second minute of play and then, just three minutes later, floating a tantalising ball into the penalty area that Chianese was just unable to guide into the net.

Though Sydney was not completely overawed – the sublime Milos Ninkovic flashing the intelligence that makes him such a dangerous player when he snuck behind the Perth lines in the 16th minute – it was the Glory again that had yet another clear chance in the 17th minute when towering defender Dino Djulbic forced Sydney goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne into a leaping save after meeting a worked corner with his head.

Nonetheless, as is at this point seemingly fitting for the A-League, controversy soon arose when, in the 28th minute of play, Sydney seemingly had the ball in the back of the net.

Capitalising on some fantastically worked play down the left by Michael Zullo and a retiring Alex Brosque, Sydney spearhead Adam Le Fondre darted towards a low Zullo cross, forcing Mathew Spiranovic to inadvertently turn the ball into the net in a desperate attempt to keep the ball from reaching the Englishman.

However, the linesman’s flag was raised in response to Zullo’s run to get in behind the Perth defence and, without the VAR bunker being satisfied that conclusive footage proved otherwise, the goal was ruled out and Perth was handed a lifeline.

Sydney FC Head Coach Steve Corica was incensed when VAR did not award his side a first half goal

Corica was incensed by the decision on the sideline, earning himself a yellow card for his remonstrations with the officials in the wake of the incident.

Remarkably, the game then failed to produce a clear shot in anger following the controversial disallowed goal until the 44th minute, when Rhyan Grant show wide right from significantly outside the Glory area.

Perth went close to finally opening the scoring seven minutes into the second stanza when Ivan Franjic, a championship winner with Brisbane Roar, matriculated his way into enough space on the right to lace a ball into Diego Castro on the edge of the six-yard box.

Driving a bullet of a header on goal, Castro would have been forgiven for thinking he had given his side the lead, only for Redmayne to somehow react to the effort within a split-second to rise up and tip the ball away from the goal.

With the game still goalless heading to the hour mark tempers began to flare, Davidson and Grant clashing and exchanging words in the 59th minute.

Ryhan Grant and Jason Davidson staged a fierce battle on the wing throughout the Grand Final

Castro again had a chance to seize the initiative with an aerial chance in the 67th minute when he met a ball lofted into the area by Davidson; Redmayne this time getting down low and to his left to swallow the ball before it could cross the line.

Though Castro was increasingly beginning to impose himself on proceedings, the defensive nature of the game was apparent as Perth struggled to create any clear-cut chances in the face of stiff Sydney resistance.

This rearguard action for the Sky Blues, who were seemingly content to get to the end of regulation with the scores locked at 0-0, eventually proved successful; an extra half an hour of football was required to crown an A-League champion for 2018/19.

Unfortunately for fans hoping for a barnstorming end to proceedings, the trends of regular time – in which only three efforts on target were recorded – continued into extra time; the most notable moment of the first fifteen minutes of extras being Brosque’s departure – signifying the end of his illustrious A-League career.

Not even the introduction of super-sub Santalab was able to spark a goal in the second period of extras; Davidson’s inability to spy an open Castro inside the area in the 118th minute the final nail in the coffin of finding a victor in regular time.

It meant that the game was to be decided in that dramatic and most cruel of circumstances: the penalty shootout.

Le Fondre smashed his effort past Liam Reddy to begin proceedings before Juande sent Redmayne the wrong way to level the tally. Brandon O’Neill promptly made it 2-1 to the visitors, which was followed by Redmayne guessing right and saving Keogh’s effort.

With the boo-birds ringing out, Grant then put Sydney’s third effort into the top corner. Following up, Santalab tried some trickery with a chipped effort down the middle but, disastrously, failed to fool Redmayne.

Gifted a chance to win it, Iranian import Ghoochannejhad stepped up to the spot. Though his tenure in the A-League could have been labelled somewhat disappointing that was not a label that could be applied to his penalty: the Sydney man hammering the ball into the net to win his side the shootout, the game and the A-League Championship.

PERTH GLORY: Liam Reddy, Jason Davidson, Shane Lowry, Matthew Spiranovic, Dino Djulbic, Ivan Franjic (Neville 91′), Juande, Neil Kilkenny (Brimmer 111′), Joel Chianese (Keogh 73’), Chris Ikonomidis (Santalab 115′), Diego Castro.

Bench: Tando Velaphi, Andrew Keogh, Brendon Santalab, Jake Brimmer, Scott Neville.

SYDNEY FC: Andrew Redmayne, Michael Zullo, Aaron Calver, Alex Wilkinson, Rhyan Grant, Brandon O’Neill, Josh Brillante, Milos Ninkovic; Alex Brosque (Ghoochannejhad 96′), Adam Le Fondre, Siem De Jong (Caceres 78’).

Bench: Alex Cisak, Paulo Retre, Daniel De Silva, Reza Ghoochannejhad, Anthony Caceres.