Melbourne Victory claimed a record fourth A-League grand final crown with a gripping, yet controversial 1-0 win over Newcastle Jets at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
Kosta Barbarouses gave the visitors a lead in the ninth minute when James Donachie’s header fell to the New Zealander to finish with his left foot. Outcry has since surrounded the strike, however, as replays showed that Donachie was clearly offside when Leroy George delivered the ball.
Lawrence Thomas kept the Jets at bay with a brilliant pinpoint save from Roy O’Donovan, and just past the half hour mark a terrific double stop, first from Riley McGree and then Ronnie Vargas’ subsequent strike.
Ernie Merrick’s men continued to push for an equaliser to force the game to extra-time, but they struggled to gain any ascendancy in the midfield and were inefficient going forward.
The match was soured deep in injury time when O’Donovan’s abnormally raised boot collected Thomas in the face as he endeavoured to score. The Newcastle striker was sent-off, as Victory’s battered goalkeeper finished the match.
History breakers become history makers
After ending Sydney’s historic season in the semi-finals, Melbourne have carved out some history of their own after recording their fourth A-League grand final victory – the most of any franchise in the competition.
Kevin Muscat’s side also became the first team since Adelaide City in 1992 to win the championship from fourth place, and the first team to do so in the A-League era.
When it seemed that nobody had faith in the players and the manager – including the club’s own fans – they continued to push through and have been rewarded for these fine efforts.
In the face of league standings and the predictions of many observers, Melbourne were simply too much to handle for their higher placed opponents, with their pressing intensity and high-octane counter attacking overpowering the hosts.
Thomas was immense in between the sticks, and the back four in front of him were staunch in preventing the likes of Dimitri Petratos and O’Donovan from creating scoring opportunities for Newcastle.
Jets fall short of fairy tale win
Ernie Merrick’s side were the feel good team of the 2017-18 campaign, having defied all odds after a wooden spoon finish just one season ago.
Many tipped the Jets for similar struggles this time around, but on the back of a number of standout performances, they have taken the A-League by storm.
Newcastle produced some of the most attractive football the competition has seen over the past season, with Petratos and Andrew Nabbout becoming influential players – before the latter took up an offer he could not refuse in Japan.
A second-placed finish behind Graham Arnold’s unrivalled Sydney FC in the regular season ensured the entire nation sat up and took notice, and gave the side confidence that they could go all the way in the finals series.
A spectacular comeback victory over Melbourne City set up a first ever home grand final in the club’s history, and with a packed Hunters Stadium watching on, many expected the Jets to claim the ‘toilet seat’ at the end of the 90 minutes.
However, the inexperienced Newcastle team was perhaps overawed by the spectacle of the grand final and failed to live up to the expectations, as the Victory overpowered them and stormed to silverware.
VAR controversy from start to finish
From its first use of the season, right until the final game, VAR has been a source of discussion for football fans not only in Australia, but across the world.
From early complaints of the time taken to make decisions on the pitch, to misunderstandings of when it should be used, right until the grand final with VAR not deeming Donachie to be offside – despite replays later pointing towards the contrary forcing the FFA to admit to an embarrassing error.
FIFA have confirmed its inclusion for the upcoming World Cup as it begins to garner greater use in the footballing world, however, the Football Association in England voted against adopting the technology in a recent meeting.
Being the first year of its use worldwide, improvements and refinements will undoubtedly come as the governing bodies of the game look to rectify its deficiencies.
However, it remains to be seen whether the video assistant will be a success in the long term of the world game.