It has come down to this.
Two teams who have hit their strides just at the right time, two coaches who clearly have little time for each other these days and one Golden Toilet Seat.
The A-League grand final is upon us, it will emanate from Hunter at McDonald Jones Stadium Saturday May 5th. 7:50 pm kick-off local time, 10:50 am over in the United Kingdom on BT Sport ESPN.
NEWCASTLE JETS VS. MELBOURNE VICTORY
10:50 am (UK time) – Saturday 5th May
There are the hard facts.
Newcastle Jets finished the regular season in second place behind Premiers winners Sydney FC with 50 points and qualification to AFC Champions League second preliminary round secured. In the semi-finals they overcame Melbourne City despite going a goal behind levelling thanks to ‘the’ goal by Riley McGree and sealing the win via a Jason Hoffman winner.
Newcastle Jets are expected to line up as follows: Glen Moss (GK), Johnny Koutroumbis, Nigel Boogaard (c), Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Daniel Georgievski, Ronnie Vargas, Steven Ugarkovic, Riley McGree, Dimitri Petratos, Roy O’Donovan, Jason Hoffman
Goalkeeper Jack Duncan (quad strain) and Ben Kantarovski (Hamstring tear) will both almost certainly miss the final despite a concerted effort to prove their fitness.
Player to Watch: Riley McGree.
Melbourne Victory finished the regular season in fourth place with 41 points having competed in the group stage of the 2018 AFC Champions League. In the finals series they have defeated Adelaide United at AAMI Park and then upset Sydney FC in extra time of a Big Blue in the Allianz Stadium as Terry Antonis scored an own goal to take the tie into another 30 minutes with seconds left on the clock before firing the emotional winner.
Melbourne Victory are expected to line up as follows: Lawrence Thomas (GK), Stefan Nigro, James Donachie, Thomas Deng, Leigh Broxham, Carl Valeri (c), Terry Antonis, Kosta Barbarouses, James Troisi, Leroy George, Besart Berisha
Influential defender Rhys Williams has been ruled out after suffering an injury in the pre-game warm up for the semi-final, while teenage attacker Christian Theoharous is increasingly likely to miss the match after straining ankle ligaments in a heavy challenge from Luke Wilkshire in the Sydney game.
Player to Watch: Besart Berisha.
Victory stalwart Leigh Broxham and Berisha are set to equal the Hyundai A-League record for most Grand Final appearances with five. Berisha has scored in each of his previous four deciders, including in Victory’s 2015 success, for a joint-record five Grand Final goals – a mark he shares with Archie Thompson.
Victory are playing in their third Grand Final in four seasons, while the Jets are in their second decider and first since 2008.
Those were the hard facts. Now to light the touch paper.
Ernie Merrick and Kevin Muscat do not get along in a battle that has been described as Master vs. Apprentice. Merrick was the manager who led Melbourne Victory to two championships with Kevin Muscat as his combative captain. Since Merrick’s axing at the club in 2011, there is no love lost between the two bosses. They have refused to pose together with the A-League championship trophy at the official pre-match grand final press conference – instead club captains Nigel Boogaard and Carl Valeri will attend to the photo shoot. Read into that what you will.
For Melbourne Victory, it’s all about momentum. Their win over Adelaide United, led by the impressive Isaias, was about attrition and organisation but against Sydney FC, they slayed their nemesis. Sydney FC were the best team in the league, claiming the L’ word was no longer in their vocabulary but Victory went to the Allianz and beat them, denying Graham Arnold’s men the opportunity to win three trophies.
If Melbourne Victory have built momentum, Newcastle Jets are riding a wave that has lasted all season long. They haven’t backed down from any opponent and have played football their way. That attitude, enthusiasm, and energy has taken Merrick’s merry band of men through to an extraordinary potential Championship win.
The A-League championship decider is upon us as Newcastle Jets take on Melbourne Victory in front of a packed house at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
Can the Jets complete a fairy-tale story of going from wooden spoon holders to competition champions?
Or will heavyweights Victory win a fourth A-League title in their sixth grand final appearance?
Prediction: Newcastle Jets 1 Melbourne Victory 3