The A-League Grand Final is now set as two teams advanced from the semi-finals to take their place in the season’s showpiece event after two dramatic matches. Who progressed? Whose season ended? Let’s find out.
NEWCASTLE JETS 2 MELBOURNE CITY 1
Semi-finals are a horrible time to depart a competition. Fans barely remember beaten finalists, never mind those who made it to the final four and crashed out.
For Newcastle Jets, it looked like they were going to be one of those teams. Second in the A-League regular season, they trailed to a City team who appeared to have hit their stride at just the right time entering finals football.
City drew first blood, you do wonder where they would be without the talents and goals of Bruno Fornaroli, who gave the Melbourne side the lead in the 14th minute. Dario Vidosic raced towards goal and crossed for the Uruguayan to bundle the ball over the line behind Newcastle goalkeeper Jack Duncan, himself a victim of a muscle tear ten minutes later. Sensing the urgency, Daniel Arzani attacked and was felled in the penalty box by Johnny Koutroumbis but to City’s chagrin protests for a penalty were waved away. Perhaps Arzani’s reputation has been sullied already in his young career?
Newcastle Jets needed a hero and they don’t all wear capes as Riley McGree stepped up to the plate just shy of the hour. With the ball chipped up to him on the run and slightly behind him, McGree bent his leg back to flick the ball up and over despairing goalie Dean Bouzanis, who could do little but stand and look on in amazement. Ernie Merrick retained his calm, despite the cries of Fox Sports commentator Brenton Speed; “One of the most amazing things we’ve ever seen.”
If you haven’t seen it, find it. It was truly a spectacular goal that has gone viral around the world, the best A-League goal in history and very few worldwide beat it. Afterwards, Riley admitted it was a bit of a fluke but or sheer audacity it deserves a viewing. Sit back and admire.
Jets had the momentum, they were solid at the back with Nigel Boogaard and Nikolai Topor-Stanley auditioning for future careers as nightclub doormen as they let nothing past them. Jets pushed forward looking for a winning goal with City on the ropes and found it in the 75th minute as the excellent Osama Malik couldn’t clear a low cross, instead his touch was poor and it fell to the feet of the sole survivor from the Jets’ last grand final appearance in 2008, veteran Jason Hoffman. He slammed the ball home and sealed a victory that means Newcastle Jets have gone from last place to the last day of the finals in 12 months.
It was a feisty affair, nine yellow cards dished out and Newcastle will be without their goalkeeper for the grand final but they will regroup and there’s no doubt about the remarkable turnaround for the Jets.
SYDNEY FC 2 MELBOURNE VICTORY 3
With A-League fans still catching their breath from Riley McGree’s wondergoal, surely the second semi-final would be a slow, methodical and tactical affair?
No. Not a chance.
Sydney FC were worthy Premiers, coming top of the regular season table by 14 points, recording five more wins than their closest challenger, Newcastle Jets, and only losing three games all season. It showed in the early stages with Melbourne Victory having lost centre-back Rhys Williams to injury just before kick-off. Williams’ replacement Stefan Nigro opened the scoring with an own goal as he deflected in an Adrian Mierzejewski lofted free-kick into the Victory net.
Tactically, Kevin Muscat had set his team up to attack the Sydney right, looking to double up on veteran Luke Wilkshire as he had Mierzejewski in front of him and his roaming style left Wilkshire horribly exposed. Kosta Barbarouses thumped the near post after a through ball by Dutchman Leroy George when conventional wisdom says to go back across the ‘keeper before a jinking run saw him level matters.
The second half saw Muscat’s team dominate central midfield with the impressive pairing of Carl Valeri and Terry Antonis. Joshua Brillante lost the ball in the middle and Victory pounced, Berisha comes alive in finals football and he found James Troisi, who couldn’t miss. Victory ahead and Muscat would slowly begin to withdraw his attacking forces for defensive replacements, heading into the last few minutes with Berisha, Troisi and Leroy George having been replaced. It was a tactic that could have backfired spectacularly as Ben Warland, on a sub himself for Buijs hit the crossbar with a volley in injury time at the end of the second half before flicking a header wide.
With twenty seconds to go, Sydney FC throw everything, the kitchen sink, the lot, forward and a Thomas save spilled at the feet of the anonymous Mierzejewski. He looked to cut back, only to find Terry Antonis and the Victory midfielder diverted the ball into his own net. Extra-time began with the Victory bench containing their top players, they were powerless despite Berisha doing his best Cristiano Ronaldo Euro 2016 final impression and suddenly the utterly poor trio of Mierzejewski, Bobo and Ninkovic had a reprieve. Sydney were the team in the ascendency and they had their best on the pitch, Muscat having played his hand.
Extra-time was cagey, it was attritional as the toll of the regular season showed. As the clock wound down to the inevitability of penalties, Terry Antonis picked the ball up in his own half. Tired and with Sydney FC players swarming him, he went on a run that took him into the Sydney box and unleashed a powerful strike that took a deflection up into the roof of the net. The villain from 30 minutes previous had become the ultimate hero.
The aftermath of the goal was marred with two red cards, Victory assistant coach Jean-Paul de Marigny and the club’s goalkeeping coach were both sent to the stands for entering the field of play and engaging in a melee with Sydney’s protagonist David Carney. It was one of the most dramatic matches the A-League has ever seen with two own goals, extra-time, two red cards and Antonis’ journey from zero to hero. Sydney bow out of the finals, as does Graham Arnold as he prepares for the Socceroos job, but they gave us a hell of a spectacle.
The Grand Final is set. The Golden Toilet Seat awaits for the winner of the most unlikely finals clash. Newcastle Jets, by virtue of their league position, host Melbourne Victory in McDonald Jones Stadium. It happens on May 5th, 10:50 am UK time and based on the two semi-finals… we’re in for a great ride. Join us as we provide live coverage on twitter @FootballAsiaUK. You wouldn’t dare miss it!