VAR Controversy Spoils A-League Grand Final

It was supposed to be the culmination of a fantastic A-League season with stories coming to roost. The journey of Newcastle Jets from the wooden spoon to the Grand Final, Melbourne Victory looking for a fourth Golden Toilet Seat, Besart Berisha seeking to maintain his scoring record on finals day and the sight of the best team in the country, Sydney FC, not even participating.

What happened wasn’t what everybody will remember, all anybody will ever be talking about is the failure of VAR.

NEWCASTLE JETS 0 MELBOURNE VICTORY 1

Victory started the game on the front foot, looking to press and harry Newcastle Jets and stop them playing the game they wanted to, the one that saw them overcome Melbourne City in the semi-final. It was a masterstroke by Kevin Muscat, relying on the holding midfielders Terry Antonis and captain Carl Valeri to recover the ball in the centre of the pitch before launching counter-attacks.

James Troisi was fouled out wide on the Melbourne Victory left. Dutch assist king Leroy George stepped up to provide a lofted ball and at the back-post, James Donachie headed down for Kosta Barbarouses to finish, albeit with a helpful deflection from Johnny Koutroumbis. At first glance, a good goal for Victory. On second glance on the Fox Sports coverage, provided by BT Sport in the UK, Donachie and two other Victory players were clearly offside.

Image courtesy of our friends at Fox Sports.

In the main, Macca’s VAR has been a positive influence on Australian football but on this occasion, the most high-profile moment of the season, it failed. Football Federation Australia has released a statement, which does not make good reading particularly considering that VAR will be in place for the World Cup in Russia during the summer, a World Cup that the Socceroos will participate in.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) has conducted a review into the goal decision by the VAR during last night’s Hyundai A-League 2018 Grand Final between the Newcastle Jets and Melbourne Victory.

It has found that a technical failure in the VAR system meant that the Video Assistant Referee did not have access to the camera views which would have enabled him to make an offside ruling in the 9th minute goal scored for Melbourne Victory by Kosta Barbarouses.

FFA’s Head of Hyundai A-League and Westfield W-League, Greg O’Rourke, said that according to the technology partner Hawkeye, the capture software that uploads the broadcast feed into the VAR system was partially lost 30 seconds before Victory’s goal due to a malfunction of software.

It was not until some minutes after the goal that this was restored, too late to change the decision on the goal as the game had restarted.

What this has done is take away from some brilliant performances. Unperturbed by the Victory opener, despite the consequences, Dimi Petratos battled on. He pushed his teammates around him to launch wave after wave of attack and on 15 minutes, his free-kick found Jason Hoffman and the sole survivor from Newcastle Jets last journey to the Grand Final in 2008 looked to have poked the ball home until goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas displayed his reflexes to get low down to his left and make the stop.

At the other end, Jets goalkeeper Glen Moss, himself a replacement for injured colleague Jack Duncan, saved well from Leroy George. On the half-hour, Riley McGree, the hero from the semi-final, sent a strike towards the bottom corner and Lawrence Thomas flung himself down to make the save. It rebounded into the path of Hoffman, denying him the rebound for a wonderful double save.

Deep into the second half the impressive Petratos still believed, his free-kick was headed towards goal by Roy O’Donovan but it was kept out by Thomas, who took a hit in the process. He needed several minutes of treatment and emerged with a bandage wrapped around his skull.

Deep into injury time another Petratos free-kick was sent into the box, Lawrence Thomas caught the ball at chest-height only to find Roy O’Donovan’s flying boot striking him around the jaw. Victory players fumed and referee Jarred Gillett wasted no time dispensing a straight red card for a challenge that surely will cost O’Donovan several games at the start of next season. Thomas was strapped up again and completed the game looking more like a mummy than a Championship-winning goalkeeper.

Prior to that incident, O’Donovan had received a stray elbow from striker Besart Berisha as he cleared off the line from a Victory attack and soon had a swollen lump under his eye but that’s no excuse for his moment of madness in front of 29,410 A-League supporters in the McDonald Jones Stadium.

Lawrence Thomas was deservedly awarded the Joe Marston Medal as player of the match and one can only hope that in time, this A-League Grand Final is remembered more for his excellent performance, rather than the lack of VAR intervention.

In the end, it was Ernie Merrick’s one-time protege Kevin Muscat who got the last laugh, not only over Newcastle Jets but in winning the game, they have denied their rivals Melbourne City their first-ever participation in the Asian Champions League.