Victory earn 4th title, equal NSL/A-League championship record
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Lawrence Thomas’ man of the match performance helped Melbourne Victory win its fourth A-League championship and earned himself the Joe Marston Medal as best on ground in the grand final.
The Victory keeper was once again phenomenal when needed most, producing two vital saves midway through the first half and denying the Jets when they looked their most dangerous.
The Jets started the stronger of the two teams, feeding off the McDonald Jones Stadium energy in the first A-League final played outside a major city.
The first real chance was granted to the Victory after earning a free kick.
A whipping Leroy George ball to the edge of the six-yard box fell to the head of defender James Donachie, who headed back towards the centre of the box where winger Kosta Barbarouses slotted it home, taking a deflection off of John Koutroumbis and hitting the back of the net.
Barbarouses’ 10th goal of the season was arguably his most controversial, as Donachie was offside when George played his original ball.
Despite V.A.R being in use, the goal wasn’t reviewed and stood, as Victory took a lead they wouldn’t surrender.
The Jets continued to apply pressure following Victory’s goal and nearly scored on two separate occasions.
The first was just after the quarter of the hour mark as Newcastle striker Roy O’Donovan connected on a cross and struck a right-footed shot across goal that forced a magnificent low, diving save from Thomas to deny the Jets their first shot on target.
Their second and arguably best chance was roughly 15 minutes later on the half hour mark as semi-final hero Riley McGee cut inside from the right side of the box and took a left-foot shot that Thomas managed to keep out.
The ball fell to defender Jason Hoffman who had a chance to equalise but again, the Victory keeper somehow leapt up and got his body high enough that Hoffman’s shot glanced off his body and flew above the crossbar.
Those two saves alone showed that the Jets would need to produce something special if they were to get past Thomas, whose last two performances were the best of his career.
The second half was predominantly played in the middle of the park which suited Victory, as their defence held firm against any Newcastle attack despite missing P.F.A A-League Team of the Year defender Rhys Williams and having Thomas Deng playing out of position in centre back, rather than right back.
With just minutes to go and the Jets searching for an equaliser, Dimi Petratos’ free kick was hit too deep and Thomas claimed it comfortably.
O’Donovan arrived to the ball late and kicked the goalkeeper square in the face and was immediately red carded.
The horribly timed challenge should see the striker miss several games at the start of the 2018/19 campaign and punctuated what was a disappointing night for the home side, whose season goes unrewarded despite going from the bottom to making the Grand Final in one season.
Victory’s night was not to be soured.
Thomas was bandaged up and finished the game as Melbourne claimed its second championship in four years, having been in three of the last four grand finals.
The win caps off a rollercoaster season for Victory, who became the first side to win the A-League from fourth position.
Boss Kevin Muscat was booed at home mid game in a clash against the Brisbane Roar, they lost Socceroos defender Jason Geria in March to Japanese side JEF United and their defensive backbone in Williams was ruled out pre-game in the semi-final.
The 1-0 win somewhat makes up for last season’s penalty shootout heartbreak and Victory now hold bragging rights the A-League’s most successful club.