Numbers don’t mean a thing for this A-League Grand Final
Forget the numbers - this grand final is going to be primal02 May 2018 | Stuart Thomas
What if I told you that the last time the Jets and the Victory met the result was all three points for the home side at McDonald Jones Stadium in round 19?
I could also mention the two previous encounters where Victory claimed a 2-1 win at AAMI Park or remind you of the early season 4-1 drubbing that the Jets dished out in Newcastle.
But really, after what we saw last week, none of it will matter.
Statistics have had little impact in the A-League finals so far. There has been something far more powerful at play; something primordial, instinctive and stirring that has resulted in games to remember.
In a logical, numbers based world, Sydney FC would be ramping up for a tilt at consecutive titles. In reality, the players are probably still moping around their residences like grumpy housemates and spouses.
Sydney were beaten, not based on a shrewd and meticulous game plan or a secret ‘winged keel’ which other teams couldn’t access, but by a raw and ravenous Melbourne Victory who were not to be denied.
Rhys Williams’ injury rocked the visitors moments before kick-off, yet if there is one thing I admire about Kevin Muscat it is his ability to use adversity to inspire performance. And that he did.
It has been the modus operandi in his management of Besart Berisha all season. Frequently off-side and a step slow, Berisha has struggled. Muscat has cuddled him, kissed him and dragged him from the field early at times, but the most important thing he has done is inspire Berisha to prove something.
The team unity parlayed into palpable resilience after falling a goal behind. With a Kosta Barbarouses equaliser in the 31st minute, the tone was set, the Victory teeth were bared and it wasn’t about game plans or passing lanes - it was about revenge.
When James Troisi tapped in to put Victory into the lead after forty seven minutes, even the visitors must have started to ask themselves if it was really happening. As they repelled Sydney’s attacking forays for the remainder of the second half, they almost had an answer in the affirmative in normal time.
However, when Terry Antonis deflected an Adrian Mierzejewski cross into his own net, the local euphoria was set to crush the Victory spirit. But not this time. If anything, they got angrier, madness came into their eyes, and Allianz became Lord of the Flies-like, as rhyme and reason flew out the window.
This was perfectly enunciated with Antonis’ fairy tale finish and the chaos that ensued, with coaching staff entering the field of play and the dishing out of reds and yellows all over the place.
In reality, it lacked a little class, perhaps a lot, but it needed something to ignite Melbourne Victory in that way in order for them to produce a result that looked unlikely for much of the season.
Whilst less dramatic, Newcastle called on something similar to bring most of the Hunter to tears and did so at the expense of Melbourne City.
Sport often sees one team ride a wave of emotion and success, defying past performances and sometimes logic along the way. Newcastle Jets have played the most entertaining brand of football we have seen since the Brisbane Roar under Ange Postecoglou and they needed to find it one more time to get past City.
Similar to Victory, the game started with early heartbreak with a goal inside fifteen minutes and City held that lead into the break.
What followed nearly ‘broke the internet’ and was a lot more tasteful than the last time that happened.
Parents in Uruguay, Uganda and Uzbekistan as well as Argentina, Angola and Austria, will show their children Riley McGree’s goal in the 57th minute. It was as basic, fundamental and instinctive as it gets. It defied all logic and common sense and the sexy moniker ‘scorpion kick’, only makes it seem so much better.
The momentum swung, and the fairy tale was complete, when Jason Hoffman found the net with around fifteen minutes remaining. Sadly for City, there were to be no heroics, comebacks or equalisers.
The numbers tell us that Newcastle thump goals in for fun and Victory are a tough team to crack, yet rely too heavily on Leroy George to create. Truth is, they have more ammunition than that.
Newcastle will turn up with all their youth and weapons in the form of McGree, Dimi Petratos and Joey Champness and an important twelfth player; the collective cheering from the stands.
The semi-finals were primal, aggressive and passionate. It’s hard not to imagine the Grand Final playing out the same way. And then some.
For what it's worth, I'm tipping Newcastle to win in extra-time on the back of the primal passion of the local fans.
The match will be broadcast live on FOX SPORTS, ONE and TenPlay with coverage starting at 7pm (AEST). Kick-off at McDonald Jones Stadium is 7.50pm.
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