A-League grand final dominated by Jets’ Roy O’Donovan’s high boot and Victory’s offside goal
Two major moments of controversy will forever mark the 2018 A-League decider after Melbourne Victory showed their finals experience trumped the Newcastle Jets’ fairytale momentum.
The Victory, true to their name, triumphed 1-0 to burst the Jets’ balloon and claim a fourth A-League championship, and second for coach Kevin Muscat.
But that 1-0 result only tells a small part of the story.
The clean-sheet is the more obvious bit, and it came about thanks to some incredible goal-keeping heroics from Victory stopper Lawrence Thomas. The Jets launched 14 shots on goal, prompting four crucial saves from Thomas, who defied Newcastle to the last.
But such was the Jets’ desperation, that in the run-in for a late free-kick into the box, Newcastle forward Roy O’Donovan made a sickening collision with Thomas that earned him a straight red card.
Thomas was brave to come out to collect the ball under pressure, but O’Donovan had gone in with an extremely high boot that collected Thomas flush in the face, earning a straight red-card from the referee.
It took a while for O’Donovan to be sent off due to the scuffle sparked by his sickening challenge, with the Irish striker pushed and shoved by incensed Victory players in the immediate aftermath.
Jets team-mate Nigel Boogaard came to O’Donovan’s defence after the match.
“From where I was — and I was right behind it — the ball’s in the air, he’s sticking a foot at it,” Boogaard said.
“It’s a grand final, there’s five minutes to go, and Lawrence Thomas has come out and been brave.
“To be honest I would have stuck a foot at it. All those players in the opposition team, if they were 1-0 down would have thrown themselves at the ball as well.
“Yeah, it looked ugly but I guarantee you Roy had eyes on the ball.”
Victory players check on stricken goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas (right) after Roy O’Donovan’s high boot. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
While no-one doubts players’ extra motivation in a grand final, it can’t be used as an excuse for O’Donovan.
In the first half, Newcastle’s Rilee McGree unleashed a sizzling left-footer, saved down low to Thomas’ left, before Thomas reacted incredibly to keep out Jason Hoffman on the follow-up from point-blank range.
So Thomas was playing the obvious hero role, and the Jets were desperate. The height of that desperation came in second-half injury time, with their dream slipping away.
It was desperation that produced O’Donovan’s high boot — and it was far too high. Footballers putting their boots up at that altitude know they are asking for trouble every time, and with the keeper equally motivated to prevent a goal, trouble seemed inevitable.
The A-League’s match review panel will meet on Monday to decide O’Donovan’s fate, and there is unlikely to be much sympathy for a player with a history of recklessness.
It is O’Donovan’s second red of the season, after his hit on Sydney FC’s Jordy Buijs in March, while he was handed an eight-week suspension in 2016 for a headbutt on the Phoenix’s Manny Muscat.
‘What’s the point of VAR?’
The video assistant referee (VAR) is losing more and more friends, even at the final hurdle of its international trial in the A-League.
Intended to eliminate refereeing howlers from the game, VAR seems to be folding in another element of human error to proceedings, as evidenced by a glaring offside in the only goal of the game.
Kostas Barbarouses tapped in the earliest goal in A-League grand final history, netting in the ninth minute from a nod-down by Donachie from a Victory free kick.
The goal stood, the game continued. But replays showed that Donachie and a host of Victory players had run past the Jets backline as the freekick from deep was floated in.
The build-up to Victory’s goal was categorically offside. So why wasn’t VAR there to correct the mistake?
Presumably the VAR, Craig Zetter, saw no problem with it, because no intervention was forthcoming.
Jets mentor Ernie Merrick was far from impressed, saying the early goal made his side’s task of breaking the Victory down even tougher.
“”I’ve seen a replay on my phone and it looked offside to me, but what’s the whole point of the VAR if they didn’t pick it up?” Merrick told Fox Sports.
“It changed the game when a team can defend as much as it defended and its very stop-start after that.”
Former Socceroos captain Paul Wade also weighed into the issue, saying Jets fans could feel rightly aggrieved at the goal that proved to be the winner.
“When you’ve got a VAR … who has a good 30 seconds to make a decision, to have a look at it over and over again, and you still get it wrong?” he told ABC News Breakfast.
Despite the slew of teething problems with VAR encountered in the A-League, we’ll be seeing it fully implemented at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, while more domestic leagues take up the technology.
It could be a bumpy ride.