Shambolic VAR overshadows Sydney’s moment
NOT even the VAR could deny Sydney FC their fourth A-League title, triumphing on penalties to ensure this year's reign would not be purple but sky blue.
When Reza Ghoochannejhad drove home the winning spotkick, a shootout proving necessary to separate the two protagonists, it was justice served for Sydney who should have won by a single goal from Adam Le Fondre.
For the second year in a row the grand final was dominated by the VAR, not by a moment of football genius, and for the second year in a row the headlines are all about officials not players.
Adam Le Fondre's first-half goal was disallowed for offside but the VAR should have intervened to overturn that decision, and Sydney would have won in normal time.
In the end they still got there, via an exhausting period of extra time and a shootout in which Andrew Redmayne saved two of Perth's penalties.
Triumphant Sydney FC coach Steve Corica said justice was done in the end.
"It put us through the ringer, they (the match officials) obviously made a bad decision and it should have been a goal. We got a bit frustrated at that point but we ensured the boys stayed focused.
"We knew the boys had the mentality and the character, when the pressure was on they would come up with the goods.
"Perth defended well and stopped us from playing so we had to dig deep. Full credit to Perth, they've been excellent all year, the most consistent team all year. But the grand final is a different ball game.
"Sometimes you need a bit of luck and the boys stepped up.
"It's special to win the grand final, special for my family and for me, but it all comes down to the boys who work hard every day at training.
"There's a lot of work goes into this and I'm very proud of the boys."
Perth coach Tony Popovic said he felt the pain of what was his fourth grand final loss.
"I'm disappointed and dejected but not for myself," he said.
"It's for what I've seen all year, what I've seen in training.
"They don't deserve to be disappointed so I'm down for them.
"Last year Sydney went through this, being the best team all year but in this country you have to win the grand final to be the champion. But we have a group of champions in our dressing room.
"We did all we could but in the end it wasn't meant to be."
The disallowed goal was a rare moment of penetration in an arm-wrestle of a contest. The result was the right one for Milos Ninkovic, whose most eye-catching performance of the season came on the biggest stage.
Time and again Sydney funneled their offensive moves through Ninkovic, twisting and turning and delivering the ball to teammates with the care of a master craftsman.
The contrast was all the greater with Siem De Jong, Sydney's other marquee, sick all week and who cut a figure thoroughly frustrated with his lot in life.
The Dutchman still looked unsure of his role in the team even in his final game for Sydney, carrying the disconcerted air of a man trying to read an instruction manual in a foreign language.
But the crying shame was to see a contest defined by a VAR error when it had been absorbing in its own right and watched by a crowd of 56,371 that set a new record for any national league grand final.
Clearly the two best teams of the season would not take a backward step, trading interludes of pressure without finding a killer blow.
Perth would look back on the header that Joel Chianese flicked wide from close range in just the fifth minute when Jason Davidson's perfect cross demanded to be buried in the back of the net.
Andrew Redmayne also made a fine save from Diego Castro's header, and Alex Wilkinson was a towering influence in his fifth grand final.
That's why it took penalties to decide the title.
JOE MARSTON MEDAL
By Emma Kemp
A-League Joe Marston Medallist Milos Ninkovic is better than Diego Castro, Sydney FC coach Steve Corica has declared.
Ninkovic was named the star of the Sky Blues' 4-1 penalty shootout grand-final win over Perth Glory, adding to his individual accolades already including the 2015-16 Johnny Warren Medal and the 2016.
And his coach was certain the marquee playmaker trumped Glory's Spanish maestro Diego Castro in terms of quality.
"He is the best marquee in Australia. Not Castro, he is," Corica said.
"I told him that before the game. People thought Castro, he's a top player as well but this player here has won many trophies for this club, and he'll continue to do so.
"He's a winner, he's brilliant, he's the best No.10 we've had at the club."
The 34-year-old Serb played the full 120 minutes at Optus Stadium and acted as Sydney's central attacking outlet.
"I felt tired of course but it's a final, you can't stop," Ninkovic said.
"You need to give more than 100 per cent and I think we all did that and every player gave more than 100 per cent. That's why we won."
Ninkovic, who will slip into the salary cap next season, described this title as "a little bit different to the 2016-17 championship, when Graham Arnold's side ran away with a string of all-time records before beating Melbourne Victory on penalties at Allianz Stadium.
"Because we played at a home ground at Allianz and it was a different feeling," he said.
"But in the end we won and the feeling was the same. I'm so happy and so proud of the boys. We deserved to win tonight I think.
"We didn't play well but sometimes when it's a grand football you can't expect some nice football because everyone wants to win. Sometimes it's just a physical game."