Melbourne-Adelaide: Melbourne Captures Title, While Adelaide Regain Pride

Ian ThomsonCorrespondent IMarch 3, 2009

Melbourne Victory completed a clean sweep of Australia’s domestic titles last Saturday with a narrow 1-0 win over Adelaide United in the Hyundai A-League Grand Final.

The Victory’s second championship follows on from their success in the Pre-Season Challenge Cup last August and the Premiership title earned by finishing first in the 21-game regular season standings.

A near-capacity crowd of 53,273 inside Melbourne’s Telstra Dome saw Tom Pondeljak score the only goal of a tense game on 60 minutes.

The defeat was harsh on the unfancied visitors—resoundingly written off after being thrashed 6-0 on aggregate by Melbourne in an earlier playoff round—especially given their dogged perseverance with 10 men for the majority of the match.

Only eight minutes had elapsed when Cristiano contested an aerial challenge with Melbourne centre back Rodrigo Vargas.

Both men seemed firmly focused on the ball as they collided innocuously before Vargas tumbled to the ground with blood streaming from a cut above his right ear.

Referee Matthew Breeze briefly delayed to consult with his assistant before producing a red card for Adelaide’s stunned Brazilian striker.

Replays showed the clash to be purely accidental, but the cosmetic damage suffered by the unfortunate Vargas—not to mention the vociferously animated remonstrations of Victory captain Kevin Muscat—undoubtedly influenced the officials’ decision.

Adelaide made a positive start despite having to return to a venue which holds so many recent traumatic experiences for them.

Four teams qualify for the A-League postseason, with the league’s top two sides meeting in a two-legged Major Final to decide who will host the Grand Final. That meant a tie between these two southern rivals after Melbourne clinched the regular season title on goal difference from Adelaide.

Goals from Costa Rican international Carlos Hernandez and former Manchester City striker Danny Allsopp gave Victory an assured 2-0 win at Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium on February 7.

The rout was sealed seven days later with a 4-0 win at the Telstra Dome, giving an aggregate score which evoked memories of the 2007 Grand Final in Melbourne when Archie Thompson slayed Adelaide with five goals in a humiliating 6-0 rout.

The Reds enjoyed a successful run to the Asian Champions League final last November—an achievement which saw them participate in the following month’s Club World Cup—but further glory looked unattainable in the aftermath of their insipid Major Final second leg defeat.

Manager Aurelio Vidmar launched an impassioned, if misplaced, rant in the direction of everyone bar himself or his players in the aftermath of the defeat, saying: “Politics, that’s what I put it down to. There are too many people in this club with hidden agendas.

“Whether you are involved directly or indirectly you have an effect. Because of a piss-ant town, this club will never win anything until you get rid of that crap.”

He could easily have pointed the finger at any number of his listless defenders, particularly the calamitous Macedonian Saša Ognenovski, or his diffident midfielders.

After two days of apologising and patching up his differences with the club’s directors, Vidmar turned his attention towards earning a shot at redemption by seeing off Queensland Roar—winners of the Minor Final between the league’s third and fourth placed teams.

A stunning strike by Fabian Barbiero was enough to ensure Adelaide’s daunting return to the Telstra Dome.

Despite the pre-match obituaries—further compelled by the early dismissal—Vidmar’s men showed formidable resolve and stifled Melbourne’s dangerous attacking trio of Thompson, Allsopp, and chief orchestrator Hernandez.

Indeed, Adelaide had two excellent chances to take the lead shortly after the interval, but they were denied by Victory goalkeeper Michael Theoklitos.

Firstly, the impressive former Bolton Wanderers trainee Scott Jamieson contrived to hit Theoklitos from six yards out with an empty net gaping.

Soon afterwards captain Travis Dodd dribbled past three Melbourne defenders before steering a tame finish straight at the goalkeeper.

Adelaide were made to pay for those misses on the hour mark as Pondeljak curled his right-foot shot beyond the despairing dive of Eugene Galeković.

After putting up such stout resilience, it was a rather simple and unexpected goal for Adelaide’s defence to concede.

A late flurry of desperate attacking by the visitors proved fruitless, and so the curtain fell on the fledgling A-League’s fourth campaign with Melbourne deservedly taking the honours.

At least Adelaide can hold their heads high once again after pushing their rivals all the way.