Despite everything 2020 has thrown at us, last night’s epic A-League grand final was another reminder that the best thing the competition has got going for it is the football on the pitch.
Rhyan Grant’s first ever goal for Sydney FC was a tap-in against the Central Coast Mariners in a game better remembered for an outrageous dive from Patricio Perez – remember him?
But it’s safe to say Grant’s latest strike for the Sky Blues was his most dramatic yet.
Where do you even start with Sydney FC’s 1-0 win over Melbourne City last night, in what was an enthralling contest in which both sides threw absolutely everything at each other?
Sadly, but all too predictably when it comes to the A-League, with the VAR.
Let’s settle a bet right now. Who wants Video Assistant Referees in the A-League?
Certainly not the fans, who make it crystal clear across multiple social media channels that they’re against employing video replays.
There aren’t many journos who seem to be in favour of it either, even if the Fox Sports party line seems to be to consistently talk up the technology.
But what about the clubs? Because it was Wellington Phoenix who broke ranks a few weeks ago in suggesting they’d have benefited if VAR was still in use before the finals, and I reckon there’ll be more than a few coaches who prefer the clinical certainty of video assistance.
Would Erick Mombaerts? The inscrutable Frenchman didn’t even celebrate when Harrison Delbridge drove home in the 18th minute, having seemingly realised the goal would be chalked off for interference after an offside Lachie Wales wandered across Andrew Redmayne’s line of sight.
Should the goal have stood? The letter of the law – if not the spirit of the game – probably says it shouldn’t.
But then the Sky Blues looked like they were desperately unlucky not to have earned a penalty when Adam Le Fondre was up-ended by Curtis Good shortly before the half-hour mark, only for referee Chris Beath to wave away appeals for a spot-kick – a decision upheld by VAR.
The English striker still had a bit to do for the ball to find the back of the net – perhaps that’s why he went down so theatrically – but it doesn’t feel like a stretch to suggest the score could have been locked at 1-1 at the break.
After that, it always seemed like a moment of quality would settle the match, if only because City goalkeeper Tom Glover was looking unbeatable at one end.
Little wonder it took a game-breaking pass from Luke Brattan to bust open the contest in extra-time, and there was nothing Glover could to do to prevent the indefatigable Grant from literally chesting the ball home.
Sydney FC now stand alone in the annals of Australian football history after claiming their fifth championship, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone claim they didn’t deserve it.
The Sky Blues were the best team throughout this pandemic-prolonged season and they stood up when it counted in the finals.
But Melbourne City and a potentially on-the-move Mombaerts deserve plenty of credit for their outstanding campaign too. They were the one team who looked like they could take the game to Sydney FC and they proved as much on the night.
While we’re doling out the congratulations, every player and backroom member of staff warrants praise for turning up and keeping the show going during a period of unprecedented upheaval.
Those who’ve taken time away from loved ones to keep us entertained deserve our genuine gratitude.
Because for all the noise around salary caps and broadcast deals and calendars and whatever else, last night’s gripping encounter was another reminder that where the A-League still shines is on the pitch.
That’s a sentiment worth celebrating, in a year from hell in which it looked like we may have had no grand final at all.