Victory beat Jets to win A-League title

Emma Kemp
Besart Berisha during Melbourne Victory's 1-0 A-League title win over the Newcastle Jets

Frustrated Newcastle coach Ernie Merrick has accused newly crowned A-League champions Melbourne Victory of using negative football to win the grand final and denounced the video assistant referee's role in the result.

Victory's big-game experience came to the fore to shut down the Jets' encouraging start at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night, holding onto their early 1-0 lead to win a record fourth title and snuff out the hosts' fairytale at the final hurdle.

"I thought the referee let far too much go," Merrick said.

"We were hoping for a free-flowing, enjoyable, entertaining game of football and despite how much we tried to do it, it just kept breaking down.

"If that's the way you win, that's the way you win. I would hope not to coach a team that plays like that."

Kosta Barbarouses scored the quickest-ever grand-final goal in the ninth minute to seal a controversial season finale underscored by the VAR's failure to pick up offside Victory players in the process.

And the affair ended with a sickening injury-time incident, when Roy O'Donovan was dismissed for ramming his studs into the face of Joe Marston Medallist Lawrence Thomas, who finished the match with his face covered in bandages.

The Jets striker's high kick collected the Victory goalkeeper flush in the jaw as he came out to collect the ball two minutes from fulltime, and referee Jarred Gillett issued a straight red card with a lengthy ban sure to follow.

Victory coach Kevin Muscat said "it was just lucky someone didn't get really badly hurt" in a horrible end to the first grand final of any major code to be played in a regional town.

The Jets rode the wave of support from the 29,410 spectators in their bid to become the first Australian side in any sporting code to go from wooden spooners to champions in one season.

In the end, it was Merrick's one-time protege turned combatant Muscat who got the last laugh in a contest that started breathlessly but ended well in control of Victory's experienced campaigners.

It makes the club the lowest-ranking team to win an A-League grand final, having come from fourth, while Victory also equal NSL sides Marconi , South Melbourne and Sydney City on four titles apiece.

While the Jets dominated all the first-half statistics they couldn't overcome the all-powerful Thomas, whose gargantuan saves inspired his side to exorcise the ghosts of last season's grand-final penalty-shootout loss to Sydney FC.

They went behind early when Leroy George's swooping free kick found the head of James Donachie, who knocked it down for Barbarouses to fire past Glen Moss via a deflection off Johnny Koutroumbis.

Replays showed Donachie - and two teammates - had been offside, yet the VAR remained silent.

"It looked to me like there were three players offside," Merrick said.

"I don't want to be a sore loser but if that goal was offside I just wonder what the point of the VAR is."

Muscat insisted he hadn't seen the replay and declined to respond to Merrick's remarks.

The Jets responded swiftly, raining down on Victory's goal and navigating a way past every opponent bar the brick wall of Thomas.

The visiting custodian took a reflex dive to deny Roy O'Donovan's instinctive flick off a Koutroumbis cross.

Minutes later Thomas topped it, parrying away Riley McGree's would-be equaliser before recovering in time to divert Jason Hoffman's point-blank follow-up shot away to safety.

If not for those world-class efforts the Jets would at least have levelled the ledger.

O'Donovan came off worse for wear when he threw himself in the path of Besart Berisha to stop the ball rolling over the goal line and copped a stray elbow the face.

The Irish marksman soon had a swollen lump under his eye but clashed with Thomas soon after, trying to get direction on a header before delivering his horrible kick.