A-League toasts magical Melbourne
Melbourne Victory yesterday confirmed their status as Australian football's pre-eminent club side in emphatic fashion, crushing Adelaide United 6-0 in the A-League Grand Final.
Fittingly, it was a Socceroo, Archie Thompson, who proved the hero of the hour with a remarkable five-goal haul, and the match was as notable a triumph for the game in Australia as it was for the victors, considering the crowd of 55,436 who watched Ernie Merrick's side lift the trophy.
The fact that the match was staged in Melbourne's very own Telstra Dome ensured that the record crowd was made up mainly of Victory fans, and it said much for the club's support base and the growing enthusiasm for football Down Under that the attendance dwarfed that commanded by last week's tri-series cricket final.
The A-League success story is such, in fact, that no fewer that 1.2 million spectators had clicked through its turnstiles prior to yesterday's season finale, with the champions' impressive average attendance of 28,946 setting a benchmark that would have been considered unthinkable only a few short years ago.
The Melbourne club have certainly given those fans plenty to cheer , with their resounding victory at the climax of the Final Series play-offs confirming a superiority already underlined the 12 points that separated them from Adelaide, their closest rivals, in the league table.
Thompson in 'the zone'
Their predecessors as champions, Sydney FC , might have started the season as favourites to retain their crown, but from an early stage in the title race it was clear that Victory - under the astute guidance of Scottish-born coach Ernie Merrick - were the A-League's most dynamic, consistent and well balanced side.
Their adventurous style of play has also drawn plaudits, with the grit and experience provided by experienced midfield enforcers Kevin Muscat and Grant Brebner effectively complementing the skills of the club's talented Brazilian duo, Fred and Alessandro.
Just as crucial has been the potent partnership between Thompson and Danny Allsop, strikers who spent the season vying with each other for top scorer honours before the former's contribution to yesterday's grand final took him clear. "I think it's just gone right through the squad," Thompson said following his heroics. "From the goalkeeper to the defence - the defence has been incredible. The midfield has had a bit more stability than last year with Muscy (Muscat) and Brebs (Brebner) in there and it just all gelled tonight. I couldn't dream of anything better than that."
Ironically, Thompson had gone into the Final without a goal in his last three matches - two of which had been against Adelaide - but he looked unstoppable from the moment he opened the scoring midway through the first half, and went on to further top up his tally in the 29th, 40th, 56th and 73rd minutes.
The 28-year-old had Fred to thank for laying on four of those goals, and he also paid tribute to his strike partner afterwards for some telling psychological assistance. He said: "I was speaking to Danny Allsopp and he mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there was a place that I should visit, and today I visited it - I think it's called 'the zone'. We've just been working really well together and if one's not performing as they'd like the other would say 'come on, let's do it' and that's just been the partnership we've had all year."
Adelaide pick up the pieces
Kristian Sarkies completed the scoring in second half injury time, rounding off a rout that gathered pace 10 minutes before half-time when Adelaide captain Ross Aloisi was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence.
It made for an embarrassing end to the season for John Koshima's ambitious side, who made headlines late last year by recruiting Romario for a high-profile stint and will now go on to represent Australia along with Melbourne in the AFC Champions League. "It's over and done with," said Koshima afterwards, ruing the physical toll taken by an epic semi-final against Newcastle Jets. "We've got a Champions League match in two weeks. We'll worry about that now."
Fittingly, however, the final word went to Merrick, the man who watched his Melbourne masterplan come together so spectacularly in the city's Telstra Dome. "I don't think you could get much better than this," he grinned. "It was a night for great football and great goals and the boys just performed. It's been very satisfying it's come together so well. Our supporters have stuck by us very well. Our board has stuck with us. There's so many people in the club that have done well, I'm just a small part."
Merrick is also determined to ensure that Melbourne's dominance continues and, as such, plans to freshen up his double-winning squad over the coming weeks. "If you stand still you go backwards," he said. "You're always innovating, always adding a couple of players. You always got to freshen up the team, to let high quality players come in. I think you'll see in the next month or so we'll be bringing in more players. We're pretty keen to get back in the finals this year and I think we can do that."