It was a nightmare come true for football purists as Melbourne Victory snuffed out the Newcastle’s A-League fairytale, defeating the Jets 1-0 amid an almighty controversy involving the video assistant referee and an offside goal that should clearly have been disallowed.
On Sunday, with Jets fans snarling ‘we wuz robbed!’, A-League officials blamed a “major technical failure” of the video assistant referee (VAR), saying the system had been unavailable to examine the passage of play that led to the match-winning score.
Broadcast replays clearly show an offside violation, which should have seen the goal disallowed.
But as Jets fans waited for that review and ruling, no announcement was made, the goal went up on the board and every Jets supporter in the hometown stadium was left both mystified and furious.
The Victory score came in the ninth minute via Kostas Barbarouses, but the assist for the goal — a header from James Donachie — followed Donachie’s too-soon run from a free-kick.
After conducting a review of the incident, Football Federation Australia (FFA) said a major glitch in the technology was behind the VAR’s inaction.
The the system was lost for 30 seconds in the lead-up to the Victory’s goal, FFA conceded.
“We are extremely disappointed at this failure of the VAR technology,” FFA’s head of the A-League, Greg O’Rourke, said in a statement.
“We understand the disappointment and frustration of the Newcastle Jets, their fans and, indeed, all football fans.
“VAR was introduced here and in other parts of the world as a technology-based solution to correct the human errors that inevitably are made from time to time when officials are making judgements in split seconds.
“On this occasion the technology itself failed and the broadcast angles required were unavailable. We are working with Hawkeye to thoroughly understand why it did and what can be done to prevent this happening again.
“Whilst we understand that this happened only once this season it was at a most critical time. All parties desire the technology to be failure-proof and that is what we will be striving for.”
Victory’s triumph at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium secured a record fourth A-League title. .
While the VAR debacle will burn in the bitter memories of Jets fans, Victory supporters will have their own grievance to nurse after the brutal moment that saw Roy O’Donovan dismissed for ramming his studs into the face of Victory goalie Lawrence Thomas, who finished the match swathed in bandages.
The Jets striker’s high kick collected the Joe Marston Medallist flush in the jaw as he came out to collect the ball two minutes from fulltime.
Referee Jarred Gillett immediately issued a straight red card. A lengthy ban is likely to follow.
It was a horrible end to the first grand final of any major code to be played in a regional town — a contest that will leave Jets fans seething with anger for years to come.
The VAR is supposed to place decisions beyond dispute, but after Saturday night’s ‘howler’ it seems the technology is only adding another layer of human error to the game.
Defender James Donachie appeared to be one of a number of Victory players who were offside when Leroy George took his ninth-minute free kick from distance.
Donachie rose to nod George’s speculative ball across the box, before Kosta Barbarouses tapped it into the back of the net off the leg of John Koutroumbis.
Should @gomvfc's opener stood?
— FOX SPORTS Football (@FOXFootballLive) May 5, 2018
Social media exploded with disbelief and anger when replays showed Donachie was on the wrong side of the last Jets player.
Sydney FC’s Johnny Warren medallist Adrian Mierzejewski pondered: “No VAR during GF?”
No VAR during GF ? 🤔🤔
— Adrian Mierzejewski (@adrianmierzej86) May 5, 2018
The Jets rode the wave of support from the 29,410 crowd in their doomed bid to become the first Australian side in any sporting code to go from wooden spooners to championship winners in one season.
In the end, it was Ernie Merrick’s one-time protege-turned-combatant, Kevin Muscat, who had the last laugh in a contest that started breathlessly but was shut down by Victory’s experienced campaigners.
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.
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 – and history might well have recorded an entirely different result.