Muscat tastes sweet victory over old mentor Merrick

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It was the night the apprentice gave his master a lesson in the art of winning football finals.

Kevin Muscat's Melbourne Victory were just too smart for Ernie Merrick's Newcastle Jets in a bruising A-League grand final at McDonald Jones Stadium that was dressed up for the big occasion.

Almost 30,000 fans packed into the venue to watch Victory edge the Jets 1-0 thanks to a controversial first-half strike from Kosta Barbarouses.

The game's only goal was highly dubious because Jamie Donachie appeared to stray into an offside position before he headed a free kick from Leroy George across goal for the Kiwi international to stab the ball home via a deflection.

Merrick and Muscat have not been on speaking terms since the former was sacked by Victory seven years ago when Muscat was captain.

Merrick complained bitterly about the goal after the game, questioning the use of VAR if such a clear offside was not picked up.

"If that goal was offside I just wonder what the point of VAR is," he said ruefully.

He also spoke about Victory's alleged spoiling tactics that deprived his side from playing their usual free-flowing game.

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

What the former Victory coach could have said - make that should have said - is that he was outsmarted by his former skipper who has now won two grand finals to go with the two he won as a player with the same club.

Muscat, who is very much the face of Melbourne Victory having played such a big part in their successes since day one of the A-League, gave another demonstration of his ability as a coach by masterminding a famous victory.

Victory usually employ a more attacking style but they chose to apply the physical and darker side of the game to snare their fourth title.

After taking an early lead they opted for a game of containment to first deprive and finally frustrate the home side.

Victory's big-game experience was always going to be one of the biggest factors in the game even though man of the match Lawrence Thomas covered himself with glory and blood with an outstanding performance in goal.

He made a superlative double save in the first half and stopped everything the Jets threw at him in the second half, including a kick in the face by striker Roy O'Donovan that earned the fiery striker an instant red card.

Victory have been improving steadily over the last few weeks and their gritty and thoroughly professional performance particularly in the second half suggested that they are just as merciless in dishing it out and closing a game down as they are in opening it up with their attacking football.

This is where Victory might have an edge over premiers Sydney FC.

For all their record-breaking achievements over the last two seasons, the Sky Blues seem to struggle to impose their offensive force when things do not go their way.

Victory, in stark contrast, have shown in a remarkable finals series that they can adapt very well to a different set of circumstances.

They had to beat Adelaide United, Sydney and Newcastle to win the championship.

"Today the ball spent more time in the air than it did on the ground with more headers than passes and it was a directness that we had to deal with bravely," Muscat remarked later.

"We were prepared for it."

It is a feather in Victory's collective cap that they reduced a ball-playing side like Newcastle to long-ball merchants except for a period in the first half when Venezuelan star Ronny Vargas seemed to be running the show with his deft touches and passes.

All in all it was a contentious and fiercely contested grand final that did not quite live up to its hype from a technical perspective but there is no question that, despite everything else, experienced Victory were the better team tactically and deserved their win.

Plan B worked very well for Kevin Muscat.

A-League championships

4: Melbourne Victory
3: Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar
1: Adelaide United, Newcastle Jets, Central Coast Mariners  

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