Antonis goes from villain to hero in Victory shock
IT'S all over for Graham Arnold and Sydney FC, the end of an era, ending in defeat.
It was the worst possible way for Arnold to bow out, losing to his fiercest adversary, Kevin Muscat, whose Melbourne Victory side ended Sydney's dream of back-to-back A-League championships with a 3-2 win.
The heart-stopping semi-final was decided in extra time when villain turned hero, Terry Antonis, bolted through Sydney's defence to score the winner in the 117th minute. That wasn't even the last of the drama, with two members of Victory's coaching staff sent off in the aftermath.
It was Victory's first win over Sydney in eight attempts, their first at Allianz Stadium in close to three years, and few would argue it wasn't a win they deserved.
Sydney's exceptional run had to end at some point and, heartbreakingly for them, it did end just one game shy of the season's decider.
Instead it will be Victory who travel to Newcastle next weekend, where they will meet the Jets in the grand final, and Arnold will bid the Sky Blues farewell.
All but resigned to bowing out with the scoreline 2-1 to Victory, typically there was an outrageous turn of events when Sydney somehow grabbed an equaliser with 13 seconds remaining.
It came from Antonis with the cruellest of own goals that left him and Victory shattered. But with the scoreline 2-2 extra time beckoned and suddenly, inexplicably, the momentum was with Sydney.
They couldn't keep a hold of it, though, and the match was settled in the second period of extra time and without the need for penalties.
It just wasn't Sydney's night. Pegged back and unable to get out of their half, they paid a heavy price for their slow start to the second half with Josh Brillante punished for a wayward pass.
Besart Berisha drew in three defenders, before slipping a cheeky pass to James Troisi who tapped the ball into an empty net. He celebrated provocatively in front of the Cove, standing in front of the home fans with eyes shut and fingers in his ears.
The home side suffered another blow when Jordy Buijs was forced off the field with a recurrence of a back injury that saw him miss a training session during the week.
Victory had been forced into a last-minute change when Rhys Williams pulled up injured during the warm up. It meant Leigh Broxham moved to centre-back, with Stefan Nigro promoted to the starting line-up. And it was Nigro who got the opening goal, albeit for the wrong team.
The youngster got the decisive touch off Mierzejewski's free-kick, chesting the ball into the back of the net to give the Sky Blues the lead in the 24th minute.
The goal came just four minutes after Barbarouses smashed his effort into the post with Sydney keeper Andrew Redmayne well beaten. But it was Barbarouses who got the equaliser in the 31st minute, even if it was via a wicked deflection off Jordy Buijs that left Redmayne stranded.
Though Mierzejewski had a chance just before the break to put Sydney ahead when he found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper, 1-1 at half time was a fair reflection of the contest up to that point.
The battle was hard and even with both teams having to adjust to the driving rain that swept through the stadium. The weather didn't put a dampener on the contest, but it did mean a smaller than expected crowd of just over 17,000 turned out for the thrilling match.
MELBOURNE VICTORY 3 (Kosta Barbarouses 31m, James Troisi 47m, Terry Antonis 117m) SYDNEY FC 2 (Stefan Nigro 24m og, Terry Antonis 90+5m og) after extra time at Allianz Stadium. Crowd: 17,775. Referee: Kurt Ams