Grant’s stunning extra-time strike seals Sydney FC’s historic fifth Championship
Rhyan Grant’s extraordinary winner clinched an unprecedented fifth Hyundai A-League Championship for Sydney FC after the Premiers edged Melbourne City 1-0 in extra-time of a dramatic Grand Final.
Grant claimed the 2020 Joe Marston medal as the player of the match after chesting Luke Brattan’s magnificent pass beyond Tom Glover in the 100th minute of a pulsating content, as the Sky Blues locked out the first-time Grand Finalists to break City hearts and become only the second team to successfully defend the coveted, 15-year-old title.
Clad in the traditional red and white colours of Melbourne Heart, a shade over 10 years since their inaugural match, Erick Mombaerts’ side came out flying in their Grand Final debut in front of a restricted crowd of 7,500 at Bankwest Stadium, overwhelming the Sydney FC midfield and stretching their defence in a breathless opening 45 minutes.
The scoreline could have been different when Harrison Delbridge’s 20th-minute strike had Sydney goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne beat but the City defender’s euphoric celebrations were cut short. Following a VAR review, the goal was chalked off with Lachlan Wales judged to be standing in an offside position as the defending Champions breathed a sigh of relief.
Steve Corica was convinced the Sky Blues should have been awarded a first-half penalty after Adam Le Fondre was upended by Curtis Good, and the Harbour City club came to life in the second half with Milos Ninkovic providing the inspiration. The Serbian wizard was denied a 62nd-minute opener by Sydney-born goalkeeper Glover and City’s rising star came to the rescue again with a magnificent reaction block to force extra-time.
City’s stand-in captain Josh Brillante, deputising for Scott Jamieson who remained with his family in Victoria, almost broke the deadlock in extra-time against his former club but, moments later, Grant capped a tireless performance by diverting Brattan’s precision ball towards goal and finally beating Glover, as Corica’s side closed out a rollercoaster campaign by securing the Premiership-Championship double and cementing their legacy by lifting a third Championship in four years.
Corica elected to leave marquee star Alexander Baumjohann on the Sky Blues bench as both teams stuck with their winning Semi-Final line-ups and City dangerman Maclaren was ruing a missed chance only 30 seconds into City’s maiden Grand Final after mistiming his attempt from Craig Noone’s cross, before Curtis Good headed the resulting corner wide of the Sydney goal.
The defending Champions were getting pinned back in the opening exchanges as Nathaniel Atkinson fired over with a pair of long-range efforts and Andrew Redmayne was forced to react quickly on seven minutes, racing out to block Maclaren’s angled shot after Delbridge’s searching pass had split open the Harbour City club’s defence.
City were buzzing as Wales slammed a strike over, the Victorian club’s fifth attempt in 10 minutes, as the Sky Blues tried to reduce the speed of the game and earn a foothold. But the team in red and white came flying forward again when Wales played in Noone and the Englishman’s scuffed shot beat Redmayne but Ryan McGowan scrambled the ball away from the goal-line.
Sydney's midfield were getting swamped and, a minute later, City found the net after another sustained spell of pressure as Delbridge stepped up to drill a loose ball into the corner from the edge of the penalty area. But City's celebrations proved to be in vain as the video assistant ruled that a lurking Wales impaired the vision of Redmayne while standing in an offside position.
It was the Sky Blues appealing to referee Chris Beath on 27 minutes as Le Fondre took a tumble after a tangling with Good in the City penalty area, but play was waved on. Kosta Barbarouses recorded Sydney’s first shot on goal with a low, drilled effort straight at City goalkeeper Tom Glover and Le Fondre threatened with a half-chance as the four-time Champions showed signs of life heading into the half-time interval.
Corica’s side were able to contain City through the start of the second stanza and almost seized their moment when, first Le Fondre squeezed into space but saw his shot blocked, then Milos Ninkovic weaved through and Glover made an excellent close-range stop to deny the 2019 Joe Marston medal winner. Suddenly it was Sydney growing in confidence, working space for Paulo Retre to hit a 25-yard shot that fizzed past a flat-footed Glover’s far post and wide of the target.
Good issued a reminder of City’s threat when his header bobbled past the safe side of Sydney's woodwork on 65 minutes, before Delbridge limped off on 72 minutes with Scott Galloway's introduction prompting a raft of substitutions. With the match on a knife-edge, a golden opportunity passed City by as Noone could not guide Florin Berenguer’s delivery away from the arms of Redmayne.
The hero of the 2019 Grand Final was called into action again to parry away Galloway's dipping 76th-minute shot and, with three minutes remaining of the 90, Corica switched up his attack by sending on Baumjohann and Trent Buhagiar. It was the young speedster that almost snatched a late winner when he steered Le Fondre’s cross towards goal but an outstretched foot from Glover came to City’s rescue to force extra-time.
Brillante flashed a long-range strike across his former club’s goal in the 97th minute but three minutes later, Socceroo Grant plunged a dagger through City hearts by converting ex-City midfielder Brattan’s pin-point pass with his chest to net his second Grand Final goal in four appearances in the big dance. The Victorian outfit upped the tempo but Glover was forced to keep out Le Fondre with two more superb saves as Atkinson stretched Redmayne and Good headed straight at the Sydney gloveman from close range.
With the clock ticking down City could not find a way through the Sky Blues' resolute backline, leaving skipper Alex Wilkinson to mark his record sixth Grand Final by lifting the prestigious trophy. Following an 11-month long season, which included a four-month lockdown due to covid-19, inter-state relocations, 14-day quarantine periods and more than six week in isolation bubbles away from family and friends, Sydney FC were left celebrating after setting another new benchmark in the competition's 15-year history.