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Record-breaking Sydney FC deserving championship winners

14:23 EAT 07/05/2017
Sydney FC Grand Final
Graham Arnold's men have dominated Australian football like never before and the coach deserves credit for building such a formidable unit


It took longer than many expected but with an unerring spot-kick from Milos Ninkovic, Sydney FC completed their incredible A-League season with the championship after beating Melbourne Victory on penalties.

Sydney won the shootout 4-2 after the game ended 1-1 through 120 minutes, with Ninkovic slotting his penalty inside Lawrence Thomas' right-hand post as the record-breaking Sky Blues came from behind for the third time this season to overcome Victory.

While the 2017 A-League Grand Final was a lot tighter than much of the pre-match discussion had predicted, the home side eventually claimed the premiership-championship double.

Fittingly, it was the best player of the season - Ninkovic won the Johnny Warren Medal this week - who decided the final game of the campaign.

The largely pro-Sydney crowd of 41,456 at Allianz Stadium spent much of the match frustrated as Victory's intensity and on-the-edge tackles put the visitors on the verge of an unprecedented fourth A-League championship.

Instead, Sydney joined the Big V and Brisbane Roar with three 'Toilet Seat' trophies in their cabinet.

Victory led at half-time through Besart Berisha but Sydney controlled the second half and deservedly levelled through Rhyan Grant with 21 minutes remaining.

In extra time, Victory's James Troisi volleyed onto the inside of the post but the ball flashed across goal and out, while Sydney substitute David Carney surprisingly sliced his effort wide in the 115th minute when left alone in the penalty area.

It was the third time that Sydney and Victory had met in the championship decider and for the second time, the Sky Blues claimed the spoils - both times following a shootout.

Two years ago, Victory blitzed Sydney 3-0 to win after 90 minutes, while in 2010, Byun Sung-hwan was the penalty hero for Sydney.

The Sky Blues blinked first from the spot - defender Alex Wilkinson pulled his effort wide with the hosts' second penalty - but three penalties later Victory captain Carl Valeri struck the bar.

Brandon O'Neill then gave Sydney the advantage before Danny Vukovic, who played for Victory last season, saved from Marco Rojas, allowing Ninkovic to seal a win that has seemingly been coming since the Sky Blues crushed archrivals Western Sydney Wanderers 4-0 in the opening round.

No team has ever been as dominant in a single A-League season as Sydney have in 2016-17.

While this correspondent and others have argued that Roar's 2010-11 side and those that followed Ange Postecoglou's revolution in Queensland's capital had more of an impact in terms of Australian football's progress, they never produced a campaign like this Sky Blues team.

Graham Arnold's side have broken four major records; the A-League points tally despite playing three fewer games than Postecoglou's Roar did six years ago, as well as new marks for wins, goals against and clean sheets.

In fact, the Sky Blues won the Premier's Plate by 17 points from Victory.

That is also a record, with Victory's 2006-07 side the next most dominant after they had a 12-point gap to second-placed Adelaide United.

Brisbane's 2010-11 team had an eight-point advantage over Central Coast Mariners, while four years later they won by 10 points from Western Sydney Wanderers.

Arnold made a number of recruiting errors last season after leading Sydney to the 2015 Grand Final, including the retention of Mickael Tavares and Jacques Faty, and the gamble on Shane Smeltz to cover Marc Janko's departure.

But the ex-Socceroos striker has pulled all the right strings this term.

The signing of Bobo gave Sydney the type of focal point they needed, while the Brazilian's link-up play has been critical in getting the best out of skipper Alex Brosque and Ninkovic.

Few would have believed an A-League championship side would include Josh Brillante and O'Neill in central midfield, or Michael Zullo and Grant at full-back, but Arnold has taken the quartet to another level in terms of consistency this season.

Meanwhile, midway through the season, Arnold managed to replace a key pillar in his back four - Matt Jurman - with Jordy Buijs, who slotted in perfectly, despite having been without a game in almost three months.

But in an incredible contest, Victory went close to causing arguably the biggest upset in A-League grand final history.

Kevin Muscat's side started stronger but after the momentum had swung back in favour of the hosts - two last-ditch clearances denied Bobo potential tap-ins - the visitors hit the front in the 20th minute.

It just had to be Berisha, who is the definition of a 'big-game player'. The Kosovo international surged onto Valeri's through-ball, sent Wilkinson the wrong way with a step-over and then fired his shot inside Vukovic's left-hand post.

The moment was exactly what we have come to expect from the 31-year-old striker as Victory's fans went ballistic in the away end.

Sydney have been unstoppable in second halves this term, however, and so it proved again on Sunday.

Arnold's men have scored 65.5 per cent of their goals after half-time this season and conceded just 30.7 per cent in the same period.

The Sky Blues dragged themselves back into the contest in the 69th minute with Carney's drive almost squeezing past Thomas, the post and Berisha on the line, but Grant followed up to crash the ball into the net.

It was to be the first of many celebrations for Sydney and their fans.