A SELL-OUT crowd is expected when the Newcastle Jets host Melbourne Victory in the A-League grand final at McDonald Jones Stadium this coming Saturday night.
The Jets booked a berth in the decider – their first in a decade – with a thrilling 2-1 win over Melbourne City at the same stadium on Friday night.
The triumph included what has been hailed as one of the greatest goals in A-League history – a sensational overhead “scorpion” strike from Jets teenager Riley McGree.
Melbourne Victory, who finished fourth on the table, secured their place in the decider with an extraordinary 3-2 extra-time upset result over runaway premiers Sydney FC.
In a first for the A-League, the decider will be held outside of a metropolitan city.
The highest-placed team left from the regular seasons gets to host the grand final, which is why that honour goes to the Jets.
Socceroos forward Andrew Nabbout, who left the Jets mid-season after a lucrative offer from Japanese club Urawa Red Diamonds FC, was one of the first to congratulate the Newcastle team on making the big game.
"YESSSSSS BOYS!!! Couldn’t be happier for these lads,” he posted on Twitter.
Tickets for the grand final go on sale at 10am on Sunday for Jets and Victory members but there are restrictions with regards to the allocation of seats.
“Football Family” subscribers can buy tickets at 9am on Tuesday, four hours before they are available to the general at 1pm.
Tickets are available from Ticketmaster. Due to the short turnaround and the need for extra away bays and other differences in allocated seating, Jets members may not be able to purchase their normal seat.
More than 15,000 Novocastrians travelled down the F3 freeway to be among the 36,354 on hand at Allianz Stadium in 2008 to witness the Jets beat the Central Coast 1-0 to claim the club’s lone championship.
A crowd of 19,131 watched the Jets beat City on Friday. The record for an A-League game in Newcastle is 24,338 for the Jets’ 2-0 win over Sydney FC in the minor semi-final in 2007.
That record is certain to be broken next Saturday. Victory supporters normally travel in their thousands and should ensure the full house sign goes up at the 32,000-capacity stadium.
At Sydney’s fortress Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, AAP reports that prodigal son Terry Antonis turned from villain to hero to propel Victory into the decider with a stunning extra-time winner that scuppered the Sky Blues’ quest for back-to-back titles.
Victory reigned in a hugely antagonistic semi-final that ended with the dismissal of Victory's goalkeeper coach Dean Anastasiadis and assistant coach Jean-Paul de Marigny.
But the result will be remembered for the dreadful mistake and swift atonement of Antonis.
The former Sky Blue was close to tears when, with Victory up 2-1 and 13 seconds away from booking a spot in the decider, he netted a 95th-minute own-goal to hand his former team the 2-2 equaliser they'd so desperately craved.
But, in the 117th minute, Antonis pounced on a turnover and blazed forward from halfway to fire the ultimate winner past a despairing Sydney goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne.
His moment was overshadowed by farcical scenes when de Marigny and Anastasiadis were handed red cards for celebrating Antonis' goal in the face of their “Big Blue” rivals, the latter appearing to take a swipe at David Carney's face.
Nevertheless, there was no more stunning way for Victory coach Kevin Muscat's men to snap their seven-match-losing streak against the reigning champions, overcoming the burden of history and the untimely pre-game loss of Rhys Williams to inflict the premiers' first finals loss at Allianz Stadium.
The Jets, who have risen from wooden- spooners to grand finalists in a year under Ernie Merrick, will have watched in glee as their opponents pushed themselves past the point of fatigue for 120 minutes.
Victory lost Socceroo James Troisi to leg in the second half against Sydney. Defender Rhys Williams was a late withdrawal from the semi with a calf injury.
Victory were up against it from the moment Williams injured his calf in the warm-up and matters worsened when the defender's replacement Stefan Nigro buried an unfortunate own-goal to put Sydney ahead early.
But Victory’s excellent Kosta Barbarouses pounced quickly for the first-half equaliser, before a moment of Besart Berisha brilliance allowed James Troisi to bury the would-be winner on 47 minutes.
Sydney forcing extra-time on the back of two own-goals was as inexplicable as it was shattering for a Victory side so close to snapping their “Big Blue” hoodoo.
It followed an indescribable five minutes of injury time when young substitute Ben Warland rattled the crossbar and flicked another shot centimetres wide.
Then, deep into added time, a mad scramble in the box ended with Adrian Mierzejewski cutting back from the byline towards Antonis, who will long regret swatting his attempted clearance straight into his own net.
The ball splayed out of Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas' reach, which was even crueller, given the shot-stopper’s man of the man heroics in keeping his side on track for a win that had seemed so doubtful but eventually came.
Afterwards, an ecstatic Muscat repeatedly referenced Sydney's midweek taunts that they were the mentally and physically superior side.
“After the game one of their coaching staff spoke to one of our coaching staff and said 'we knew the arrogance was going to come back and bite us',” Muscat said.
"That's what happened."
The result was a massive blow to Sydney's two-year dominance and stopped coach Graham Arnold going out on a high before taking over the Socceroos.
"That's finals football. It's a one-off game, these things can happen," Arnold said.
"No one can take away from us what we've done in the last two years.
"I congratulate Melbourne ... and wish them all the best next week."
According to the A-League website, tickets to the grand final – set down for 7.50pm on Saturday, May 5, at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium – go on sale to club members from 10am on Sunday, 9am on Tuesday for “Football Family” subscribers and 1pm on Tuesday for the general public.
- With Emma Kemp from AAP