Carlos leads the way

Carlos Hernandez has stepped straight off a plane to inspire Melbourne Victory into its second home Hyundai A-League Grand Final in three seasons as the Victory finished off Adelaide in the major semi-final in devastating style at Telstra Dome on Saturday night.

Carlos Hernandez has stepped straight off a plane to inspire Melbourne Victory into its second home Hyundai A-League Grand Final in three seasons as the Victory finished off Adelaide in the major semi-final in devastating style at Telstra Dome on Saturday night.

Hernandez only arrived back in Melbourne on the morning of the game after making the marathon trip back from Costa Rica after coming on as a second half substitute for his country in a World Cup qualifier against Honduras on Wednesday night.

That led to speculation Melbourne would be forced to start their gifted Costa Rican playmaker on the bench in the second leg of the major semi-final even though it was Hernandez who inspired the 2-0 first leg win in Adelaide by scoring the Victory's first goal.

Bur Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick's brave decision to start Hernandez on Saturday night - less than 12 hours after he stepped off the plane - proved an inspired one as the 26-year-old had all but secured Victory's passage to the premiership decider by half-time as Melbourne led 3-0 on the night and 5-0 on aggregate.

In the end it finished up 4-0 on the night and 6-0 on aggregate as Hernandez had a hand in all four Melbourne goals.

As Adelaide made five changes to its team against an unchanged Victory line-up in a bid to end the spell Melbourne has enjoyed over the Reds in recent times - this win made it five from five for Melbourne against their bitter rivals this season - Hernandez showed no signs of jet lag from the outset.

As early as the tenth minute Hernandez produced a perfect defence splitting ball through the middle of the Adelaide defence which Archie Thompson gleefully accepted to slot home his ninth goal of the season.

Adelaide had barely recovered from that blow when Hernandez produced another slice of sheer genius in the 24th minute.

First he exchanged a delightful one/two with Tom Pondeljak, who began the move in midfield, and then played a great ball through to Nick Ward on the right side of the box.

Ward did not appear to have much space but cleverly played the ball back to Hernandez as the Adelaide defence stood off him allowing the Costa Rican star to rifle home Melbourne's second with a blistering shot across Adelaide keeper Eugene Galekovic.

Melbourne almost had a third four minutes later when Danny Allsopp played in Thompson again but this time Archie shot just wide.

Hernandez was meanwhile producing a performance reminiscent of the kind of stellar game that Fred enjoyed in the 2006/07 grand final when the Brazilian also carved apart Adelaide at will in that memorable 6-0 premiership success.

It seems amazing to think his goal in the 24th minute was only Hernandez' fourth of the season but the Costa Rican is certainly hitting his best form at exactly the right time.

And after Roddy Vargas made a fantastic block to deny a goal-bound shot from Adelaide skipper Travis Dodd in the 41st minute as the Reds made a rare foray forward, it was only a matter of time before Hernandez again carved open a tired looking Adelaide defence.

This time it came in the 44th minute when another pinpoint defence splitting ball enabled Allsopp to run onto the perfect through ball and tuck the ball past Galekovic for his 13th goal of the season while Hernandez' rampage continued into the second half when his great cross from the right was volleyed in by Pondeljak at the far post in the 47th minute.

Hernandez was eventually and deservingly subbed off in the 59th minute and not a minute too soon for Adelaide, whose busy season including making the final of the Asian Champions' League and playing in the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan appears to have taken a heavy toll on the Reds at the business end of the domestic season.

Melbourne now has a fortnight to prepare for a home grand final against either Adelaide or Queensland at the Dome on February 28 and while there will be no thoughts in the Victory camp of repeating the 6-0 demolition of two years ago, Melbourne could hardly be going into the premiership decider in better shape.

Not only has Melbourne maintained its perfect record over Adelaide this season but this was the Victory's seventh successive win at home as well as their seventh win in the past eight matches overall.