Melbourne clinches championship

Melbourne Victory has become the first Hyundai A-League club to win two championships after surviving the second half sending off of Danny Allsopp to beat arch-rivals Adelaide United 1-0 in a pulsating grand final at Telstra Dome on Saturday night.

Melbourne Victory has become the first Hyundai A-League club to win two championships after surviving the second half sending off of Danny Allsopp to beat arch-rivals Adelaide United 1-0 in a pulsating grand final at Telstra Dome on Saturday night.

In a game that was a complete contrast to Melbourne's 6-0 rout of Adelaide in the 2006/07 grand final, it took a memorable long-range strike from midfielder Tom Pondeljak in the 59th minute to win another championship for Melbourne - and one made all the sweeter by just how hard Melbourne had to fight against a gallant Reds' outfit.

In the process Melbourne became the first club in A-League history to do the 'treble' - having earlier won the pre-season title and the Premiers' Plate for finishing on top of the ladder at the end of the home and away season as Ernie Merrick's team completed an historic clean sweep of every available trophy this season.

In a match that simply had everything - with Adelaide striker Cristiano sent off as early as the tenth minute for elbowing Rody Vargas in the head in an aerial challenge with left the Victory hardman bleeding heavily - Melbourne broke the deadlock right at the time when the team appeared to be struggling and in danger of suffering a shock defeat.

The Victory had come into the game as the hottest favourites in A-League grand final history on the back of having won all five meetings against Adelaide this season - including a 6-0 aggregate win in the Major Semi-Final just a fortnight ago.

Melbourne had also won seven of its past eight matches overall, its past seven at home and had scored in its past 14 successive matches coming into the premiership decider against an Adelaide side that had endured a marathon season having played nine more competitive matches than Melbourne coming into the grand final after also finishing runners-up in the Asian Champions' League.

But after Cristiano was sent off by referee Matthew Breeze for his elbow on Vargas, Melbourne failed to capitalise on its man advantage throughout the first half.

Allsopp had the two best chances with his shot in the 22nd minute blocked before his great shot on the turn in the 27th minute, after a fantastic through ball from Victory's heroic skipper Kevin Muscat, was well saved by Adelaide keeper Eugene Galekovic.

Most of Melbourne's attacks were going down the right side of midfield through Nick Ward, who appeared to have the ball on a string, but the Victory lacked that killer pass needed to prise the Adelaide defence open.

The start of the second half was Melbourne's shakiest period of the game as keeper Michael Theoklitos - one of six members of the 16-man Grand Final squad that also played in the championship win two years ago - came to the Victory's rescue.

In the space of two minutes in the 54th and 55th minutes, Theoklitos first pulled off the save of the match, with his outstretched leg while his body was moving in the other direction, to deny Scott Jamieson from close range after a tremendous cross from Daniel Mullen while then saving from Adelaide skipper Travis Dodd a minute later after a great run in which Dodd beat three Melbourne players.

But it was then that Merrick showed just why he is the best coach in the A-League and the first coach to win two Hyundai A-League championships by making a tactical switch which changed the game.

Merrick substituted Ward, who worked hard but whose final ball let him down, for youngster Evan Berger in the 56th minute and the 21-year-old immediately changed the game with his pace and skill and it was his clever back heel which set up Joe Marston Medal winner Pondeljak to be the game's hero.

Pondeljak, twice a grand final runner-up with Central Coast in the first three seasons of the A-League, seized on Berger's back heel to find space to shoot and then unleashed a 25-yard rocket which nestled in the bottom right hand corner.

The goal sent the huge crowd delirious with delight and could not have come at a better time as Adelaide appeared to be getting on top.

But Melbourne lost the momentum just minutes later when Allsopp was given a straight red in the 65th minute for an off-the-ball clash with Adelaide defender Robert Cornthwaite.

It was a sad end to what has been a magnificent season for Melbourne's leading goalscorer and it meant that both sides had ten men for the final 25 minutes as the game became increasingly tense.

Adelaide came close in the 82nd minute when substitute Paul Agostino almost got his toe to a dangerous ball directly in front of the Victory goal as Merrick bought on both Grant Brebner and Jose Luis Lopez to shore up the defence in the dying minutes.

But with 35-year-old Muscat putting in one of the greatest performances of his long and distinguished career in the centre of defence - with plenty of help from the brave and bloodied Vargas - Melbourne wasn't going to let its hard-earned lead slip as the Victory showed they can win championships on guts as well as with the skill that overwhelmed Adelaide in far more emphatic fashion two years ago.

Melbourne Victory 1 (Pondeljak 60) Adelaide United 0 Crowd: 53,273 at Telstra Dom