As Leigh Broxham lay prone on the turf, distraught at the own goal he’d just conceded, it seemed to dawn on Victory fans that the jig was up.
The ball had ricocheted off an apologetic Chris Beath in the build-up, and Rhyan Grant was offside as the ball was played in, but not even the VAR would save them now.
Four years previous – almost to the day – Broxham had scored the third in a 3-0 Grand Final rout. Tonight his fate was reversed, in cruelly poetic fashion.
Half the fans hadn’t even made it to their seats at Jubilee Stadium when it began.
Lawrence Thomas – normally so authoritative in his area – made a lame attempt to claim a Brandon O’Neill corner, letting Aaron Calver bundle to ball over the line from point-blank range.
What a time to concede your first goal from a corner all season.
It only got worse for the Victory. A sensational Alex Brosque half-volley and Broxham’s aforementioned friendly fire followed before the break.
Adam Le Fondre added a tidy brace in the second half, one from the penalty spot, before Milos Ninkovic was left all alone at the back post to apply a thick layer of icing to the scoreline.
Not even a nonchalant Ola Toivonen consolation goal could lift the spirits of the travelling faithful, who will have to ruminate over the loss in Sydney overnight – the late kickoff time denying them the mercy of a same-day flight home.
Sydney, meanwhile, have peaked at precisely the right time. Can their ruthless counter-attack propel them to glory next week in Perth?
The mulleted marauder stormed up and down the touchline all evening, tormenting a Victory side without the defensive width to track his runs.
Albeit offside, his presence in the Victory box for the third goal was a clear demonstration of what makes him unique – a seemingly endless appetite and bottomless stamina to get forward at every available opportunity.
That he was withdrawn by Steve Corica with the game wrapped up only underlined his importance to the Sky Blues. You can see him, you know what’s coming, but sometimes you simply can’t keep up.
Adam Le Fondre
Yes, he scored twice, but the goals were in some ways the least important part of his contribution.
Le Fondre’s defensive positioning made it nigh on impossible for the Melburnians to find gaps in the centre and feed the creative midfielders.
He cannily picked his moments to press and harass Baena and the centre backs, forcing fast break after fast break as the game became stretched.
Alfie is known as a pure goal-poacher, but out of possession he actually provides so much more.
The Serbian maestro may not win another Johnny Warren medal on Monday – but if there was an award for efficiency, he’d be miles ahead of the pack.
Every pass, sprint, tackle, and dribble seemed precisely and devastatingly considered – as if the Terminator-style CPU inside his head had calculated the simplest route to annihilation of his opponent.
His goal was almost garish – an unnecessary extravagance once the target had already been well and truly obliterated.
The big German’s recent resurgence always had the glimmer of fool’s gold about it, and so it showed. Slow, clumsy, and rash, Niedermeier epitomised everything wrong with the Victory tonight, and capped it off with a disastrous sliding tackle so telegraphed that it may have well have been sent in Morse code.
Billed as the next Mathieu Delpierre, Niedermeier has fallen miles short of the mark, and it’s difficult to see his contract being renewed beyond this season.
Yes, these decisions had little to no impact on the final result. And yes, FFA seem to have taken an increasingly non-interventionist policy when it comes to the controversial process of video review.
But why does the technology exist if the officials are too scared to use it?
While he didn’t make contact with the ball, Rhyan Grant was clearly offside in front of Lawrence Thomas for the third goal, which surely warranted further examination.
Calver, meanwhile, blatantly hauled Kenny Athiu to the floor – a la Ramos on Salah – but the decision was bizarrely upheld.
We’ve seen Kevin Muscat out-coached before. We’ve his sides lose, and lose heavily – mostly in Asia. But we’ve never seen them completely give up – at least until tonight.
For a man who prides himself on tough man-management, this was beyond embarrassment: it undermined the defining narrative of his six years in charge.
Muscat is by some distance the league’s longest-serving manager - will this humiliation spell the end of his reign?