Melbourne Victory vs Western Sydney Wanderers (3-1 Victory win – played 14th January 2013)
This match was played a month prior to its originally scheduled timing, and came at a time of mutual inconvenience for both clubs. The Victory were missing several key younger players due to their commitments to the U/22 Socceroos, whilst the Wanderers were backing up only three days after their second Derby match against Sydney FC, and the conditions were marred by Melbourne going through a terrible heat wave. Throw in the controversy following on from the previous Victory versus Wanderers game with fan issues bringing about a suspended sanction from the FFA, the match was certainly going to be one for partisans and neutrals to keep an eye on.
The first half was a stalemate thanks to the heat and heavily amended line-ups, with the Victory having a better time of it than the visitors. Andrew Nabbout gave the Wanderers backs plenty to worry about before being badly concussed in an accidental high kick from Dean Heffernan. The Wanderers left back was arguably the best player for the visitors, and he had a solid chance to put the red and black up one goal at the thirty four minute mark. The home team finished off the half better however, and with the likes of Barbarouses, Finkler, Broxham and Coe all standing up for Kevin Muscat. However it took the advent of the second half for the match to come alive, with the Victory pressing hard. A possible penalty call that might have gone against Heffernan in Troisi’s favour didn’t come, yet shortly thereafter the Wanderers went a goal down thanks to some wonderful play between Mahazi, Barbarouses and Thompson. Mahazi was almost able to get another goal set up for the home team within a few minutes, however Covic made sure of the save off Troisi. However Barbarouses doubled the lead in the 62 minute, and he was making a well credentialed claim as a man of the match candidate. The Wanderers seemed to have no coherent structure in their attack and their usually strong defence was troubled time and time again by the Victory’s forwards. Perhaps the benching of Juric, Ono amd Hersi didn’t help the starting Wanderers XI, but when they were brought on later in the second half not much changed in terms of who was the better side. Muscat was getting the best out of his cobbled together team and young backs Brown and Murnane were good value. There was a glimmer of hope for the visitors in the dying minutes of extra time when Hersi and Juric combined to finally claw a goal back, yet almost immediately afterwards there was a neatly taken goal scored by Wanderers’ nemesis Guy Finkler, leaving the final score at 3-1. It had been a vindication of Kevin Muscat’s team and tactics, whilst for Tony Popovic his steely resolve to continually adapt his team to the conditions and long term goals for the Wanderers must have been tested by such a loss.
Adelaide United vs Central Coast Mariners (2-0 Adelaide win)
The Reds have become everyone’s smoky for a title win this season thanks to their recent surge of excellent form and picking up points again and again, and this match was prima facie evidence for such an opinion. The Mariners were pummeled in their last visit to Coopers Stadium however with the return of prodigal son Bernie Ibini and the addition of some quality new signings such as Eddy Bosnar and Kim Seung-Yung they should’ve had cause for confidence in reversing the previous encounter’s result Instead the first half was another masterpiece of Gombau’s structures and personnel doing what they needed to do. Marcelo Carrusca dominated his opposite numbers and in the early phases of play made Liam Reddy hesitate, then had some opportunities to create goals from corners fail to come to pass. Ibini gave the visitors a glimpse into what might be when his shot on Galekovic’s net went sailing high, and this error was compounded in the 33rd minute by the Mariners when they failed to clear a ball in the Mariners’ box, giving it back to Carrusca who scored a wonderful goal from distance. The killer punch came just before the first half was brought to a close, when as a result of a counterattacking move Carrusca again controlled the ball with elegance and drive, getting off a pass to Ferreira who scored with great aplomb.
The second half was again dominated by the home team, and sadly for the Mariners there was little to enthuse about in terms of those who started the game or those who were subbed into the match by Phil Moss. Matt Simon had a chance that went near the goal off his head, however nought came from that. One of the most depressing aspects of the performance from the Mariners was the absence of quality from two key figures in previous seasons, i.e. Ibini and Duke. Their defence also gave too much open space and when Awer Mabil scooted clean away from the Central Coast defence to score in the 76th minute it should’ve been 3-0. Unfortunately yet another bad call from a linesman distorted the result, and when this A-League season is complete there must be a review of the officiating standards. When the final whistle blew it was the Reds who had grabbed all the opportunities with both hands, whereas the Central Coast Mariners looked distinctly in a form slump.
Sydney FC vs Perth Glory (2-1 Sydney FC win)
One week after their public meltdown, and with a multitude of questions being thrown around about what was going to happen to Frank Farina and the players, or if the active support at Sydney FC would re-engage with their club, the Sky Blues got the best present they could ask for in the circumstances, i.e. an innocuous Perth Glory on the road. The tone was set early in the piece when the Glory’s defence in the centre of the pitch crumbled due to some usual ADP creativeness, laying the ball off to Despotovic who obliged with a goal. For all their vaunted experience Gallas and Thwaite were made to look ineffectual by the home team. To their credit the visitors pushed back and for long sections of the first half put pressure on the Sky Blues. Yet any possible hope for goals were not necessarily derived from enterprising play by the Perth midfield and forwards. Instead it was a combination of set pieces such as corners and indirect free kicks that gave the visitors some reason to believe they could equalise. Twice Perth took curving corner kicks that put the home net in peril, but these were more due to the bad positioning and reactions of Sydney FC goalie Janjetovic than accurate attempts on goal. The impact of new recruit Sasa Ognenovski was very important for Sydney FC as he got through considerable defensive work with no major dramas.
The second half began with more pressure form Perth however it was the lamentable defensive work of their central mids and backs that gave returning young star Terry Antonis the opportunity to double Sydney’s lead. Giving the tyro way too much space and time to set himself up for the shot, when he took it the ball curved elegantly past Vukovic into the visitor’s net. It was simply woeful defending and demonstrated the gap between the two teams. To give some indication of where the visitors were at, when they were able to score a goal and claw back some ground within two minutes Rostyn Griffths did not so much as head the ball into the net as deflect it off a common or garden free kick. The deficit could’ve been increased again on the 75 minute mark if Desptovic had done more in front of goal when the space was wide open, however Vukovic (who is arguably the only Glory player who would sit comfortably in any of the top four teams rosters) kept out the sprayed shot. Burns took a punt of a long distance shot that went awfully close yet the scoreline would not shift for the remainder of the game. At the death there was a red card issued to Aaron Calver for Sydney FC yet that had no impact on the result. It had been a relatively ugly game and whilst the home team won there couldn’t take major comfort from their performance on the pitch, plus the crowd numbers were way down on what they could’ve been. As for Perth Glory, five matches without a win and all the chickens of their early and pre-season mistakes are coming home to roost.
Wellington Phoenix vs Melbourne Heart (0-5 Melbourne Heart win)
Not that long ago a meeting between these two clubs would’ve been considered a sack race, with either of their coaches up for the chop on the back of a loss. Since then (and of course the attendant changes in the Heart’s line-up) there have been some remarkable turns in their respective fortunes, with both the Heart and Phoenix looking to redeem themselves with a second half of the season resurgence. However it would’ve been outlandish to even dream that either club would be at this stage of the comp with their recent records, or indeed for the goal-fest that marked out this match would be arguably the Hearts’ best ever effort in the A-League. The markers were there early for the visitors when Dutch marquee Engelaar benefited from a bounce-back via a Dugandzic shot on goal. The imposing Heart midfielder’s scoring shot was all power and accuracy, hitting the net before All White/Phoenix goalie Glen Moss had a chance to hit the ground. However good that goal was the next which came close to the twentieth minute mark from Heart ace David Williams was all brains and placement. The manner in which he picked out the unfortunate Moss moving too far forward off his line, and then using a dipping lob kick with some power to take the scorer up 0-2 in favour of the visitors was remarkable. Whilst there was some ill-discipline creeping into their performance, overall the Heart were whacking Wellington around as if they were the league leaders, not its cellar dwellers. The key three foreign players for Wellington, Hernandez, Cunningham and Huysegems were missing the form and touch which has been the imprimatur of their teams’ rise up the ladder in recent weeks, and as the two squads went into the sheds at half time it looked like it was no contest.
The second half was more of the same with the Heart doing untold damage to the home team’s defence. Within a brief ten minutes from the restart first Williams scored, followed by Wielaart. Merrick responded to the disastrous score with several changes, bringing on Ridenton and Boyd however it was tantamount to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. A desperate Vince Lia stopped Engelaar from scoring however it earned him a yellow, and even then the visitors were unfinished. In the 63rd minute Williams completed his hat trick with a great curling volley. The game was virtually over at this point, and whilst there were some possible opportunities for both teams the score stayed the same. It was a major debacle for the Phoenix, whereas for the Heart their effort was simply sublime. Whatever John van t’Schip has brought to the squad since his appointment is close to miraculous, and all this was achieved with their recent playmaking star Harry Kewell.
Brisbane Roar vs Newcastle United (0-1 Newcastle United win)
There is an inexplicable hoodoo held over the Roar by the Jets and yet again Brisbane felt the sting of defeat at the hands of Clayton Zane’s squad in this Round 19 meeting. The match itself was filled with plenty of chances for both teams, yet it all came down to a slightly controversial penalty call on Shane Stefanutto (possibly paying for his sins from previous games). The first half had numerous chances with Berisha missing a gold plated chance to grab the lead in the 16th minute, however his attempt at a header failed to connect. Taggart had a similarly great opportunity in the 25th minute however his effort went across the face of a furious Theo’s goal, barely missing the bottom corner. There were more potential openings for either team to take the lead in the first half, with Berisha scaring Birighitti, however in general the high intensity of the Jets defence kept the home team at bay. Zadkovich was lucky to escape a card from the guest Japanese referee, however not long after the restart for the second half Jaliens didn’t fare so well.
The Roar were also on the receiving end of a ref’s foul call when Stefanutto was picked up for impeding Brillante in the box. Stefanutto had form before this match and his lack of pace has to be a concern for Mulvey. The ensuing penalty was clinically finished off by Taggart, and Stefanutto’s continued ill-discipline led to him picking up a yellow. The lead could’ve been increased by the normally accurate Taggart in the 62nd minute. The changes were rung by both Zane and Mulvey over the next ten or so minutes and Roar sub Henrique almost tied things up with a shot that hit the woodwork on the 80th minute. From thereon it was all hands to the pumps as the Roar tried to rescue the game and the Jets to complete the win. The visitors did so, thus making for the completion of the Jets’ stranglehold over the Roar this season plus reducing Brisbane lead over the chasing pack on the A-League ladder to four points.
Best Game: Wellington Phoenix versus Melbourne Heart was the best game, even though it was a whitewash. The manner in which the Heart destroyed the home team was something to behld.
Best Goal: All three of David Williams goals deserve consideration and each one could get the nod. Perhaps his astute lob shot over Moss narrowly wins, but ask me another day and I’d choose one of the others.
Best Team: Melbourne Heart deserve this accolade as they simply tore down everything that the Phoenix put in front of them in such a way that not only confirmed their increased chances of rescuing the 2013/14 season, it also did much to validate the belief the players and club and even the fans have had in each other.
Worst Team: Perth and the Wanderers could nominally fight for this (lack of) distinction however in all fairness the Wanderers loss to the Victory happened in very difficult conditions. Glory looked like they had no real ability to truly test Sydney FC, who are going through all manner of ugliness off pitch and hardly playing pretty football on it. The lack of penetration in repeated attacks and the woeful manner in which the Glory failed to stop Antonis scoring was indicative of a club that has lost its way big time.