(As promised here is the first of several hideously overdue reviews of this season’s A-League rounds)
Central Coast Mariners Vs Wellington Phoenix (1-4 Wellington Phoenix win)
The Wellington Phoenix arrived in Gosford on the back of a disastrous result at home against the Heart, and with the home team boosted by the arrival of new Korean import Kim Seung-Yong, the return of the prodigal Bernie Ibini, and Eddie Bosnar injected into the starting XI, all expectation was that the visitors would struggle for the points. Ibini’s well taken goal in the first half must have further emphasized the improbability of a win for Kiwis, however whatever Ernie Merrick said to his charges at the half time break must’ve been like a shot of peptides to an Essendon footballer. The first riposte from he Phoenix came via Kenny Cunningham, who profited from a deflected pass that arrived in the right place for a driving shot past Liam Reddy. Then, to the frustration of Mike Sterjovski the Mariners’ revisited their penalty taking problems from last season when he failed to slot the ball into Moss’s net a scant 3 minutes later. The heroics of the All-White’s keeper was surpassed in the 63rd minute when Hernandez shot the ball into the Mariner’s net, it’s swerving curving flight path rocketing past a helpless and hopeless Reddy to be buried into he top right hand corner. The role of the Costa Rican in the revival of Phoenix’s fortunes at this stage of the 2013/14 season cannot be under-estimated. Then, to add further unhappiness on the local fans, the third key foreign player for the Phoenix, Belgian Stein Huysegems, was able to tap the ball into the net. More pain was to come to with only ten minutes of regulation time to go, when Huysegems had all the space in the world to deliver a cross for Jeremy Brockie to score the fourth and final Wellington goal. There is no doubt that this resurgence from the Phoenix in this phase of the 2013/14 season was remarkable, yet to bury last year’s grad final winners in the style that they did in this match was stunning. As for the Mariners, there current iteration as a squad is still to demonstrate their collective worthiness contrasted with those teams coached by Graham Arnold.
Newcastle United vs Sydney FC (0-2 Sydney FC win)
For whatever reason this season has seen these two teams meet with the team in red and blue promising a lot before the game, and then after much huffing and puffing they end up coming off second best to the Sky Blues who have in turn never looked that competent. There is no doubt that when the Jets attack focused on Adam Taggart fires they are in the hunt, and when he fails to hit the mark the Newcastle defence and midfield must rise to the occasion otherwise it’s all over red rover. This was the case in this match which looked far more attractive in the first half passages of play than was deserved by the Hunter Stadium pitch. Both Janjetovic and Birighitti were threatened by some useful shots on goal, yet neither Sydney FC nor the home team could break the deadlock. With the older brigade under Frank Farina doing their best to subdue one of the most promising group of younger players in the A-League, it took a set piece and one of the most senior Sky Blue players to start the scoring. Ognenovski rose to meet a corner in the 60th minute and his effort at beating the Jets defence was rewarded with a worthy goal. Arguably less worthy was the penalty given by the referee to Alessandro del Piero against Taylor Regan, but if there is one thing you can count on the ex-Juventus star will never shy away from doing all he can in the box when it comes to getting a chance to shoot on goal. In this instance it was a spot kick that sailed past Birighitti, leaving the home team once more behind against Sydney FC. There was a momentary flurry involving Taggart for the home team, however once more in 2013/14 when Sydney FC and Newcastle United met the points went down the F3 to the harbour city.
Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United (4-3 Melbourne Victory win)
There are some wonderful rivalries and big games developing a real heritage in the short history of the A-League, and the duels between the Victory and the Reds are certainly up there for passion and pride. Therefore it was entirely appropriate that this game was possibly the best of the 2013/14 season so far when it came to open goal scoring between finely matched opponents. Whilst Gombau’s squad has plenty of reason to present an argument for being the most stylistically attractive team going forward in attack, with the goal from Cirio within the first four minutes of this game serving as evidence for such a proposition, they are also one of the least convincing defensively at times. Hence the manner in which they opened up too much space in front of the box at the 14th minute allowed Gui Finkler a chance to level the scores. His shot was exquisitely executed and as it was buried into the back of Coe’s net the Brazilian had shown yet again how important he is to Muscat’s team. The first half didn’t end there when it came to goals; in the 44th minute it was that man Cirio again for the away team, assisted in his scoring by the player who I think really has gotten Gombau out of his critics’ bad book, i.e. Bruce Djite. For all the flair and style of the Latin tiki-taka possession system Djite is the much needed hard working, direct playing complement that drags the Reds into the opposition’s box.
With a 1-2 scoreline at half time the attending fans of both clubs would’ve been happy with the quality of football on display, yet the second half arguably saw a good match become unforgettable. The home team was dealt a blow with the substitution through injury to Tom Rogic, yet a scant five minutes later Finkler echoed Cirio and sunk his second goal of the match, tying things up at 2-2. With yellow cards flying everywhere and injuries piling up the next goal came from a howler committed by one of the best A-League goalkeepers going around; Galekovic scuffed a clearing kick outside the Reds box and in the resulting chase down Archie Thompson did what he loves doing, scoring a goal against Adelaide in from of a home Victory crowd. Obviously defensively the match was a bit of a lost cause, with neither the Reds nor the home team showing a water-tight back line, yet no neutral or home fan could complain when Rogic’s replacement Kosta Barbarouses first set up Finkler for a chance to score, who then assisted Troisi to then pass back to the Kiwi Victory player who tapped into the net for a 4-2 scoreline. Then, to bring the match to a frisson in the 82nd minute Cirio took advantage of a slip from the bungling Pablo Contreras to put the ball past Coe, scoring his hat trick and leaving the match open for at least 8 minutes of regular time. The scoreline didn’t change, which perhaps was unfair to the visitors, thus leaving the Reds joyless and without any points even though they had scored three goals away from home. There is no doubt this was a classic match, and both teams have much to look forward to come finals time.
Perth Glory vs Western Sydney Wanderers (0-2 Western Sydney Wanderers win)
The last game on the Saturday night was played in Perth’s nib Stadium, and once more the club that once was the pride of domestic football in this country demonstrated how dysfunctional and sad they have become, in no small part due to a fractious player group not held in check by an owner who has little grasp of what to do. The Wanderers had traveled without several of their usual key players including for the first time in their short history Ante Covic, and this gave Jerrad Tyson an opportunity to don the gloves for an A-League game since he last played for the now defunct Gold Coast United. However whilst several of Popovic’s usual starters were missing one of the regulars for the Wanderers was there to score a nice goal in the 11th minute, with Matteo Poljak shooting from outside the box and beating a diving Danny Vukovic. The Glory’s goal keeper was certainly one of the better aspects of the match for the home team, whereas almost everyone else playing under Kenny Lowe’s direction looked slow, aimless and disjointed. Kwabena Appiah was terrorizing his Glory opponent on the right flank, whilst Labinot Haliti was not much less difficult to stop on the left. However the potential for a greater lead to be established by the Wanderers didn’t come to fruition until deep into the second half, when French marquee William Gallas committed one of the most farcical errors in front of goal ever seen in Australia:
Tomi Juric made the home team pay for their errors and at 0-2 down it was as if someone told the Glory players that now they should start playing football. There had been a moment before Gallas’s cock up when Jerrad Tyson had to wrestle for a ball that almost trickled into the visitors goal, but that had been the only scare. However in a frantic last quarter of an hour the home team tried to rescue the match. Even Vukovic gave his all with a stunning attempt of a bicycle kick in the 88th minute that was not far off target. Yet even his heroics would do nothing to change the result. The Wanderers had once more demonstrated their mastery of the Glory, and with this win edged closer to the Roar. For the Glory it was yet another backward step in a series of many in 2013/14.
Melbourne Heart vs Brisbane Roar (1-0 Melbourne Heart win)
In every season there will be a game that makes you scratch your head and go ‘I didn’t expect that’. There have been a few 5-0 thumpings in 2013/14 to warrant such an expression, but this single goal victory from the Heart is just as deserving, especially considering how strong the Roar have been since week one and how dire Heart were until the replacement of John Aloisi. Much of this improvement must be put down to the influence of one player who was unavailable to Aloisi and who returned to fitness for John van t’Schip; Orlando Engelaar. The huge Dutch man-mountain was there when need in the 60th minute of this match, which until then had been a story of Heart semi-chances and the quietness of the Roar. Whilst the home coach was getting decent traction out of a squad that was stable from the previous round’s victory, Mike Mulvey had wrung some fairly ineffectual changes. This dire position for the visitors was put into more sharp relief when Engelaar connected with a lovely pass in the box from Dugandzic, toe-lobbing the ball past Theo into the Roar’s net on the hour mark. Engelar could’ve increased the lead twofold when given the opportunity for an indirect free inside the Roar box however his hard struck shot cannoned off the wall of Brisbane defenders. From that point onwards it was all about the Roar trying to find an equaliser, which was most stunningly rejected by Patrick Kisnorbo in the 91st minute. His tackle on a rampant and primed Berisha scarcely centimetres in front of Heart goalie Andrew Redmayne was sublime; sliding in to dispossess the dangerous Albanian striker with a skill that belied previous efforts from the ex-Socceroo this season. Mulvey’s team failed in their quest to salvage a draw, leaving the Heart exultant in probably their best win of the 2013/14 season, and still hopeful for a finals berth.
Best Game: Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide. Seven goals, a hat-trick, history, passion…one of the defining games of the 2013/14 A-league season
Best Goal: Gui Finkler’s first goal for Melbourne Victory was a stellar combination of composure, accuracy, calm thinking and sheer outrageous skill. If he has missed his shot the Hernandez goal for the Phoenix over the Mariners would’ve taken the distinction.
Best Team: Whilst Melbourne Heart could be considered for causing a huge upset in beating Brisbane, and the Victory have some claim because of their win over Adelaide, the best performance this round belongs to Wellington Phoneix. To come back from a goal down at Bluetongue against last year’s GF winners and post 4 goals in an away win is a huge result.
Worst Team: Perth pure and simple. To wait until the 75th minute of a game to look even remotely interested in competing against an opposition team when in front of your own fans is simply unaccpetable.