Why I Am Glad The Boycott Ended Before Saturday Night (or a Paean to a Wanderers versus Victory Classic)

I have seen some wonderful games at Wanderland since climbing about the Red and Black experience before the kick off to the 2012/13 A-League season. The first derby against the smurfs. The 6-1 demolition of Adelaide where I saw first hand a Bridgey hat-trick as well as Dino’s very first goal in a competitive match. The semi against the Roar where Dino again wrought a miraculous goal with his left heel; a goal that’d make Berisha weep in envy. The 1-0 wins over Guangzhau Evergrande and Al Hilal in the 2014 ACL campaign, the 2014-15 Round 19 derby where Bulut almost single-handedly beat our eastern suburb rivals, and in the same disastrous domestic campaign a nearly flooded midweek Wanderland come-from-behind conquering of Melbourne City.

Yet when it comes to quality opponents and quality games hosted at Pirtek Stadium, it takes a lot of effort to match the Melbourne Victory and most particularly Saturday night’s amazing game.

To put this into some kind of perspective, let me state from the get-go that of all the clubs in the A-League that rival the Wanderers the one that I have a more than passing respect for is MVFC. I have a soft spot for Newcastle due to a few factors such as the nature of their bumpy ride in recent years, they have a proud, parochial football culture in the Hunter not too distant from here in the west of Sydney, and one of their most loyal supporters (indeed most loyal of any club’s supporters) is a great mate of mine. Adelaide also gets a nodding smile as it is the pissant town I was born in a long, long time ago. Wellington I find I can take with plenty of equanimity; they are neither a club to encourage great loathing or great liking. As for the other clubs, well it ranges from pure unadulterated hate to dismissal as mostly irrelevant.

I expect those attitudes are not entirely isolated among other fans across the entire A-League spectrum.

However when it comes to Melbourne Victory I cannot find volatile emotions like despising, hating, pitying, loving. No; the most successful A-League club over the last calendar year in terms of trophies won on the pitch, as well as a business model off the pitch deserves the respect one gives to a great rival following a similar path in this world. The kind of attitude that might be fictionalised in a dogfight between Biggles and a German ace in World War One. Or that feeling engendered between two old political war horses such as Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser post-Dismissal. For all the pantomime villainy of Berisha or the aura of ‘being a prick’ that surrounds Kevin Muscat, Melbourne Victory give as good as they get from us, and undoubtedly share the burden of being the two most important clubs in the A-League in the two largest metropolitan markets. With combined MVFC/WSW membership in 2015/16 to date exceeding the combined memberships of Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne City, Perth, Wellington and Central Coast by a good margin, it is blatantly obvious where the majority of the hearts and minds of the A-League have found a home Throw in the 2014 ACL championship for the Wanderers and the three domestic trophies for the Victory in 2015, and the bulk of the available silverware for Australian A-League clubs in recent history has been heading to these clubs as well.

These kinds of numbers, these kinds of quantitative measures mean that when I (and I believe many of my fellow Wanderers fans as well) look at the Victory and put that into the context of a match, we know this isn’t going to be a friendly, a hit and giggle affair. The proof of this idea has been demonstrated again and again in the history of our meetings since 2012/13. For example, it could well be argued that the Wanderers’ best ever game in season one was that played in Round 14 at home against the Victory, with two magical goal from Shinji Ono:

In the 2013/14 season there was another cracker between the two biggest clubs in the A-League, when in Round 12 a last minute Gui Finkler stunner gave the home team a draw that stunned everyone who was fortunate enough to see it:

More recently, with the Wanderers weary and beaten down by injuries and travel in 2014/15 MVFC took all available 9 points and scored 9 goals to 2, demonstrating that in the battle between the most heavily subscribed A-League clubs the Victorian-based team was in the ascendancy. By the end of that season the overall record stood at three Wanderers wins, five Victory wins and one draw; a healthy rivalry that leaned a little to the Melbourne-based club. Hence the appreciation of what was going to be a very tasty encounter Saturday night at Wanderland, the tenth match between us and them, in the tenth round of the 2015/16 season.

Of course what made this match even more attractive and more significant was the relationship between the Wanderers fans (including the RBB) the Victory fans (notably the North Terrace actives) and the recent walk-outs and boycotts. As the two most high-profile supporter groups targeted by the likes of the News Limited gossip monger Rebecca Wilson, and with a reputation for unseemly behaviour among the the ‘non-football cognoscenti’, epitomised by an ugly incident involving some criminal acts away from AAMI stadium, both clubs’ fans may be regarded as having a deal of animosity and unruliness. However, putting aside the specifics of that situation which involved a smaller amount of arrests than have taken place at recent large musical festivals, in the last fortnight it was the Wanderers and Victory fan bases who led the popular revolt against the FFA’s policies vis-a-vis the banning process as it has been implemented. Whilst other clubs’ fans started their protests against the FFA by following a negotiation path (such as the Cove), the RBB and North Terrace were united in voicing their initial discontent with a walk out in their respective Round Eight matches:

Interestingly enough the administrative leadership of these two clubs echoed the attitudes of discontent as their fans, hence these statements from John Tsatsimas and Ian Robson (respective CEOs for the Wanderers and Victory):

“We will always advocate for the rights of our members (in both public and private forums) who are exceptional in both their behaviour and their passion for this club and who have been branded unfairly in a negative manner, This includes members who feel they are unjustly banned.” (John Tsatsimas Source: 25/11/15)

“We’re proud of what we do and the fans are at the heart and the core of that. That’s why we fight hard to protect those that do the right thing, which means by definition we have to be hard on those who do the wrong thing.” (Ian Robson Source 2/12/15)

So, coming into the Round Ten match between the Wanderers and Victory there was a shared history of playing some high quality football matches against each other, synergies in terms of politics and attitudes from the respective clubs’ leaderships, a parallel approach to protesting the FFA from the most active fans, and finally the vitally important aspect of this being a first versus second top of the table clash. With the fragile peace of the FFA and active fans in place, there was every expectation this would be a cracker of a game on almost every level.

For me the lead up to the game involved a riff off my usual processes before a Wanderers game. I headed into the local Bavarian Bier Cafe for some German pork goodness and a litre stein. There I met with some of my comrades, RBB and non-active alike, and we chewed the fat whilst I chewed the schnitzel. There was plenty of discussion about form, players, the FFA, the boycott’s cessation, and then came the RBB march, which I and many others watched with pride and happiness:

Then it was a quick Hofbrau Dunkel-soaked stroll over to Wanderland, the usual rigmarole of getting into the stadium, grabbing a seat, saying hello to my game day acquaintances nearby, and awaiting kick-off. The Wanderers had an almost totally fit squad for Popa to call on, with only Piovaccari being a nominal first team absentee. For the visitors (whose fans were in decent numbers down in the away fan seating) their biggest gap was their absent captain Carl Valeri. However these were two line ups brimming with quality; Andreu, Nichols, Bridge, Dimas, Vidosic, Castelen and Jamieson for the home team, Ben Khalfallah, Barbarouses, Berisha, Vukovic, Finkler, Bozanic for Victory. The opening twenty or so minutes were exciting, attractive, filled with fast paced and creative football, and to be honest there could’ve been several goals scored. Redmayne almost gifted a Victory goal, if it hadn’t been for an errant Berisha finish followed by a goal line clearance from Scott Jamieson. At the other end Mark ‘Fat Head’ Bridge had two golden chances that he missed with all the aplomb of a man who did this regularly during his golden run in 2012/13. From there the match settled into thrust and counter-thrust, the referee arguably being more interventionist than he needed to be. However there was one man who stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch; the Wanderers’ import Romeo Castelen.

If ever a player deserved to shine as part of the new attractive, aggressive, possession-based Wanderers’ system it is Romeo. Brought into the club before the 2014/15 season, he was in some eyes a natural replacement for Youssouf Hersi. Like his countryman, Castelen was given the role of playing in a right wing position, nominally both creating chances and finishing them off, whilst where necessary drifting into the centre or even over to the other flank for defensive requirements or counter-attacking thrusts. Sadly for Romeo the combination of a dysfunctional schedule for the entire club, resulting from the Wanderers’ ACL and CWC commitments, plus his own injury woes meant he had minimal impact through the annus horribilis of last season. Aside from a very good game against a depleted Brisbane Roar up at Suncorp he never went near matching the standard of his predecessor from the Eredivisie.

This season however Castelen has blossomed, undoubtedly due to having a better fitness regime and a more suitable tactical structure in place which is aided and abetted by the Spanish midfielders Andreu and Dimas. He caused all manner of worries for Adelaide when the Wanderers picked up their first point of the current season, and whilst he again missed some matches due to injury, his return to first team play in recent rounds has shown he is a very important, high quality element of the Wanderers. However he took this to a new level in Saturday’s match against the Victory. As outlined in this Sydney Morning Herald report Romeo was in shining form against the current A-League champions. It was the kind of effort that, in the context of past Wanderers versus Victory matches, was right up their with the aforementioned Ono double in season one.

The manner in which Castelen dominated his opposition whilst on the field was certainly eye-catching, not just for the partisans of either club in the match, but also for the neutrals. He was able to make Macedonian-Australian international Daniel Giorgievski look cod ordinary, and Victory’s Tunisian ace from last season Ben Khalfallah also seemed to cower under Romeo’s shadow. Vukovic was the one who felt the worst of the Dutchman’s work, starting with some incisive passes that almost set up a goal for Bridge, which was subsequently scuffed. Then just before half time Castelen put his foot through the ball in such a manner it took a wonder save via the Victory goal keeper’s left leg to keep the scores locked at 0-0.

In the second half he turned from major threat to shuddering terror for the visitors. There was a deserving call for a penalty denied and more florid movement with the ball on the right flank, before he finally had Fat Head do the right thing by one of his passes:

Then, to top things off Castelen finally put the ball into the back of the Victory net in the 78th minute after he hit a hard shot low and straight at Vukovic. Sadly for the Victory but happily for Romeo and the Wanderers family the shot was badly handled by the visitor’s goalie, hence:

 Not long thereafter Castelen was subbed, being replaced by Golgol Mebrahtu. I’ll be honest; when it comes to Golgol I have a soft spot for this Wanderer, insofar as he has had a helluva time battling injuries since he first joined the club. I can still recall with admiration and respect his goal scored against the red and black, when he represented Melbourne Heart, in the closing stages of the Wanderers remarkable run of wins in season one.

Mebrahtu has barely worn the Wanderers’ colours competitively since he first signed for the club, and it must be assumed that the coaching staff believe he can add a lot to the existing squad having kept him on the books for so long. He played an important hand in the FFA Cup Round of 32 match out at Penrith before the start of the 2015/16 WSW campaign, however again succumbed to an injury. Bottom line, with Castelen off the pitch it was rewarding to see Golgol given a chance to get a run and remind us all of his capabilities (within the last 10 minutes or so let in the match).

Another ex-Heart player who appeared for the Wanderers (getting another full match under his belt) was Andrew Redmayne. The goal keeper who arguably had the worst reputation among regular starters in the A-League before 2015/16 has become a far better stopper than he once was, undoubtedly due to the influence of Zeljko Kalac. Yes, there was a terrible fumble that could’ve led to a goal in the early stages of the first half. However, not long thereafter he turned what should’ve been a Barbarouses goal around the right goal post, Ante Covic ACL Final style, then in the second half made a crucial save to stop a solid shot from Connor Pain from drawing the Victory level.

In some respects it is unfair to single out the likes of Castelen and Redmayne for their heroics. This was a total team performance that was at a standard I have not seen before from the Wanderers. It wasn’t a dogged, driven, defensive effort like those that won the club trophies and plaudits in their first ACL campaign. Nor was it a counter-attacking, reactive style of play where Topor-Stanley would hoof the ball up towards a forward who might lay it off for a second man, as used with great effectiveness in the first Wanderers’ A-League season. When you see the high press, possession based style being implemented by Popa and his other training staff with his squad, including the crucial Spanish trio of Alberto, Andreu and Dimas, it is hardly surprising that words such as ‘breathless’, ‘relentlessness’ and ‘a joy to watch’ are bandied around.

However what was happening on the pitch was only part of the story. There was, returning to the off-the-field culture issues of active support, media disinformation and FFA administrative and PR fuck-ups, a need for this match to be a show case for all that was great not just about the Wanderers, but the entire experience of football in Australia. Thankfully, the supporters who attended the match, whether part of the overwhelming majority of red and black fans and members, or those who traveled as Victory partisans, were in big numbers and wonderful form. The crowd of 17,073 was the highest number to attend a regular A-League season game at Wanderland outside a WSW versus Smurfs derby, thus belying the ridiculous lies from the likes of Rebecca Wilson re people staying away from the A-League games due to active supporters. Fox Football commentator Simon Hill made pointed reference to her and others of her tawdry, ill-informed ilk whilst celebrating the atmosphere and passion that was on display in Parramatta:

From my own personal standpoint over in the Eastern Stand, it was a game day experience where the joie de vivre of just being there (particularly after the troubles of the boycott held during the previous round’s matches, or the walk-out undertaken up in Gosford the week before that) added a soupçon of happiness to the raucous, passionate, energetic, at times ribald atmosphere. Every chant had a bit of extra bite and bounce to it, every insult hurled at the ref and linesmen came with a hearty laugh, and even the Victory supporters seemed to share in the joyful excitement. I’ll admit there was a certain chant that may have raised eyebrows  (‘intercourse the Victory, intercourse the Victory, Melbourne boys are still number two’), and I guess wowsers and overly sensitive folk may find it offensive. Of course I could make a point about the hypocrisy of attacking people for using a swear word at the football versus finding no moral problems with watching convicted criminals at the AFL or NRL, but I shan’t. Instead I’ll just point out the most potent problem with that chant; at the end of the match ‘Melbourne boys’ were n fact number three (on the ladder). Oh, and to further undermine the haters’ paradigm of anti-social soccer hooligans  lighting flares, and mass arrests, not a single moment of pyro use arose at the ground, and as far as I am aware not a single arrest was made by the bored, inactive members of the NSW constabulary. The RBB were simply superb, acting as the touch paper to ignite an explosion of football passion.

Photo courtesy of FourFourTwo Australia & Eric Berry

Young RBB Members

When all was said and done post-match I made a point when seeing some Victory fans outside Pirtek Stadium to thank them, and congratulate them for traveling and helping us show how very, very, very good it is to experience Australian football at its best. It only seemed fair to recognise that without an opponent of such a high quality the Wanderers’ couldn’t respond accordingly. Nor for that matter would it be right to not, after the dust had settled, to shake hands with similarly passionate fans who have shared our recent fight against maladministration and misrepresentation.

Let me close by heading back to what I said right at the beginning of this post. I’ve seen some marvellous games and shared in some memorable moments of camaraderie in my three and a bit seasons of being a passionate Western Sydney Wanderers’ member. At the very summit is that Sunday morning last year when the Red and Black faithful congregated outside Parramatta Town Hall to witness the Wanderers’ claim the ACL crown in Riyadh. However, only a few virtual feet below that Everest like peak of satisfaction and happiness wrought through football and through WSW is the K2-like 2-0 win against Melbourne Victory on December 12th 2015. I was bloody ecstatic to be there, and the win was made all the more sweeter because I shared with my brothers and sisters the moment of standing up and saying to the haters and to the FFA, ‘Fuck you…WE ARE FOOTBALL!’

2014/2015 Round Nine Preview: December 5th-7th

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Central Coast Mariners vs Melbourne Victory (Friday, 5th November 2014, North Sydney Oval)

This match has been overshadowed by the issues facing the Mariners future as well as the controversy of taking another game away from Gosford to North Sydney Oval. Whilst there are intriguing and arguably positive reasons for Mike Charlesworth to take the Mariners into broader markets that are not that far away from their central coast base, there has already been a negative reaction from many of the more rusted on fans. Then there is the hostility shown to the venue from Melbourne Victory’s coach Kevin Muscat, who has already voiced his concern over the potential for injuries to his players on the hard surface.

All this controversy and media huffing and puffing means that assessing the actual possible result is almost a secondary concern. Melbourne will be undoubted favourites even if they do not play their full and best team. The absence of Finkler may cause some problems for Berisha, but in Ben Khalfallah Muscat has a great alternate. Again there may be defensive concerns with the continuing absence of Delpierre however this iteration of the Mariners do not look good enough to take advantage of that issue. Whilst they may be able to maintain a high possession rate against the visitors, going forward and convincingly attacking their opponents with the resulting goals doesn’t seem to be happening for Moss’s team.

Final Verdict: Victory may be discomforted by the venue and the Mariners will want to maintain the same stolid work that has seen them only lose one of their last four games this season. However the visitors should be able to win well. My Prediction: 0-2 Melbourne Victory win

Newcastle Jets vs Wellington Phoenix (Saturday 6th December 2014, Hunter Stadium)

Two of the least fashionable clubs of the A-League meet in this match and it will be most interesting to see what kind of crowd come along to see the home team who are struggling this season, or the visitors who are playing well but are poor purveyors of traveling fans. The Jets have been finding it hard this season, and whilst they have found some degree of stability in the last two rounds with draws against the Wanderers and Mariners there is still no definitive expectation that they can run rampant against any opposition. Flores and Carney are playing well and the switch of Birighitti with Ben Kennedy in goal seems to have corrected some of the defensive woes Phil Stubbins’ team has had.

As for the visitors, even with the departure of goal scoring ace Jeremy Brockie to South Africa there is lots to like up front. McGlinchey, Burns, Bonevacia and Krishna have helped give the Phoenix their best ever start to an A-League season. It would be a foolish person to consider them less than an even chance for reaching the top six in April next year, and Ernie Merrick is getting the best out of a team that is hardly filled with stars.

Final Verdict: Wellington Phoenix may not be the best team away from home in the past, however this season they are looking much better. This should be a win for the visitors, even though the Jets won’t die wondering. My Prediction: 0-1 Wellington Pheonix win

Adelaide United vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Saturday 6th December 2014, Coopers Stadium)

The Reds are at home and have plenty of reason to shine against the last placed Wanderers after their defeat away to their nemesis the Victory last round. Plus, like every club who will be playing the Wanderers this season the added incentive of knocking off the AFC Champions’ League winners must give Gombau’s players another motivation. Adelaide are looking very good this season thanks to the growing depth and cohesion of their team on the field. Up front Djite and Cirio have been scoring goals, Carrusca has been arguably the best playmaker in any club and at the back Elrich and Mabil have been able to switch defence into attack regularly, The Reds will be missing the multi-talented Osama Malik however that shouldn’t be fatal for their chances.

As for the Wanderers, well almost everything that can go wrong with their 2014/15 A-League campaign has indeed gone wrong. They had been improving in their performances against the Mariners, Jets and Sydney FC at home, and whilst the goals weren’t coming in great floods the combination of Rukavytsya, Bridge, Juric and Castelen looked very potent. However on Wednesday night their effort against a Broich-less Brisbane Roar was simply not good enough. There are issues all over the park, particularly in relation to the sub-par returns from two key imports (Saba and Adeleke), and if it wasn’t for the likes of Covic, Topor-Stanley and Hamill the RBB and other fans would be starting to doubt the wisdom of Tony Popovic. Throw in the impending trip to Morocco for the Club World Cup and it is almost as if their success has laid the foundations for their current faults.

Final Verdict: I would love to believe that the Wanderers can come back, confound teh critics and win this week. However I don’t believe they are going to be able to bring away all three points. They may well jag a draw though. My Prediction: 2-1 Adelaide United

Melbourne City vs Brisbane Roar (Sunday 7th December 2014, AAMI Park)

Brisbane played well enough to keep a stuttering Wanderers out of their goal on Wednesday night, however they hardly set the world on fire with their own offensive efforts. Therefore coming down to Melbourne and facing a Melbourne City that was thumped by the Phoenix last round gives them an intriguing challenge, especially as Thomas Broich will again be absent. Defensively City do have problems, and with a core of Heart players in the backs and midfield John Van t’Schip must be hoping the likes of Paartelu and Mooy replicate their efforts from the first match between these two teams this season. In fact the area where the game will be won or lost will be in the midfield; Matt McKay played very well against the Wanderers and Mooy has been possibly the best City player all season so far. If the Roar midfield can get service to Henrique then he will cause problems for the home team. Conversely Williams can punish the City opposition so it could be one of those games that swings on one magic moment from the centre of the pitch. It will be interesting to see if and how Adam Sarota plays for Brisbane; he could be a quality addition to a Brisbane squad that still has some big gaps.

Final Verdict: I don’t think either team is really of a sufficient quality to get a huge win, but of the two Roar look better in defence and have been arguably better across the board even though they have lost more matches than won. My prediction 0-1 Brisbane Roar win

(N.B. as I missed the chance to post before the Sydney FC vs Perth Glory match I will only give a review for that game)

2014/2015 Round Five Review: 7th – 9th November

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Wellington Phoenix vs Western Sydney Wanderers (1-0 Wellington Phoenix win)

The Wanderers were coming out of their amazing achievement in winning the ACL titles the preceding weekend, and as has happened in the past with Tony Popovic’s policy when faced with such a complex scenario, he rang in the changes, giving first starts to several new or young signings such as Adeleke and Rukavytsya, Fofanah and Sotirio, plus allowing more game time for the likes of Trifiro, Juric, Castelen and Spiranovic. The home team was far more settled in personnel, and thus it was a little surprising to see the Wanderers play so fluently with some solid chances in the first 30 minutes or so. Fofanah and Juric undoubtedly could’ve scored, but neither of their misses were as bad as that from Louis Fenton for the Phoenix, who should’ve converted a well placed free kick cross from Michael McGlinchey as the first half came to an end.

The second half saw fatigue and unfamiliar combinations degrade the effectiveness of the Wanderers, though they had a good chance to score in the 52nd minute when there was some penalty box pinball at the Phoenix end. Veteran Kiwi keeper Glen Moss kept the ball out, and then at the other end it was down to a wonderful Matthew Spiranovic intervention at the 69 minute mark to stop Roy Krishna from scoring. The Fijian was to have some satisfaction ten minutes later when his nicely placed pass was met by Nathan Burns who had left Seyi Adeleke behind to put the ball past Ante Covic. Adeleke was again in trouble just before game’s end when he was judged to have fouled McGlinchey, however with the resultant spot kick Ante Covic repeated his ACL heroics and saved the ex-Mariner’s shot. The Phoenix had done enough to win whilst the Wanderers showed signs of being more than capable of lifting off the bottom of the A-League table when their season is restored to some normalcy.

Adelaide United vs Sydney FC (0-0 draw)

A fascinating clash between two of the leading teams this season, with the end result perhaps not a fair indication of the football played by both the Reds and Sydney FC. The first half was nominally in the favour of the home team, with Carrusca, Mabil and Cirio all having some excellent opportunities to put the ball in the Sydney goal. A combination of woodwork and Vedran Janjetovic kept the game tied up in the earlier stages. Ibini could’ve scored for the visitors however his was probably the only and best chance for Sydney FC before half time.

The second half was filled with chances and some controversy, again demonstrating that each team are providing a significant challenge this A-League season. It was all happening in the last third of the match as first Janko nearly scored, only to be denied by the Reds’ Boogard, followed by Janjetovic stopping Mabil’s header in similar spectacular terms. A free kick from Petkovic that hit the back of Galekovic’s net in the 67th minute was controversially called back as the ref claimed he had not signaled for the game to continue, then from the retake Janko was only denied a goal by the right side of the goal frame. Then, well into injury time Carrusca should’ve nailed the winner for the home team however his shot on an almost utterly open goal was scuffed badly. Neither side deserved to lose, but a 0-0 score line is perhaps a fair indication of the performance of both sides as not being able to bury the gold plated chances they had.

Newcastle Jets vs Melbourne Victory (2-2 Draw)

The Jets came into this home match with the underdog tag and for the first 35 minutes they played totally against that role,  going 2-0 up against the strength of the visiting Victory. Their first goal scored by captain Kew Jaliens was a classic of swooping on a well placed corner at the far post. The second was somewhat controversial, in that the penalty awarded by referee Strebre Delovski very soft indeed. It was well taken by local fave Joel Griffiths, and there must have been members of the Squadron and other Jets fans who thought a win was on the cards.

However Victory responded with a combination of goals first from Ben Khalfallah and then from Besart Berisha. The first was a header placed past Birighitti by the Tunisian international after the Jets defence were put into sixes and sevens and Finkler put a spoiled shot from Berisha into Khalfallah’s path. The second, scored after the break, was the result of a simply magical first touch pass from Khalfallah that was gathered by a rampant Berisha who calmly put the ball into the Jets’ net. There were some minor chances thereafter from both teams, however the score remained unaltered. For Phil Stubbins and for his players and the fans it must’ve been a frustrating result, whilst Kevin Muscat would’ve been pleased with the Victory comeback.

Brisbane Roar vs Melbourne City (1-3 Melbourne City win)

The agony of the Roar’s start to the 2014/15 season continued at home with a surprisingly big loss to Melbourne City, who now free of the hype and possible distraction of David Villa put the home team to the sword. The game was put almost out of Roar’s reach only after ten minutes, with first Williams and then Dugandzic scoring for City. The second goal was a nice one indeed, and showed that the Roar defence was at sixes and sevens. There was plenty of possession for the Roar however when on the attack Andrew Redmayne was up to the mark, and when the sides came in for the half time break the score remained unchanged. In the second half the game was played with all the fluidity expected from two teams who have had issues at the back this season, and when a reply from the Roar finally came with a McKay goal it was more the result of good fortune (i.e. a huge deflection off Borrello) that great play. What was very polished however was the winning goal, with Aaron Mooy escaping the attention of his opposite number in the midfield, then sending a well directed pass out to James Brown, who in turn squared his pass back to Marc Marino who scored easily. The Roar could not come back from there, leaving them with their fourth loss on the trot. For City fans, players and staff the win will be considered most important in building more impetus to challenge this season.

Central Coast Mariners Vs Perth Glory (0-1 Perth Glory win)

The longest hoodoo in A-League history was ended in the 0-1 win for Perth as they finally knocked off Central Coast at home, the first time during the ten years of the competition. As a spectacle for the neutral, or indeed as a home game for the Mariners’ fans there was little to be enthused about. The statistics were very much in favour of Phil Moss’s team, however all their possession led to no goals and arguably only one gold plated chance for a goal. Mitchell Duke should’ve scored in the 34th minute however Vukovic made sure the Glory didn’t go a goal down. Then, four minutes before the end of the first half’s regulation time a messy challenge from behind by John Hutchinson brought Nicholls down not that far outside the Mariner’s box. The resultant free kick taken by Serb Nebojsa Marinkovic was an A-Grade pearler, thundering into Reddy’s goal with pace and a killer curve. It was a classic goal that frankly was the only real highlight from a match that kept the Glory at the pinnacle of the table whilst Central Coast lumber to another ordinary result.

Best Team of the Round: Melbourne City deserve this accolade insofar as they played well enough to beat the 2013/14 champions at home after losing David Villa to his return to New York City. Wellington and Melbourne also deserve recognition for their efforts.

Worst Team of the Round: Brisbane might be considered the least adequate team again this round, though to be honest they did have good passages of play. The Wanderers were disjointed due to their massive changes after winning the AFC Champions League so it would be unfair to be harsh on their performance.

Best Goal of the Road: Aaron Mooy’s efforts in setting up a great goal from Marc Marino were good, but this honour must go to the combination of Ben Khalfallah and that man again Besart Berisha for the Victory against the Jets. Not only was Khalfallah’s first touch sublime Berisha was clinical in his finishing. Marinkovic’s goal was also excellent and some would reasonably argue it being the better.

2014/2015 Round Eight Preview: November 28th-30th

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Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United (Friday 28th November 2014, AAMI Park)

This should be a great match with both teams undefeated this season, both with full squads and lots of history weighing on each club’s shoulders. Last time they met at Adelaide Oval the Reds looked to be slightly better for most of the match and arguably should’ve won, however a blemish in their defence at the death meant that both home and away teams went away with a point each. Muscat has possibly the better attacking options, due in no small part to Berisha, Thompson, Finkler and Khalfallah. However this is not any sleight on the opposition, who with Sanchez, Cirio and Djite also have plenty to offer in front of goal. Admittedly Djite is coming back from injury and may not start, however Gombau can also look to Carrusca and maybe Mabil for goals. Defensively both teams have a positive goal difference, and it will be intriguing to see if the continuing absence of Delpierre from Victory will be a problem for them.

Final Verdict: This is a match that is too close to call. Both teams could win and win well with their offensive capabilities, hence I think they will cancel each other out. Unless there is some major error or brain snap from someone I think honours will be shared. My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Brisbane Roar Vs Perth Glory (Saturday 29th November 2014, Suncorp Stadium)

With Mike Mulvey deposed and various other members of the home club looking askance at their position, their team mates and the overall position of the Roar on the ladder it looks as if this could be another bad result for last season’s champions. In terms of playing personnel no one is under any illusions that they are as well structured, balanced or talented as previous iterations, and the ongoing absence of goalkeeper Mike Theo will be a headache for interim coach Frans Thijssen. In the past at other clubs there have been teams that have pulled together when a coach is jettisoned, and if anyone understands that it will be Kenny Lowe, brought in last season when his predecessor Allie Edwards was given the arse. Like Lowe in 2013/14 Thijssen has a rather shakey hold on some dubious reins at the Roar, so it will be unlikely for him to get all three points.

Glory on the other hand are motoring along nicely, if not too spectacularly. Their squad has plenty of quality across all parts of the park and for the first time arguably in their entire A-League history they’ve discovered how to win away from Perth. Whilst no one is really emerging as a true matchwinner, the likes of Keogh, Hersi, Marinkovic and Maclaren up front and Vukovic at the back means that they will be hard to keep out of goal and hard to get through for shots on goal.

Final Verdict: Brisbane are in a world of pain and I honestly cannot see them winning, or indeed drawing. Perth should win in what be an intense tussle, but one they have have every reason to believe can be won. My Prediction: 0-2 Perth Glory

Western Sydney Wanderers vs Sydney FC (Saturday 29th November 2014, Pirtek Stadium)

There’s no doubt that the Wanderers are coming into this match as underdogs following a very ordinary beginning to their A-League season. However in the last two games at home against the Mariners and Jets they have begun to exert some quality pressure on their opponents, thanks in no small part to the growing cohesion and increasing match fitness of key players like Juric, Castelen, Rukavytsya, Spiranovic, Saba and Topor-Stanley. Whilst Ante Covic has been a rock in goal there have been some chinks in Popovic’s back four, as the likes of Mullen, Adeleke, Golec and Cole have all struggled to fill their roles as well as last season’s players or as demonstrated in the ACL. Perhaps the key player will be Adeleke; if he can bolt down a hold on the left back position then that gives someone like Cole or maybe even Hamill a chance to play right back, thus setting the Wanderers with a firm base.

The visitors are obviously having a far better season and will come to Wanderland confident they can win for the first time there since the very first derby played against the Wanderers, all the way back in 2012/13. The absence of Gameiro and Dimitrijevic due to injury and suspension respectively does weaken Arnold’s squad somewhat, however there is depth across all parts of the park for him. Janko, Brosque, Ibini and Smeltz are certainly an equal to the forwards available to Popa, and in the middle it will be intriguing to see how Terry Antonis plays against what may be Poljak and La Rocca.

Final Verdict: The Wanderers are a work in progress still and who knows if they really have settled down to the normal hurley burley of league football with the combinations and structures needed to win. It must be said that the RBB and home fans will undoubtedly want to exert as much a positive influence on their beloved team, and Sydney FC will not have the comfort of a reasonably well-stocked Cove for their support. This should be when the Wanderers finally come good, otherwise they may as well forget the rest of the domestic season and build to the Club World Cup and defending their ACL title. Sydney will be a stiff challenge but as always I must back my Western Sydney Wanderers: My Prediction: 2-1 Western Sydney Wanderers win.

Wellington Phoenix vs Melbourne City (Sunday 30th November, Westpac Stadium)

Melbourne City are traveling to windy Wellington hoping to rediscover some of the form that saw them help contribute to the Roar’s woes only a few rounds back. They are still without Koren, their Slovenian marquee, and whilst Duff, Mooy and Williams can all threaten it’s not really going to be up front where the issues lie, especially against a Wellington who have shown at home (and occasionally away) a propensity to score and score well. Redmayne, Wielaart and Kisnorbo are still out the back at City after being part of Heart’s very ordinary 2013/14 campaign, and throw in midfielders like Mauk, Ramsay and Garuccio there is still a whiff of past mediocrities forming the core of van t’Schip’s squad. Throw in the very inconsistent form throughout the early stages of the current A-League season and it will be hard for the visitors to be ultra-confident going into this match.

Merrick’s Phoenix are playing fairly good football this season and whilst they have had their bumps on the road back at Westpac they are a higher quality opponent. The return of McGlinchey from All Whites duties will be a big fillip to the team, as he is arguably their best attacking player (even though Nathan Burns has been scoring more goals). Then there is the improving Roy Krishna and Dutchman Roly Bonevacia, who is quietly building up a rep as being one of the best value for money imports in the A-League this season (and arguably better than his compatriots in other teams such as Hersi, Castelen and Jaliens).

Final Verdict: Phoenix at home should be a moral for all three points, especially if Burns, Krishna, McGlinchey and perhaps Brockie are given too much time on the ball near the City box. Whilst aaron Mooy can and will create problems, especially in dead ball situations, the traveling City are not looking as well structured or performed around the park as Wellington. My Prediction: 2-0 Wellington Phoenix.

Newcastle Jets vs Central Coast Mariners (Sunday 30th November, Hunter Stadium)

If ever a stage was set for a player to exert an influence over one of the fiercest rivalries in the A-League, the old F3 derby between Newcastle and Central Coast is laid out for Marcos Flores to do his thing. The Jet midfielder has the creative capability to pull apart most defensive structures, and whilst his recovery from injury and lack of match fitness may still impede him as demonstrated against the Wanderers he only needs a moment and he can swing a match. Defensively the Jets have also improved on the back of last week’s performance, and David Carney is another Jet who is giving reasonably good service in a misfiring squad.

The Mariners on the other hand are looking flat after a less than happy result against Adelaide at home, and the ruckus over possible internal problems and even the ongoing drama around Mike Charlesworth’s plans for the club must be drawing away some of the energy and positive feeling in the squad. Duke is not scoring enough to warrant high expectations and whilst there is plenty of solid work coming from John Hutchinson the rest of the team seem uninspired. Kim and Bosnar need to be contributing more and Caceres needs to be more creative.

Final Verdict: Neither side looks like a top six club so far this season, and whilst they have each drawn with the Wanderers away from home neither team looked superior to their lower ranked NSW-based rival. If Flores sparks expect a Jets win, but… My Prediction: 0-0 Draw

2014/2015 Round Six Preview: November 14th – 16th

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Newcastle United vs Brisbane Roar (Hunter Stadium, Friday November 14th 2014)

Considering neither club is sitting on a shitload of points at the moment this match at the Jet’s home ground is another crucial one for both squads and their respective coaches. Brisbane have been a tad unlucky in their four losses so far this season however there are deficiencies and problems that are all too apparent (e.g. the lack of a replacement for Berisha, Young’s struggles in goal, verbal stoushes on the pitch). Throw in the travel away from home, the absence of Matt McKay, and the continuing non-appearance of Adam Sarota and Michael Theo then this is not the best qualified Roar squad aiming to win on the road.

Having said that Newcastle are only a few increments above the Roar in terms of points and player quality. There 2-2 draw against Melbourne Victory was a good match and showed that now they are off the road Phil Stubbins can possibly jag some results. There are some players who should be doing much better, including Flores and arguably Neumann. Griffiths and Jaliens have been well performed and David Carney has started to find his feet. It will be interesting to see if Madaschi and Celeski get much game time as they are welcome additions to a relatively threadbare line up.

Final Verdict: Brisbane are still a team to be respected if not feared, and it will be important for Mike Mulvey that the likes of Broich, Stefanutto, North and Brattan start achieving more. The Jets are at home and do have a better recent form run, but it will be hard for them to defeat last season’s champions. My Prediction: 2-2 Draw

Adelaide United vs Wellington Phoenix (Coopers Stadium, 15th November 2014)

Whilst Adelaide may be a little fatigued due to their midweek FFA Cup exertions they have the luxury of having played at home and a squad that is almost at its best. Unfortunately they are missing Bruce Djite, and in his absence it’ll be important for Cirio, Carrusca and Isaias to add potency in front of goal. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect for coach Gombau is the form of Young Socceroo Awer Mabil and recently re-signed journeyman Tarek Elrich. Both of these players at the opposite ends of their careers are coming into some really good performances for the Reds.

This season’s iteration of the Phoenix is no easy beat, and their position on the ladder and their preceding form  of wins at home and away indicates they are a very strong prospect for a final’s challenge. Burns and Bonevacia have been impressive however other key players such as Louis Fenton, Michael McGlinchey and Jeremy Brockie will be absent due to injury and/or international duties. Travelling away from Wellington is an additional challenge for Ernie Merrick’s team, and whilst they are probably more rested they are still stretched in terms of quality personnel.

Final Verdict: I can’t see anything but an Adelaide win, even without their key striker Bruce Djite. The mixture of style and substance from the Reds has them higher on the table than their visitors and alongside Perth Glory, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC they are well ensconced in the pundits’ visions of top four finishers in 2014/15. My Prediction: 2-0 Adelaide United

Sydney FC vs Melbourne Victory (Allianz Stadium, 15th November 2014)

What should be one of the biggest of the so-called ‘Big Blue’ derbies has been diminished by a combination of international representation and injuries impacting both on FC and Victory. The visitors are arguably more impacted by these issues, including Pain, Milligan, Barbarouses, possibly Thompson, and Georgievski all not able to play. Antonis, Gameiro, Janko and Jurman are missing from the home team’s line up, with Antonis’ omission being somewhat controversial after receiving an injury that precluded him from playing for the Socceroos. Importantly for the home team their well-credentialed defensive structure has not been impacted by such problems, and Allianz Stadium is becoming a fortress for Graham Arnold’s squad.

Kevin Muscat still has plenty of quality to breach the walls of the Sky Blues, with Finkler, Khalfallah and Berisha to  give Sydney FC some pause to think whilst Delpierre and Valeri should bolster the midfield and defence for the visitors. The Victory have already shown this season that they can be more than competitive with holes in their side, but it will be a big result if they can nullify the likes of Brosque, Ibini and Dimitrijevic.

Final Verdict: Almost too close to call and I suspect that this is a match that could become a real slug fest. A draw seems the most appropriate result for two teams that are so evenly matched. My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Perth Glory vs Western Sydney Wanderers (nib Stadium, 15th November 2014)

Perth and Western Sydney are at opposite ends of the table so far in 2014/15, and unlike the last two seasons it’s the old NSL powerhouse who has rediscovered an ability to win and the junior A-League club which is struggling to find the points. Perth have formed a so far successful approach to this season by combining some quality juniors (most notably Jamie Maclaren and Daniel de Silva) with some good acquisitions (Andy Keough, Mitch Nichols, Youssouf Hersi). Throw in some veterans from 2013/14 who have found a new lease of life, especially Nebojsa Marinkovic, and this is a formidable opponent for the Wanderers.

However Perth will be missing Nichols, Maclaren and Woodcock, and they have played a midweek FFA Cup match away from home. The Wanderers are also still dealing with issues from being on the road, and then there is the obvious burden of coming out of their tumultuous AFC Champions’ League matches. They have lost to Socceroos duty Nikolai Topor-Stanley and there are stories that Covic, Spiranovic, Castelen, Juric and Adeleke will not be going to Perth. Obviously being without a win there is a lot of pressure on Popovic’s squad, and it will be interesting to see how Rukavytsya and Saba particularly deal with the burden of being key creative players in the opposition half. It’s in defence however that the Wanderers will need to lift, and if Mullen, Golec, Hamill and Cole are at the back they have to be better than past efforts.

Final Verdict: I refuse to tip against the Wanderers but this will be another hard task for a team that is feeling all the effects of putting so much effort and getting so much success out of the ACL. Perth at home with the personnel still available are going to be favourites. My Predictions: 1-1 Draw

Melbourne City vs Central Coast Mariners (AAMI Park, 16th November 2014)

The Mariners will be looking for some redemption for not just the loss to Adelaide in the midweek FFA Cup semi, but also to try and reverse the run of disappointing results they have had since their first round win over the Jets. Not as badly hurt by the problems of international duties or injury (though Matt Simon and Storm Roux will be missed) as City, they are still underdogs on the road against a team that clobbered the Roar last week.

Melbourne City have perhaps got out from under the shadow of the David Villa cameo, and even with some serious absences (Mooy, Koren, Germano, Chapman) there is a potential match winning line up under van t’Schip’s guidance ready to take on the visiting Mariners. Paartalu is finally showing value as an acquisition, Williams’ radar is finding guidance and Damien Duff is still one of the better overseas signings for any club this season. There may not be the support from the home fans at AAMI Park as seen in earlier matches, however there will be an advantage being back in Melbourne and not having to deal with a midweek match like the visitors have to.

Final Verdict: The Mariners are not quite at sixes and sevens, however they are looking vulnerable. City are also far from perfect yet they have more points than Central Coast and look more capable of winning in any match let alone this one. My Prediction: 2-1 Melbourne City win