Why I Wish I Was With The WSW Folk In Crow-Eater-Land

It is very fucking hard for me right now, very hard indeed.

A tick over six days ago I was bathing in the collective euphoria of that now legendary win by the Wanderers over the Roar, when after less than 25 minutes of the game it appeared that our season was coming to a shuddering, ego-destroying end. Those three goals scored by the visitors looked as if they were not just three reasons to bemoan the end of the Western Sydney Wanderers’ 2015-16 campaign, they also insinuated that our team were lapsing into comical errors that were more in tune with our cross-city rivals this season. Then, as if the men on the pitch had decided ‘Okay, that’s enough head start.’ it was the lads in red and black who were doing almost all the roaring. In what seemed like the blink of an eye Romeo had clawed one back, then in the opening stanza of the second half it was Santa delivering the second goal, Castelen the third and yes…quelle surprise…Romeo grabbing a third to put us one goal to the good:

Okay, so Brisbane Roar got one back, and that meant the semi was taken to extra time. However I don’t believe anyone of us who were there that night on the eve of Anzac Day 2016, or perhaps many who were at homes or elsewhere watching the game though that the Wanderers were destined to lose. The Roar had performed enough Houdini-like escapes from defeat in finals matches; now it was time to pay the piper and when Bridge and Vidosic combined to play the tune, well it was yet another magic moment of history for anyone associated with the Western Sydney Wanderers.

So, why am I feeling like three kinds of bad shit right now? What is causing my weltschmerz, my ennui, my depression right now?

To be blunt, I wish I was in Adelaide with my family.

With my red and black family.

With my brothers and sisters who have been there for me in ways that makes me both proud and humble.

Plus, to add salt to the wound of being absent from the ‘greatest trip we’ve ever been on’, my Wanderers family are in my home town, where my other family by blood mostly reside. Where I took my first breath, my first steps. Where I feel the sun shines on me in a different way than it does here where I live. Where the food tastes better, the beer sublime, the local lingo my mother tongue.

Now before I wax too lyrical about Adelaide and South Australia, I will gladly lay my cards on the table and say this is not the emotional state of a man who wants to go back to the land of the Crow Eaters to live. An extended holiday? Sure. A road trip akin to those taken by many of my fellow WSW supporters? Fuck yeah. However I am now (and have been for more years than I probably would admit) well ensconced in NSW, in western Sydney. Hell’s bells; the Wanderers have done more to make me feel attached to the west of Sydney than living in the area (on and off) for over 25 years. To leave here and return to the fatherland would cut that umbilical cord of community and football that is my Wander-love. Yet I cannot fail to feel envious, sad, a little jealous of all who are right now in SA’s capital city on the eve of the 2015/16 Grand Final.

The manner in which so many of my comrades have taken the run westwards, by train, by plane, by car and by bus stirs up plenty of feeling in me right now. I have had some of the best times of my life out in the back blocks of western NSW taking the run towards South Australia. Driving on the Hay plain, with its great wide brown expansive landscape is one of those quintessential life experiences that I think should be mandatory for anyone who wants to understand what it’s like to be Australian. The flat and empty earth as you drive west of Hay, heading towards Balranald and further points west is one of those things that can’t be described, it has to be lived.

Then there is the strange delight of hitting South Australia and being asked to undergo a fruit fly inspection. I am unsure if this is a purely SA/Australian experience (I think it is), however it must be such a bemusing and puzzling experience for foreign tourists and even citified folk like my WSW kin to have to pull up at a building near Pinneroo or maybe Renmark if coming in further north and be asked ‘Got any fresh fruit sir/madam?’. I grew up with that, and as a kid would beg my father to be the one who would jump out of the Kingswood to show the man from the fruit fly inspection station that no, we weren’t trying to smuggle tangelos and apricots into South Australia.

I’ve also mentioned above the food and drink culture in SA, and I can’t let the ties that bind me there loose. When last in South Australia I made sure to take in all the goodies I could, even if it may have shortened my lifespan and increased my waist line. Mettwurst, bung fritz sambos with tomato sauce, Yo Yo biscuits, Kitchener Buns, King George Whiting, pints of pale, bottles of green death or woodies lemonade. Pie floaters and real pasties that make anything issued from an eastern state bakery look and taste like a hat-full of scraps and gristle; ye gods, when it comes to the tucker you can get in my home state it’s a friggin’ cornucopia!

As you may surmise, the boy may have been dragged out of South Australia, but he still has a huge chunk of it (wrapped in Balfours pastry) stuck inside him. It is of itself something I can deal with. However what does break the Crow Eater heart within a little is that I know so many of my Wanderers kin are going into this world and they will be looking at this through fresh eyes, with possibly no idea about how good, how enjoyable this scenario in front of them is.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that primarily this is about the RBB and other supporters making their way over to Adelaide to watch the boys play at the SACA (that’s the name I knew it by, none of this Adelaide Oval shit) and hopefully bring back the toilet seat. There is however I part of me that is like the father wanting to take his offspring back to meet the great uncles and aunts, to see the same hospital, the same school, the same church where pivotal life moments directed the parent’s early life. It would make me so happy to sit in a pub with some of my WSW compadres and watch them try their first Southwark. To see their eyes cast perhaps dubious looks over a meat pie turned upside down in a big bowl of pea soup, then  when the first mouthful hits my Wanderers’ friend’s gob those same eyes would glaze over with happiness.

So yes, I am partly jealous, partly sad to think that on the eve of the A-League Grand Final so many of my besties are heading into my old stomping grounds without my tutelage and/or my companionship as they possibly find out about South Australian goodness for the first time. However there is another, more significant reason for my slightly blue mood tonight.

In the last three months my life has been going through the most turbulent, most troubling time I have experience for at least the last couple of decades. I’ve had so many kicks in the teeth from life I’ve had serious doubts as to what actually gives one cause to continue getting up in the morning. There has been some ill-health which thankfully has improved somewhat. In late January I got the word that I was going to be made redundant from a job that I was very happy in. Thankfully that shitty scenario has changed, insofar as I have a new job. There was also the death of a much beloved (feline) member of the family, who had been ‘my’ boy for many a year. Finally, the most important relationship in my life, one that was the focus of my being for 16 years ended, throwing all my expectations and all my emotions into the shitter. It has been a very farken dark time believe me.

Yet through all this period where loss, infidelity and ego-crushing changes have battered my happiness into a pulp, there has been one constant. That is my band of brothers and sisters in red and black. I can’t name them because (a) they’re are so many and (b) I don’t want to embarrass them, however it needs to be said; without my friends from the Wanderers community I don’t know how I would’ve coped with the depressive influences on my life.

There have been instances where people who I had no knowledge of a scant year or more or so ago have become my boon friends, always willing to ask me how I am, what is happening, do I need an ear to bash or a beer to cry into. There is one WSW fan I know who has had a helluva rough time, probably worse than mine. Yet he has been there for me in ways that some of my non-Wanderers friends from university and beyond have not. There have been texts and tweets, visits and chats, shared meals and sessions at the Bavarian where I’ve poured my sick and sorry soul out to my circle of WSW mates, and men and women alike they’ve given me their support without question. It’s the kind of camaraderie that I’ve never experienced with my blood family, with long term work mates or even my past lovers. To find that kind of acceptance, that unique bond of never needing to apologise for who I am and how I feel…well, it’s pretty fucking amazing.

I guess what I want to say as I draw a close on this blog post is that sitting her at my PC, writing up this impromptu column, my thoughts and my heart wing westward over the Great Dividing Range, the Hay Plain, the SA border and down into the city on the Torrens. I am so very proud and happy to know that my team is playing for its (hopefully) first A-League champions trophy, after so much success in its short life. Yet I am also feeling huge needy pangs of desire; to be ‘back home’ with the best family football could ever create.

COME ON YOU WANDERERS!

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!’

Round Four Preview: Western Sydney Wanderers vs Brisbane Roar (Wednesday 3rd December, Pirtek Stadium)

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If, immediately after last years’ grand final, anyone had suggested that this match would be going ahead with both teams at the foot of the current A-League ladder, in a mid-week match after the Wanderers had won the AFC Champions’ League and were readying for the FIFA Club World Championship, and that the Roar would have sacked Mike Mulvey in the week or so beforehand, they would’ve been labelled as insane. Yet here we are and the Wanderers are last, the Roar eighth, Mulvey is indeed gone, the home team is readying for a possible match in Morocco against Real Madrid and Broich is undergoing surgery for an ankle injury. In other words it is a rather bizarre situation that both clubs are in, and whoever can best emerge out of the chaotic circumstances should climb back up into the top six.

For the visitors the one major bright spot in their situation is that Henriques is scoring goals. Aside from that their form, their internal issues post-Mulvey’s sacking, the gaps in their roster due to Berisha and Franjic moving on, the injuries to Broich and Theo all indicates they are on a downward path. Their effort against Perth last round was barely satisfactory, and was saved near the death by the Brazilian striker. There is potential for Adam Sarota to play however his match fitness will be almost zero. New Roar coach Frans Thijssen has also been a very subdued addition to the visitors, and it is hard to see him knowing exactly how to deal with all the problems Brisbane face on and off the park.

As for the Wanderers, they must be very confident of picking up all three points tonight. There is every chance that recently crowned AFC coach of the Year Tony Popovic will wave his rotation wand again, and whilst Saba didn;t start against Sydney FC last weekend he may well begin the game against the Roar. Labinot Haliti might figure instead of Rukavytsya, and it will be interesting to see if Adeleke starts. The away game to Adelaide this weekend and the Club World Championship will be on Popa’s mind, and he may give some of his usual starters a break. If so the challenge will be particularly in the midfield, where Poljak, possibly Bridge, Saba and La Rocca will need to own that space. Up front Tomi Juric will be the main man for goals, however he will need someone like Castelen or another team mate to help out more. Last match against Sydney FC there were issues with the Wanderers’ willingness to shoot, as well as their organisation in the box, and this needs to improve.No doubt the RBB will again be driving their club on with all the home support they can.

Final Verdict: The Wanderers should win, but the Roar will be very keen to stop them. My Prediction: 2-0 Western Sydney Wanderers

2014/2015 Round Seven Preview: November 21st – 23rd

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Melbourne Victory vs Brisbane Roar (21st November 2014, Etihad Stadium)

The Battle of Berisha’s Clubs kicks off the seventh road of the 2014/15 season, and there is plenty to consider for partisans of either club as well as neutrals. The Roar bounced back from their terrible run of form to thump the Jets last Friday 0-4, and there is some degree of renewed hope available now for their supporters. Matt McKay returns to duty for the visitors after his Socceroos hit-out against Japan, and Henriques was in blistering form with his hat-trick in Newcastle. Mitigating against this is the continuing absence of Michael Theo in goal; other more learned and famous pundits have seen his injury-related MIA status just as problematic for Mulvey as is the leaving of Berisha and Franjic.

As for the home team, their form has been very good all season with the depth of Muscat’s squad continuing to get the results when some important players have been out due to injury or national duties. Last week’s game against Sydney FC was not their best but they did more than enough with a weakened starting XI to get a draw away from home. Bolstered by the return of Milligan, Barbarouses and Pain, the focus will undoubtedly be on Besart Berisha. No doubt he will want to perform as well as he can against his ex-team mates, and there is a fluidity and strength to the home team’s attack that all clubs would love to have. It could be at the back where Victory could have issues, with Delpierre and Geria not part of the game squad. Having said that Victory are in a rich seam of form and the lift they should get from a home crowd will undoubtedly influence their effort at Etihad.

Final Verdict: The Roar’s form is nominally on the return however the win in Newcastle against a turgid Jets team to me is a bit of a red herring. The Victory with their squad depth and quality, fun of good form and playing at home should be too strong. My Prediction: 3-1 Melbourne Victory.

Perth Glory vs Wellington Phoenix (Friday 21st November 2014, nib Stadium)

Many have been sceptical about the possibility of the Glory doing well this season, so it is with some chewing of humble pie that the naysayers are now considering Perth at the top of the table and playing very decent football. Whilst Kenny Lowe’s side is not the most flamboyant or attractive side tactically and stylistically, they have that most important feature, wins and the attendant points. Their defeat of the Wanderers last Saturday was efficient and featured a very sweet dead ball goal from Scott Jamieson and some notable saves from Danny Vukovic. Andy Keogh, Youssouf Hersi, Mitch Nichols and Jamie Maclaren have formed a good combination of youth and experience, local and imported talent. Throw in Marinkovic’s spot kick skills and the aforementioned Vukovic in goal there are plenty of positives around Perth.

Wellington will have to make their longest away trip of the season so far and they will be welcoming back several of their international and injured players, with McGlinchey and Brockie the key returnees. Their last minute loss last week when understrength against Adelaide was a disappointing result, however there is still plenty of potential with Merrick’s squad. Louis Fenton’s dislocated collar bone means there is a gap in the Phoenix’s structure but they will still be a challenge for the table topping Glory.

Final Verdict: Perth are on a roll and at home, and will be favoured to pick up the win. The all-round strength of the Glory gives them another leg up over a Nix who are very attractive in attack but not as cohesive in defensive. My Prediction: 2-1 Perth Glory

Western Sydney Wanderers vs Newcastle United (Saturday 22nd November, Pirtek Stadium)

The Wanderers have to play their third game in seven days and their second at home in four days, and hopefully they will continue the improvement indicated in their match against the Mariners. The combination of their newer recruits such as Adeleke, Rukavytsya, Castelen and Saba with longer serving Wanderers such as Covic, Poljak, Juric, La Rocca and Bridge showed some stuttering promise in their first match at Wanderland this season, and crucially they will have Nikolai Topor-Stanley returning from Socceroos duties. Tony Popovic is working hard to manage his squad with a very burdensome schedule whilst they adapt to an alternate style and it has not been that successful so far. It won;t be a season-ending match if the Wanderers lose but there will be almost no expectation of a top four finish if no win comes.

Newcastle are on the downward curve and there seems little to redeem their trajectory. Their 0-4 loss at home last Friday was one of the worst results for any club in recent A-League history, and what is most disappointing is there is no tactical or stylistic imagination. In almost every game this season they have been unable to maintain pressure on their opponents for lengthy time periods, keep their opponents out and obviously score a win. As much as they are in a better position pn the table than the Wanderers it is very hard to see where their improvement can come from.

Final Verdict: The Wanderers should be favourites to win, and they do have some real quality. If they can get over the physical demands of their crowded schedule and improve their cohesiveness then they should take care of the visiting Jets. My Prediction: 2-0 Western Sydney Wanderers win.

Melbourne City vs Sydney FC (Saturday 22nd November 2014, AAMI Park)

Sydney travel to Melbourne to meet City again, after previously playing back at Allianz in round one of the current season. The biggest problem that the away side has is the season ending anterior cruciate tear for their high scoring forward Corey Gameiro, and whilst they are not critically damaged up front there is still reason for concern. Mark Janko, Alex Brosque and Shane Smeltz are still an intimidating set of forwards, however its at the back and midfield that is the real strength of Sydney FC. The difference between this iteration and the past two seasons’ teams is remarkable.

Melbourne City would feel a little aggrieved in letting last week’s match against Central Coast slip away from them, however since David Villa has left there has been an improvement in their ability to find outlets and goals across the team. Aaron Mooy is back from his short sojourn in Japan with the Socceroos however there are still some significant absences. Murdocca, Germano and Slovenian marquee Koren are not fit and not part of the squad. John van t’Schip may still be looking for answers to all the issues facing City, but he must feel better now than after the derby against Victory.

Final Verdict: FC have a lot of reasons to be considered the likely winner and maintain their unbeaten record this season. City will challenge but should not be able to match the intensity and capability of their fellow Melburnian club. My Prediction: 0-2 Sydney FC win.

Central Coast Mariners vs Adelaide United

Yes, the Mariners have been able to snare two draws away from home in the last rounds, however truth be told they were playing two teams who have been finding it hard this season so far to score goals in large quantities and regularly, and to some extent the Mariners were able to get out of jail against both Melbourne City and the Wanderers. They are almost at full strength and with the likes of Rose, Duke and Hutchinson there is a core of players on Phil Moss’ books that know what should be done particularly back at home at Gosford. They will also welcome the return of Storm Roux who has been an important part of their backs, now that his absence due to international duties with the All whites are over for now.

The Reds come to Gosford without Bruce Djite, however all over the park there are options for goals as well as plenty of potential to dull the home team’s attack. Carrusca and Cirio will no doubt form a huge part of Gombau’s offensive plans, whilst at the back Elrich is doing quite well. Awer Mabil is growing in stature and is another positive part of the Adelaide squad. Assuming that the Barca-inspired passing and possession game can break down the Mariners then look for more than one or two goals from the visitors.

Final Verdict: The Reds are a class above their hosts and one of the top four teams going around this season so far. My Prediction: 0-2 Adelaide United win

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

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Wellington Phoenix vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Westpac Stadium, Friday 7th November)

With all the excitement of the Wanderers’ ACL win settling down, the hard yards need to be faced for the visitors as they try and rise from the foot of the current A-League ladder. Facing them is a quietly confident and talented Wellington, who have in Burns, McGlinchey and Brockie a front three that could cause problems for a potentially tired Wanderers. The Wanderers will also be at a disadvantage with the absence of Vitor Saba due to a one match suspension, and injury to Brendon Santalab. Having said that there is still quality in the visitors’ squad, both with players who may be doubling up on their efforts in Saudi Arabia from last weekend, such as Topor-Stanley, Hamill, Bridge, Haliti, La Rocca and Poljak, plus the majestic Ante Covic. What is exciting is the prospect of new signings Nikita Rukavytsya and Seyi Adeleke hopefully make their debut in the red and black in an A-League game.

For the home team they will have every reason to believe they can win, thanks to their solid early season form. They have a disadvantage in that they played only four days ago, and their stats are not that flash against the Wanderers at home. Their defence may be facing a test from Rukavytsya, Bridge, Juric, Haliti and perhaps Sotirio. Players such as Muscat and Doyle will be key to denying what may be a slightly weary but potent Wanderers attack.

Final Verdict: The exigencies of travel may impact on both teams however don;t be surprised to see the Wanderers perform well even with the last few days experiences under their belts. Wellington will be keen to do well however even with some of their arguably bench players involved the Wanderers look the goods. My Prediction: 0-2 Western Sydney Wanderers

Adelaide United Vs Sydney FC (Coopers Stadium, Friday 7th November)

A clash between two of the three unbeaten teams in this season so far looks to be a cracker, thanks also to the quality and style of Gombau’s Reds having to face an irrepressible and well-motivated Sydney FC under Graham Arnold. Both teams should be near peak fitness for the majority of their stars, and whilst the home advantage and heat may well tell in favour of Adelaide, this current Sydney FC squad believes it can win away from home. Up front the visitors have an advantage even without Shane Smeltz, or the possibility of Alex Brosque not being fit. Gamiero, Janko and Antonis are all quality players with goals these season. The Reds won’t be shy of scoring either, thanks to Bruce Djite and Cirio. Defensively they are also evenly matched, with Ognenovski and Petkovic being matched by Elrich and Malik. Perhaps the biggest disparity in quality is goalkeeping, where Adelaide’s Galekovic being superior to Sydney Janjetovic.

Final Verdict: These two sides are finely balanced and in all honesty I can’t split them on paper. It will be one of those games where perhaps a mistake will divide the two, and even in that context neither the Reds nor Sydney FC look likely to commit egregious errors. My Prediction: 2-2 Draw

Newcastle Jets vs Melbourne Victory (Hunter Stadium, Saturday 8th November)

The chaff is already starting to separate from the wheat this season, and when it comes to last year’s stubble well the jets are certainly in that category right now. They haven’t been that bad, but with three loses and one draw after a month of being on the road, coming home to a newly refurbished Hunter Stadium will be at least welcome from a travel perspective. The lack of an imposing goal scorer up front has been an obvious problem for Phil Stubbins’ charges, and his experienced and creative players such as Flores and Carney have not really imposed their will on the pitch.

The Victory on the other hand are part of the triumvirate of unbeaten clubs this season so they will be coming into this match as red hot favourites. Even though they had to play a match on Monday against the Phoenix, and at the time were missing several key players, they are coming into this game brimming with talent. Berisha, Barbarouses, Finkler, Thompson, Ben Khalfallah and Pain are a great set of attacking players, and Valeri and Milligan are a solid spine.

Final Verdict: There is no way to get away from the expectation that the Victory will be a moral to win, and the Jets could yet again be facing a big loss. My Prediction: 0-3 Melbourne Victory

Brisbane Roar vs Melbourne City (Suncorp Stadium, 8th November)

The mighty have fallen from last season, and right now Mike Mulvey’s squad need to get their act together and win or they could become roadkill before the end of the year. The problems with internal issues (as shown in the departure of Liam Miller), the gaps in their line-up exposed through the departures of Berisha and Franjic and the injuries to Sarota and Theo, and the fact that other clubs have caught up with the Roar has left them very exposed to being stuck in the lower part of the A-league season.

Having said that Melbourne City are coming into this match with a less than stellar return on their first four games of the 2014/15 season which is surprising when one considers who they have on their books, including David Villa. Of course the Spanish striker has now left Van t’Schipp’s squad and with Josh ‘Jesus’ Kennedy not due to start with city until January the huge question must be who can score goals for the visitors. They have problems with a core of underperformers who were part of the Heart effort last season, and even their better players (Mooy and Duff) have only been good in patches.

Final Verdict: A must win for both clubs but neither really inspires expectations of victory. Playing at home with arguably still the best player in the A-League (i.e. Thomas Broich) and with Henriques stumping up for his 100th a-League match, the roar may have a slight advantage. My prediction: 2-0 Brisbane Roar

Central Coast Mariners vs Perth Glory (Gosford Stadium, 9th November)

The Mariners are at home and whilst they will be comforted by their return to Gosford , however they are hardly the same imposing team they were last season, or indeed in most of those played since the A-League’s inception. They have not scored a goal off their own boot since the first match of the season, and the inability of them to convert opportunities in their match against Sydney FC last week must be a worry for Phil Moss. There are also rumours of problems in the Mariners’ club house circulating around Eddy Bosnar.

Perth are back on a winning track thanks to their 2-1 win over the Jets, and they must be confident of taking the points away from home, which in itself will be a rare achievement. Key players Andy Keogh, Youssouf Herrsi and Jamie Maclaren will be a sizable challenge for the Mariners. It has to be said that Kenny Lowe has welded together a very decent squad that so far has resisted some of the angst and problems previous seasons’ Glory teams have experienced. The talent of older players such as Thwaite and Nicholls is balanced nicely with Cameron Edwards and Danny de Silva.

Final Verdict: The Mariners are not on the ropes yet but they are a bit wonky. If Perth can muzzle Mitchell duke and get through a stolid defence then they may just notch a rare win in Gosford. My Prediction: 1-1 Draw