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 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 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 Two Review: 17th-19th October

Adelaide United vs Melbourne Victory (1-1 Draw)

After a great start for each team in their respective round one matches, as well as the long and colourful history of rivalry between them, the first A-League match between the Reds and Victory at the redeveloped Adelaide Oval was a tad underwhelming. The surface appeared to trouble both squads with its pace, and with no goals for almost all of the game bar the last ten minutes some would argue it was a less than inspiring match. However there were several opportunities for Adelaide to score, before their first goal came, and the likes of Goodwin, Cirio and the ever-present Djite all had solid chances. The Victory’s potent attack was less present however Finkler caused problems, and in an effort that must please fans, coach and playing staff defensively the visitors did all they needed to do to keep the home team from scoring until near the death. Cirio’s goal was class, set up in its earlier stages by a lovely pass from ex-Wanderer Tarek Elrich. However his effort was nullified shortly thereafter by a goal scored by Tunisian import Ben Khalfallah who took advantage of some slack defending to bury a well placed Finkler corner. Djite had a chance to rescue a win from the draw however Victory goalie Coe saved his shot in extra time and so a 1-1 draw was played out in front of over 33,000 people, Adelaide United’s biggest ever home crowd.

Central Coast Mariners vs Wellington Phoenix (1-2 Phoenix win)

Gosford Stadium has been a fortress for the Mariners in their A-League history however in recent matches the visitors from New Zealand have been able to breach the walls not once but twice, and the victory for the Phoenix was one that came with both luck and skill. The match had added spice due to the presence of ex-Mariner Matt McGlinchey in the Phoenix line-up, and the messy split from his old cloub brought out the local fans’ ire. Unfortunately for the Phoenix their first converted goal came at the wrong end, with Tom Doyle putting the ball in his own net after only 12 minutes. It took a little while for the Phoenix front three to get working however when Brockie was brought down in the box a penalty ensued. Badly taken by the Kiwi striker, his error was redeemed by that ‘turncoat’ McGlinchey, whose header buried the rebound into the home team’s net. Far better came from the likes of Burns and Brockie not long after the second half, where their efforts led to a very well crafted goal. The Mariners responded with Sim, Trifiro and Fitzgerald all giving Phoenix goalie Moss a few worries. However none of their shots went into the opposition’s net, leaving the final score 1-2 and the points all in Wellington Phoenix’s possession.

Sydney FC vs Western Sydney Wanderers (3-2 Sydney FC win)

Now firmly established as the premiere regular season match of the A-League season plus one that captures the imagination of Australia’s largest city, the first SFC versus WSW derby of the 2014/15 season had it all. Controversy, passion, some well-crafted goals, errors, heroes and villains, it was a game that will certainly be on the highlights video when this season is done with. Sydney were undoubtedly in a better position than the visitors going into the match thanks to the absence of several key Wanderers players (Juric and Spiranovic), plus it must be said that Graham Arnold has bought well in the pre-season and integrated those signings smoothly. Having said that it was a combination of new and old Wanderers talent who first scored, with impressive Dutchman Romeo Castelen getting behind his opposite number to cross the ball into Mark Bridge, who scored with a thumping shot. Things went from bad to worse for the home team when Janjetovic badly fumbled a clearance, putting the ball into the back of his own net.

It could be said that the Sydney FC of previous derbies would’ve crumbled and that it would’ve been all over red rover for the home team. However it must be said that Gamiero’s goal in the dying moments of the first half was quality, and heading into the sheds at 1-2 down there was a potential for the Wanderers to drop at least 2 points. A controversial goal awarded by Kris Griffith Jones as an own goal should not have been awarded due to Bernie Ibini being in an offside position, blocking Wanderers’ goalie Ante Covic from being able to see the ball. Things went from bad to worse for the visitors when in the 65th minute Vitor Saba was sent off for a dangerous tackle, even though he made no contact with Terry Antonis, and collected the ball with his feet. This debatable decision effectively destroyed the Wanderers’ defensive cohesion, and with that gone and some sloppy ball watching it was inevitable that perhaps the best player for Sydney FC, Alex Brosque, scored the third and winning goal.

Obviously from a Wanderers’ perspective it was not the best result, and there is no doubt that Graham Arnold’s version of Bling FC is more capable than that seen since their larger rivals entered the A-League over 2 seasons ago. Having said that the match was a remarkable one for the passion on display, excitement on and off the pitch, and attention it secured for football, for the A-League and for the two clubs. With over 41,000 people attending the scene was set for a record breaking attendance result for the weekend.

Melbourne City vs Newcastle Jets (1-1 Draw)

The reborn Melbourne City were back at home at AAMI Stadium, playing in front of a larger crowd than the old Heart could muster for many a year, and with their bevy of stars including the inestimable David Villa were expected to win well against a limited Jets squad. However Phil Stubbins was able to get plenty out of his lesser lights and they denied their hosts time and time again during the first half. Proven goal scorers like Williams, Mooy and of course Villa were unable to find the back of the visitors’ net, leaving many observers wondering about the ability of the new City to shake off some of the goal scoring blues suffered by the old Heart. Things became even less satisfactory for MCFC when the Jets went one up thanks to some nice work from Griffiths and Montano. However the Jets couldn’t bury the home team, and whilst David Carney did very well to keep out a Mooy shot it was almost inevitable that the drawing goal would come from Villa near the death. The score was arguably out of kilter with the overall dominance of Melbourne City over Newcastle, however it doesn’t matter how much possession you have, how many shots you take, how many passes you string together if you can’t get the ball past the opposition goalkeeper. City fans may be asking what will come from this big ticket squad, whilst Jets fans are undoubtedly pondering if they will be better than what their squad and club future portends when reviewed on paper.

Perth Glory vs Brisbane Roar (3-2 Perth Glory win)

Perth, the old powerhouse from the dying days of the NSL has emerged from its past A-League torpor after two rounds, and with Andy Keogh on fire (possibly establishing himself as the best buy for any club this season) and scoring a hat trick it looks as if finally the west will deliver on its promises. Having said that the Roar were not entirely disgraced, and took the lead not once but twice in the contest. The man in ex-Roar player Besart Bersiha’s shadow, Henrique helped set up the first which took Brisbane 0-1 up before the half time break, then he responded to Keogh’s penalty goal in the second half to reassert the lead to 1-2. However with Keogh benefiting from good work from the likes of Risdon, Nicholls, Hersi and Maclaren the Roar went back to level pegging, then in the dying minutes of extra time left enough space for the Irish import to nod the ball into the visitor’s net, securing a 3-2 win. Whilst the wheels aren’t off the Roar title defence as yet, they do look a lesser unit than last season, and are firmly at the bottom of the 2014/15 table with the Wanderers. The Glory may finally be showing they aren’t in the comp to make up numbers this go round, and those (including myself) who have doubted Kenny Lowe are starting to think again.

Best Team of the Round: Perth Glory (just shading Sydney FC). Yes, they gave up two goals however the manner in which they resurrected their performance against last year’s Grand Final winners and scored their second win on the trot is an impressive achievement. Those who follow the Sky Blues should consider whether they would’ve won if it weren’t for a dubious effort from a match official who seems to be more valuable as a joke for the B-League than as an A-League referee.

Worst Team of the Round: The Wanderers and Brisbane deserve some opprobrium in letting their games slip away, however the Mariners deserve this dishonour as they were at home against nominally the worst credentialed club in the A-League and could not find the net through their own efforts. The Wanderers were bad in letting the derby slip out of their hands however there were numerous factors counting against them, whilst the Roar lost at the death in an arduous away match on the other side of the continent.

Best Goal of the Road: The back heel from Alex Brosque that set up Corey Gamiero’s goal against the Wanderers was pretty special, yet for me the goal of the round was that scored by Nathan Burns. The manner in which Tom Doyle collected the ball on the right flank of the Mariner’s half from a lovely back heel, then sent it over to Jeremy Brockie who astutely headed the ball at the feet of Nathan Burns was sublime teamwork.

A-League 2013/14: Round Twenty Review

(As promised here is the first of several hideously overdue reviews of this season’s A-League rounds)

Central Coast Mariners Vs Wellington Phoenix (1-4 Wellington Phoenix win)

The Wellington Phoenix arrived in Gosford on the back of a disastrous result at home against the Heart, and with the home team boosted by the arrival of new Korean import Kim Seung-Yong, the return of the prodigal Bernie Ibini, and Eddie Bosnar injected into the starting XI, all expectation was that the visitors would struggle for the points. Ibini’s well taken goal in the first half must have further emphasized the improbability of a win for Kiwis, however whatever Ernie Merrick said to his charges at the half time break must’ve been like a shot of peptides to an Essendon footballer. The first riposte from he Phoenix came via Kenny Cunningham, who profited from a deflected pass that arrived in the right place for a driving shot past Liam Reddy. Then, to the frustration of Mike Sterjovski the Mariners’ revisited their penalty taking problems from last season when he failed to slot the ball into Moss’s net a scant 3 minutes later. The heroics of the All-White’s keeper was surpassed in the 63rd minute when Hernandez shot the ball into the Mariner’s net, it’s swerving curving flight path rocketing past a helpless and hopeless Reddy to be buried into he top right hand corner. The role of the Costa Rican in the revival of Phoenix’s fortunes at this stage of the 2013/14 season cannot be under-estimated. Then, to add further unhappiness on the local fans, the third key foreign player for the Phoenix, Belgian Stein Huysegems, was able to tap the ball into the net. More pain was to come to with only ten minutes of regulation time to go, when Huysegems had all the space in the world to deliver a cross for Jeremy Brockie to score the fourth and final Wellington goal. There is no doubt that this resurgence from the Phoenix in this phase of the 2013/14 season was remarkable, yet to bury last year’s grad final winners in the style that they did in this match was stunning. As for the Mariners, there current iteration as a squad is still to demonstrate their collective worthiness contrasted with those teams coached by Graham Arnold.

Newcastle United vs Sydney FC (0-2 Sydney FC win)

For whatever reason this season has seen these two teams meet with the team in red and blue promising a lot before the game, and then after much huffing and puffing they end up coming off second best to the Sky Blues who have in turn never looked that competent. There is no doubt that when the Jets attack focused on Adam Taggart fires they are in the hunt, and when he fails to hit the mark the Newcastle defence and midfield must rise to the occasion otherwise it’s all over red rover. This was the case in this match which looked far more attractive in the first half passages of play than was deserved by the Hunter Stadium pitch. Both Janjetovic and Birighitti were threatened by some useful shots on goal, yet neither Sydney FC nor the home team could break the deadlock. With the older brigade under Frank Farina doing their best to subdue one of the most promising group of younger players in the A-League, it took a set piece and one of the most senior Sky Blue players to start the scoring. Ognenovski rose to meet a corner in the 60th minute and his effort at beating the Jets defence was rewarded with a worthy goal. Arguably less worthy was the penalty given by the referee to Alessandro del Piero against Taylor Regan, but if there is one thing you can count on the ex-Juventus star will never shy away from doing all he can in the box when it comes to getting a chance to shoot on goal. In this instance it was a spot kick that sailed past Birighitti, leaving the home team once more behind against Sydney FC. There was a momentary flurry involving Taggart for the home team, however once more in 2013/14 when Sydney FC and Newcastle United met the points went down the F3 to the harbour city.

Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United (4-3 Melbourne Victory win)

There are some wonderful rivalries and big games developing a real heritage in the short history of the A-League, and the duels between the Victory and the Reds are certainly up there for passion and pride. Therefore it was entirely appropriate that this game was possibly the best of the 2013/14 season so far when it came to open goal scoring between finely matched opponents. Whilst Gombau’s squad has plenty of reason to present an argument for being the most stylistically attractive team going forward in attack, with the goal from Cirio within the first four minutes of this game serving as evidence for such a proposition, they are also one of the least convincing defensively at times. Hence the manner in which they opened up too much space in front of the box at the 14th minute allowed Gui Finkler a chance to level the scores. His shot was exquisitely executed and as it was buried into the back of Coe’s net the Brazilian had shown yet again how important he is to Muscat’s team. The first half didn’t end there when it came to goals; in the 44th minute it was that man Cirio again for the away team, assisted in his scoring by the player who I think really has gotten Gombau out of his critics’ bad book, i.e. Bruce Djite. For all the flair and style of the Latin tiki-taka possession system Djite is the much needed hard working, direct playing complement that drags the Reds into the opposition’s box.

With a 1-2 scoreline at half time the attending fans of both clubs would’ve been happy with the quality of football on display, yet the second half arguably saw a good match become unforgettable. The home team was dealt a blow with the substitution through injury to Tom Rogic, yet a scant five minutes later Finkler echoed Cirio and sunk his second goal of the match, tying things up at 2-2. With yellow cards flying everywhere and injuries piling up the next goal came from a howler committed by one of the best A-League goalkeepers going around; Galekovic scuffed a clearing kick outside the Reds box and in the resulting chase down Archie Thompson did what he loves doing, scoring a goal against Adelaide in from of a home Victory crowd. Obviously defensively the match was a bit of a lost cause, with neither the Reds nor the home team showing a water-tight back line, yet no neutral or home fan could complain when Rogic’s replacement Kosta Barbarouses first set up Finkler for a chance to score, who then assisted Troisi to then pass back to the Kiwi Victory player who tapped into the net for a 4-2 scoreline. Then, to bring the match to a frisson in the 82nd minute Cirio took advantage of a slip from the bungling Pablo Contreras to put the ball past Coe, scoring his hat trick and leaving the match open for at least 8 minutes of regular time. The scoreline didn’t change, which perhaps was unfair to the visitors, thus leaving the Reds joyless and without any points even though they had scored three goals away from home. There is no doubt this was a classic match, and both teams have much to look forward to come finals time.

Perth Glory vs Western Sydney Wanderers (0-2 Western Sydney Wanderers win)

The last game on the Saturday night was played in Perth’s nib Stadium, and once more the club that once was the pride of domestic football in this country demonstrated how dysfunctional and sad they have become, in no small part due to a fractious player group not held in check by an owner who has little grasp of what to do. The Wanderers had traveled without several of their usual key players including for the first time in their short history Ante Covic, and this gave Jerrad Tyson an opportunity to don the gloves for an A-League game since he last played for the now defunct Gold Coast United. However whilst several of Popovic’s usual starters were missing one of the regulars for the Wanderers was there to score a nice goal in the 11th minute, with Matteo Poljak shooting from outside the box and beating a diving Danny Vukovic. The Glory’s goal keeper was certainly one of the better aspects of the match for the home team, whereas almost everyone else playing under Kenny Lowe’s direction looked slow, aimless and disjointed. Kwabena Appiah was terrorizing his Glory opponent on the right flank, whilst Labinot Haliti was not much less difficult to stop on the left. However the potential for a greater lead to be established by the Wanderers didn’t come to fruition until deep into the second half, when French marquee William Gallas committed one of the most farcical errors in front of goal ever seen in Australia:

Tomi Juric made the home team pay for their errors and at 0-2 down it was as if someone told the Glory players that now they should start playing football. There had been a moment before Gallas’s cock up when Jerrad Tyson had to wrestle for a ball that almost trickled into the visitors goal, but that had been the only scare. However in a frantic last quarter of an hour the home team tried to rescue the match. Even Vukovic gave his all with a stunning attempt of a bicycle kick in the 88th minute that was not far off target. Yet even his heroics would do nothing to change the result. The Wanderers had once more demonstrated their mastery of the Glory, and with this win edged closer to the Roar. For the Glory it was yet another backward step in a series of many in 2013/14.

Melbourne Heart vs Brisbane Roar (1-0 Melbourne Heart win)

In every season there will be a game that makes you scratch your head and go ‘I didn’t expect that’. There have been a few 5-0 thumpings in 2013/14 to warrant such an expression, but this single goal victory from the Heart is just as deserving, especially considering how strong the Roar have been since week one and how dire Heart were until the replacement of John Aloisi. Much of this improvement must be put down to the influence of one player who was unavailable to Aloisi and who returned to fitness for John van t’Schip; Orlando Engelaar. The huge Dutch man-mountain was there when need in the 60th minute of this match, which until then had been a story of Heart semi-chances and the quietness of the Roar. Whilst the home coach was getting decent traction out of a squad that was stable from the previous round’s victory, Mike Mulvey had wrung some fairly ineffectual changes. This dire position for the visitors was put into more sharp relief when Engelaar connected with a lovely pass in the box from Dugandzic, toe-lobbing the ball past Theo into the Roar’s net on the hour mark. Engelar could’ve increased the lead twofold when given the opportunity for an indirect free inside the Roar box however his hard struck shot cannoned off the wall of Brisbane defenders. From that point onwards it was all about the Roar trying to find an equaliser, which was most stunningly rejected by Patrick Kisnorbo in the 91st minute. His tackle on a rampant and primed Berisha scarcely centimetres in front of Heart goalie Andrew Redmayne was sublime; sliding in to dispossess the dangerous Albanian striker with a skill that belied previous efforts from the ex-Socceroo this season. Mulvey’s team failed in their quest to salvage a draw, leaving the Heart exultant in probably their best win of the 2013/14 season, and still hopeful for a finals berth.

Best Game: Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide. Seven goals, a hat-trick, history, passion…one of the defining games of the 2013/14 A-league season

Best Goal: Gui Finkler’s first goal for Melbourne Victory was a stellar combination of composure, accuracy, calm thinking and sheer outrageous skill. If he has missed his shot the Hernandez goal for the Phoenix over the Mariners would’ve taken the distinction.

Best Team: Whilst Melbourne Heart could be considered for causing a huge upset in beating Brisbane, and the Victory have some claim because of their win over Adelaide, the best performance this round belongs to Wellington Phoneix. To come back from a goal down at Bluetongue against last year’s GF winners and post 4 goals in an away win is a huge result.

Worst Team: Perth pure and simple. To wait until the 75th minute of a game to look even remotely interested in competing against an opposition team when in front of your own fans is simply unaccpetable.