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

the-new-hyundai-a-league-tv-commercial-launches-today_13s9e8fl34tag1xizfbm56y6hj

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 Six Preview: November 14th – 16th

the-new-hyundai-a-league-tv-commercial-launches-today_13s9e8fl34tag1xizfbm56y6hj

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

2014/2015 Round Three Preview: 24th-26th October

Friday 24th October: Brisbane Roar vs Sydney FC( Suncorp Stadium)

Another quality Friday night match looms with the win-less 2013/14 champions up against a traveling Sydney FC who have had a fairly torrid week since last Saturday’s derby kicked off. Brisbane have not looked that bad in their losses against Adelaide and Perth, however there must be some questions being asked now as to how Mulvey can get results without the pairing of Broich and Berisha, plus the absence of one of the most underrated goalies in the A-League in Michael Theo. Defensively there is a degree of staleness about the home team, and it is yet to be seen if either Kurtishi or Henrique can step up and score the goals needed on a regular basis. It will also be intriguing to see how well Demi Petratos plays against his old club, especially as he put Sydney FC to the sword last season.

For the visitors tired legs will be of a concern and for all their celebration for the win over the Wanderers they still have issues at the back and did not seal the win until after Saba’s controversial red card. Additionally Graham Arnold does not have the psychological motivation for his players that they had last Saturday. The return of Ognenovski will be useful however he is value is not necessarily in his playing capacity, but more as a motivator and organiser. There is plenty of strike power up front and Alex Brosque and Corey Gameiro are in excellent form. Goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic is not the safest of hands so if Broich and his associated forwards can exploit any weaknesses at the back they could reap the benefit of his limited capabilities.

Final Verdict: It will be intriguing to see if the Roar come at Sydney FC fast and hard from the kick-off, as it could lead to a few goals from either or both sides. Sydney FC are arguably in a better place as a team however the Roar at home will be hard to beat for any club backing up. My Prediction: 1-1

Saturday 25th October: Melbourne Victory vs Melbourne City (Etihad Stadium)

Another big Melbourne derby with possibly 45,000 fans attending thus bringing it back onto a par with the Sydney derby (which has become the bigger event in the last season or so). Victory will come in with every reason to believe they can win thanks to a barely changed line-up from their first two rounds. Defensively solid at the back and of course filled with power up front the likes of Berisha, Barbarouses, Funkler and Thompson will ask plenty of questions of a City team that might be a little down at the moment. For all the talk of the money invested in Melbourne City and the quality of their acquisitions they have not been able to put away both teams they have played so far this season, even after dominating both Sydney FC and Newcastle for long periods of their respective games. Having to rely on David Villa to get them draws has worked so far, but with the mid-week news he will be leaving and may not come back after next week’s round it will be a real challenge for someone else to step into his shoes. Mooy and Duff have been very good and David Williams showed he has a similar desire to score goals as per last season. Yet when you peel away the major signings the core of the old Melbourne Heart is still there, and you have to ponder how they can knock off the Victory if Villa doesn’t dominate.

Final Verdict: The jury is still out on City, whereas Victory already look like a championship favourite. Technically a home game the action in the stands could be passionate, and expect Victory to get the bulk of the support. My Prediction: 2-0 Victory

Sunday 26th October: Wellington Phoenix vs Newcastle United (Westpac Stadium)

In a match that might be seen as a potential cellar dweller battle, there is reason to believe this could be a good game for neutrals and partisans alike, with the Phoenix already looking to escape their tag of also rans. The biggest problem for the visitors is that the Jets have not shown a capability to maximise either on their good play or on their opponents bad play by scoring goals. Montano, Steele and Neumann should be slotting the ball into the opposition’s net if the Jets are to challenge for honours in 2014/15. There is a stolid ‘park the bus’ feel about them that doesn’t engender much excitement, but it must be said in their first two matches this season they did look better than half decent. If Flores can fire Newcastle will be in there at the death in this round.

As for the home team Wellington already look a better team than last season and their win away from home against the Mariners last round must serve as a boost. McGlinchey, Burns and Brockie are forming an imposing front three and Dutch import Roly Bonavecia is living up to his unheralded potential. As always coach Ernie Merrick will be craftily directing his player’s tactics and style, and if their defence holds back a limited challenge from the visitors then the Phoenix will be more than half way there for a win.

Final Verdict: Playing at home with a settled squad and some good form already registered in this season Phoenix will be favourites. The Jets will battle hard however all three points should go to Wellington: My Prediction: 2-0 Wellington Phoenix.

Sunday 26th October: Adelaide United vs Perth Glory (Coopers Stadium)

Another intriguing match up between an Adelaide team that plays with plenty of style, high ball retention and a couple of serious goal threats up against a Perth Glory squad that has a solid mix of youth and experience, plus perhaps has finally discovered self-belief and team harmony. At home the Reds will be a tough proposition and if the Glory’s backs can’t contain Bruce Djite and/or Cirio the visitors will be assailed by many shots on goal. To their advantage however in Danny Vukovic they have one of the league’s best goalies, and when you combine the upfront quality of Hersi, Keogh, Nicholls and Maclaren well it one be one way traffic for Gombau’s team. The differences in style and tactics will be most intriguing, and the result may potentially come down to an error here or there. Adelaide may be feeling the after effects of their hard won victory on Tuesday against Sydney FC in the FFA Cup quarter finals, but I am unsure if Glory are the kind of club that has the physical or fitness supremacy to take advantage of a flagging Reds.

Final Verdict: A hell of an evenly matched game with a cigarette paper’s thickness between them. My Predcition: 1-1 Draw

(Western Sydney Wanderers vs Central Coast Mariners has been put back until Wednesday 19th November due to the first leg of the AFC Champions’ League Final)

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.

2013/14 – The Season So Far (Brisbane Roar/Wellington Phoenix/Central Coast Mariners)

After some delay here is my third survey of how I see three more of the A-League clubs after fourteen rounds of the 2013/14 A-League season. This series will be completed by a full examination of the Wanderers in a future entry. (Please note I have excluded from the statistics below the results and goals from Round Fifteen matches)

Brisbane Roar (10 wins/0 draws/4 losses/+15 goal difference goal difference/30 points)

In a season that for some revisits the earlier regime of Ange Postecoglu at ‘Roarcelona’, Mike Mulvey has taken the Brisbane Roar into arguably unassailable territory. A club that in 2012/13 had problems internally with coaching changes, a tired roster and arguably motivational issues has turned things around spectacularly in 2013/14. As part of that rejuvenation and climb back into league dominance there have been some familiar faces (e.g Thomas Broich, Besart Berisha, Mike Theo, Jade North, Luke Brattan, Shane Stefanutto, Jack Hingert, Ivan Franjic), some exciting new ones (Kwame Yeboah, Dimi Petratos) and one returning stalwart (Matthew McKay). However it is not so much the personnel that has excelled this season, more the manner in which Mulvey has grafted a new soul and determination into a squad that on paper does not drastically different from that which didn’t live up to last season’s expectations.

The most significant individual efforts that have led to the success of the Roar in 2013/14 have come from the likes of Broich, who is still possibly the best marquee to have ever graced any A-League club, Berisha (who has missed several games due to injury but has scored more often than note when available) and McKay (returning after some years in Asian football wilderness and finding his form again to make his post-season trip to the World Cup in Brazil I think a certainty). Having said that for me the best player in this team is Ivan Franjic, who has become not just a key part of the defensive structures at the Roar, he has also formed a deadly goal scorer. If Ange Postecoglu doesn’t follow up with his selection of Franjic for the Socceroo’s Costa Rica friendly late last year with an invite for Ivan to attend Brazil 2014 it will be a major boil over in national team selection news.

Having heaped praise on those players who have plenty of longivity or experience in the Roar, much needs to be said about Yeboah and Petratos. Kwame Yeboah (who has left the club and joined Bundesliga team Borussia Monchengladbach) scored one of the goals of the season against the Mariners at Blue Tongue in Round Five, and followed up with a late goal against the Wanderers two rounds later. He is an exciting prospect and whilst questions may be legitimately asked over the earliness of his move to Germany, if he can grow further as a footballer then it will be a win-win for all relevant parties. Petratos helped execute his previous club Sydney FC in the second massacre wrought on Sydney FC by the Roar this season, scoring a hat trick in the 5-2 win. He could be a major young signing for the Roar who have a solid mix of experience and potential in their ranks.

For all the excellent results and their much deserved position as table leaders there have been some less than satisfactory games for Mulvey and his squad. Their home game against the Heart in Round Four may have ended as a cakewalk however the wooden spoon favourites did keep the Roar under the pump for at least the first half. The Wanderers also dominated their game against Brisbane after going 2 goals down, and in the most surprising fashion the Jets have knocked off Brisbane in both games played so far in 2013/14. The loss to Adelaide at home in Round Fourteen must be most troubling in that for the first time all season not only were the Roar outplayed, they also looked ragged and ill-disciplined in trying to respond to the Reds. For this to come after the demolition of Melbourne Victory in Round Thirteen, which included a sublime team goal from Matt McKay would not necessarily set off alarms. However Mike Mulvey must be careful to ensure that their current lead on the table is not squandered through similar efforts.

Prospects and Predictions: I just can’t believe that Roar won’t top the table at season’s end assuming that they stay fit with all their major players remaining available for selection. If Broich, McKay, Hingert, Berisha and Theo continue to serve as the spine of their successful structure then it would take a miracle for any club to surpass them on the ladder. The run into the semi-finals will also be of interest in that whilst they will be playing three of their last four games of the home and away part of the season at Suncorp, they will be sharing that venue with the Rugby League, and as shown by the Jets the Roar can be susceptible when ground conditions are not optimum. There is some possibility that the Round 24, 26 and 27 games against Victory, Wanderers and Mariners will put the Roar either in the box seat for a clean champion’s plate collection, or see them slip only the odd point behind one of the chasers. As for individual players I expect Franjic and McKay to go to Brazil 2014 with Broich staying around for yet another season at least with the club he has helped become one of the best ever in Australia.

Final Ladder Position Prediction: First

Wellington Phoenix (3 wins/5 draws/6 losses/-3 goal difference goal difference/14 points)

The Kiwis were last season’s wooden spoon winners, and with new coach Ernie Merrick and his ex-Melbourne Victory star player Carlos Hernandez the major acquisitions over the off-season, the possibility of a renewed vigour within the club’s fortunes was looking up. Unfortunately the perennial problem for Wellington in terms of its reliance on players who feature in the All Whites meant that at the beginning of the 2013/14 season Merrick was consistently battling absences and fatigue due to national team duties. With New Zealand having to go through a long distance final qualification process against Mexico, it was hardly surprising that the Phoenix failed to win a single game during the period leading into the match, then suffered lingering issues up to Round Eleven.

Having said that there were several indications that before their first victory in 2013/14 the Phoenix would not be as easily written off may have been done in past seasons. Their away game versus the Wanderers in Round Two showed they had plenty of capability with the likes of Ifill, Brockie, Lia and Hernandez each causing problems for last season’s A-League champions. Brockie and Ifill again gave Merrick a sniff of something positive in their Round Four loss away to the Victory. There were other losses and other draws to come for the Phoenix but for neutrals and fans alike observing somewhat dispassionately most performances from Merrick’s squad gave hope that there was a kernel of quality somewhere there.

So when in the last few rounds one of the better imports in the A-League finally stood up as he had promised (i.e. Belgian Stein Huysegems) and Merrick got plenty of mileage out of young Kiwi Tyler Boyd, it was as if the rough hewn work in progress that was Phoenix’s first half of the season got the polish it needed. The win against the Wanderers in Round Thirteen was undoubtedly their finest moment up to that stage of the season, and whilst the likes of Ifill, Fenton, and Hernandez have all suffered major injuries their gaps have been filled very nicely. Manny Muscat has been excellent as a harassing midfielder, and long term Kiwi goalie legend Glenn Moss still can perform feats of keeping skills that put some of his younger rivals at other clubs to shame.

Prospects and Predictions: Whilst the last few rounds have been incredibly positive for Wellington Phoenix and they have been able to craft some excellent performances, I still doubt their capability to get into the finals. I am unsure of their capability to surpass the ladder positions of Perth Glory and Sydney FC, though the latter of those two teams could be ripe for the picking. Ernie Merrick is a solid coach and his players now have the confidence to win more games, but has the slow start to their season shackled them to the lower reaches of the A-League? Also, can the likes of Huysegems and Hernandez stay injury free?

Final Ladder Position Prediction: Ninth

Central Coast Mariners (6 wins/5 draws/3 losses/-2 goal difference goal difference/21 points)

Another club and squad that has been very inconsistent, yet for all their own and off field changes last year’s grand final winners still are keeping up with the league leaders. Having lost club great Patrick Zwaanswijk pre-season due to retirement, and the likes of Bernie Ibini, Pedj Bojic, Mat Ryan and Tom Rogic to 2012/13 transfers, Graham Arnold must’ve been aware of the problems relating to the capability of his squad to rejuvenate for 2013/14. The key acquisition in playing staff was Marcos Flores, ex-Reds, ex-Victory Argentine player and as early as the first round match against the Wanderers at home at Blue Tongue stadium he demonstrated his value.

However there were and continue to be gaps in the Mariners’ squad that haven’t been fileld as well as hoped, and the most obvious example of this is Arnold himself. Having left to take over as the coach of J-League team Vegalta Sendai, Arnold’s departure did not help the reconstruction of the Mariners’ squad. Phil Moss has yet to stamp his vision on the playing style of Central Coast, and to be honest some of their results under his stewardship have been very ordinary. The 4-0 loss away to Adelaide in Round Ten was just such an example of faltering standards, and the Round Twelve 2-0 defeat to the Wanderers also showed that the Mariners are more vulnerable this season than those of the recent past. To add to this malaise Marcos Flores is now out for the remainder of the season and key defenders Trent Sainsbury and Marcel Seip have been having indifferent performances in an area of the game that the Mariners usually excel.

There are also queries over the value of Daniel McBreen, who is definitely not as successful at accumulating goals in 2013/14 as he was last season. Mitchell Duke has been enigmatic, and in goal both Liam Reddy and Justin Pasfield have committed some howlers. Yet through all these bumps and seemingly damaging developments to their A-League progress, there have been some important wins secured when needed.  Knocking off Adelaide, Glory (home and away) and Sydney FC has done their cause no harm and their Round Two draw with the Heart when down 2-0 also indicates how strong their determination is not to lose. Even their big loss to Adelaide wasn’t all one way traffic against the Mariners.

Prospects and Predictions: I don’t believe the Central Coast Mariners will be able to climb back into a top two position, and with Flores gone for the remainder of the season, no Arnold, no McGlinchey and McBreen particularly wayward, Moss will be relying on a lot of draws and ground out wins. We certainly won’t be seeing any six or seven goal sprees coming from the Central Coast as we saw last season.

Final Ladder Position Prediction: Fourth