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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014/2015 Round Four Review: 31st October – 3rd November

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Melbourne City vs Adelaide United (1-2 Adelaide United win)

David Villa’s last game for Melbourne City in this stint (and probably for all time) was one of missed opportunities early on, combined with some errors and ill-discipline that let a a resurgent Adelaide United back into the match, concluding with a come from behind win for the visitors. Reds goalie Galekovic was lucky to not concede before five minutes were up. Worse was to follow less than three minutes later for Adelaide when new City talent (Damian Duff) combined with an old Heart recruit (Kisnorbo) to score off a well worked corner. David Villa almost doubled the lead however his miss accompanied with some counterattacking energy from Isais and Cirio kept Adelaide in the match. Then, at the 35th minute one of the best but least recognised current A-League players, ex-Wanderers’ defender Tarek Elrich put a cross into the City box that was buried by Adelaide’s key striker, Bruce Djite. Djite was again threatening for Adelaide in the second half, and the cynical hack on him from Kisnorbo should’ve resulted in a red card. It wasn’t, and shortly thereafter two Latino stars of the game almost scored wonder goals, first from Carrusca having a go near the half way, trying to emulate Engelaar’s goal last season, then Villa weaving some magic in the Reds box. David Williams should have buried the rebound from Villa’s attempt, and the miss was made worse in the 77th minute when Redmayne fouled Kamau, leading to a spot kick which Carrusca converted. Full time came shortly thereafter and the result was one that was frustrating for City. The Reds won more through the failures of the home team to capitalise on their best moments and through the ruthless marksmanship of Djite and Carrusca.

Perth Glory vs Newcastle United (2-1 Perth Glory win)

Perth got their season back on track with a win at home, however whilst the scoreboard and the stats were in their favour it was not a clear and easy victory. with the Jets doing all they could to defeat the Glory’s challenge. As a spectacle the match was a scrappy one, with mistakes and scrambling play dominating the first half and much of the second half. There were some scares for both teams’ goalkeepers, with Birighitti and Vukovic benefiting from errant shots, and the respective defences of the home and away teams were able to deny the more meaningful attacks, including some last second line clearances. It wasn’t until the 77th minute, when ex-Reds player Jeronimo pounced on a sweet pass from his Jets comrade Jacob Pepper and was able to stay onside that finally a goal came. Fortunately for the home team young sub Jamie Maclaren came on and within six minutes of the Glory going down a goal he had wrought two goals (the first assisted by Youssouf Hersi, the second coming through a corner that was directed from Rosytn Griffiths goalwards, which Maclaren headed into the net). The score stayed 2-1, and Phil Stubbins and the Jets left nib Stadium pondering what may have been. Kenny Lowe’s squad are looking very much a candidate for finals football as the rounds tick away in this season.

Sydney FC vs Central Coast Mariners (2-0 Sydney FC win)

Before this match there were the usual Graham Arnold mind games, played out in the media and in them he talked about knowing Phil Moss and the Mariners’ plans. However it wasn’t the pre-game jousting that defined the result, but the combination of a quality home team taking some excellent chances (most notably Antonis’ first half goal) and keeping the Mariners out. There is no doubt that there is an improvement all round in the Sky Blues playing stocks, however where they are starting to look very much the goods is at the back and in the midfield. This improvement was reflected in the second half goal for Ognenovski and the problems posed for the Mariners by Ryall and Dimitrijevic. For the visitors there was little joy even though they acquitted themselves well statistically. There is a distinct problem with the reliance on Mitchell Duke as the man to get them goals, as he is nowhere near the threat that others in similar roles at other clubs (e.g. Djite at the Reds or Gameiro for Sydney) are. Set pieces either defensively or offensively are not working for the Mariners and perhaps questions need to be raised over the structures that Phil Moss is working his players in, and of course the actual talent at his disposal. There is every reason for those who have been disappointed with the mediocre results for Sydney FC to realistically believe in their club reaching the top four by this season’s end if they continue to get these results.

Melbourne Victory vs Wellington Phoenix (2-0 Melbourne Victory win)

Injury woes to the likes of Delpierre and Berisha may have dampened some of the optimism for the home team before this Monday match against Wellington, however in yet another performance indicating the depth and talent of his squad Kevin Muscat got the win against his old boss Ernie Merrick and the visiting Wellington Phoenix. Gui Finkler, who is possibly the best performed Brazilian to have played in the A-League so far started the scoring with another goal from a free kick. It must be said that Khalfallah also looks to be a great acquisition for the Victory, and both he and another overseas player, the Kiwi Kosta Barbarouses are extremely valuable members of the Victory team. Wellington have good players too, and foremost among their leading lights are Nathan Burns, Roly Bonevacia and Michael McGlinchey. Burns had an excellent chance to level things up just before half time however his shot was too direct at a charging Nathan Coe, and from thereon the full blooded and well targeted shots from the Phoenix front third was not as threatening as it should’ve been. Connor Pain, a somewhat forgotten young gun player for the home team was subbed on the 66th minute mark, then almost instantaneously he added to the visitors’ woes, scoring the second goal with some fine one-on-one running and shooting in the box. The remainder of the game produced no more goals for either side, leaving Phoenix yet again without points on a visit to Melbourne.

Best Team of the Round: The same three teams that are dominating the top of the table so far this season (i.e. Reds, Sydney FC and Victory) were very good and deserve to be up there for this specific honour. Adelaide did let a goal in, whereas both Sydney and Victory scored two goals each with no reply. Considering the standard of the opposition I would just shade Victory over FC, plus it must be said that without Berisha and others Melbourne Victory were nominally weaker than Sydney were against the Mariners.

Worst Team of the Round: No team was calamitously bad this round, however the Mariners must be given some brickbats in not scoring against Sydney FC. City were a little disjointed and Newcastle were hard done to lose but neither they nor Wellington had as much an uninspiring result from what should have been a fiercely contested match against a club that they have owned for many a season.

Best Goal of the Road: Finkler’s dead ball goal scored for the Victory was excellent, however the honour this round must go to Terry Antonis for Sydney FC

Note: As the Western Sydney Wanderers vs Brisbane Roar game was postponed their match report will be included in the entry for the closest regular round

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

 

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

Brisbane Roar vs Sydney FC (0-2 Sydney FC win)

If there were any doubts about the capacity of Graham Arnold’s squad, or expressions of optimism in favour of Mike Mulvey’s 2013/14 Grand Final winners, this match dispelled them. For the first time in 9 fixtures away at Suncorp Sydney FC have come away with all three points, with their two goal scorers each putting in efforts that would be nominees for goals of any a-league season, let alone this third round of the current one. Janko’s goal in the first half was partly made possible by Roar goal keeper Jamie Young stuffing up his clearance and position in the box, however the imperious manner in which the Austrian buried his shot from closer to the half way line than the Roar’s goal was indicative of how strong the visitors were in attack. In fact aside from Janko’s wonder goal and that scored in the second half by Dimitrijevic, there were ample opportunities for the likes of Brisque, Ibini, Gameiro and Antonis to add to the tally. Aside from a scare in the latter stages of the first half from last season’s hero Petratos, the outlook for the Roar was gloomy from kick off to full time. Thomas Broich was impeded by a soft tissue injury from the warm up, and with no Berisha, no Franjic, trouble with Liam Miller’s attitude, Young being no replacement for the injured Theo, still no sign of Sarota and McKay suspended…well, last season’s champions are in a world of shit with no clear path to get out of it. as much as I dislike the import of saying this, Sydney FC are one of the favourites to win the current A-League season if they can sustain their form, and the mixture of Arnold as coach and some excellent buys pre-season will have their opponents nervous in upcoming rounds.

Melbourne Victory vs Melbourne City (5-2 Melbourne Victory win)

Emerging from behind the shadows of last week’s amazing Sydney derby, it could be argued that the two Melburnian clubs put on an even bigger and brighter show thanks to the hype over David Villa, the new schism in Bleak City between the clubs (one with a desire to be partially owned by the fans, the other part of Sheik Mansour’s petrodollar-funded international football conglomerate), the success of Victory and their new acquisition Besart Berisha in the opening rounds of the current A-League season, and reconcilaition between the Victory and their largest active supporter segment, the North Terrace. With over 43,700 spectators the Melbourne derby at Etihad slightly edged out the Sydney derby for bums on seats, but where the real difference was lay with the goals; an incredibly seven in total were scored, with City going up over Victory twice to be caught on each occasion and then surpassed in a second half rout.

Statistically in many departments there was little to split the two teams, however truth be told City are held together at the moment by the likes of their Spanish superstar David Villa, who will be leaving for New York City after the next round, ex-Wanderer Aaron Mooy and some momentary flashes of quality from Damian Duff. Perhaps what is most telling about their performance was their two goals were scored by defenders who were able to make good on crosses from Mooy. Victory on the other hand found the net at least three times as a result of concise and well-constructed passing, putting forwards into scoring positions time and time again. Admittedly the first goal from Victory, scored by Archie Thompson had a sniff of offside about it. However when one looks at the quality of Barbarouses’ service to Archie and Berisha, or indeed Berisha’s second half goal that came almost from the kick-off, well City were out of it by then.

There’s no doubt that Victory are a red hot favourite for finals series honours already this season, whereas for City they have major problems. Paartalu has not been a success in the midfield, Koren (their Slovenian marquee) is out injured for several weeks yet, and the likes of Ramsay and Kisnorbo are the same defenders who struggled last season for the Heart. Obviously the injection of funds into the reborn club will take some time to work its magic, and they will take points of many teams. However with their first loss and not being able to put away either Sydney FC or Newcastle after dominating these preceding challenges in past rounds, well life without David Villa is going to be harder.

Wellington Phoenix vs Newcastle United (4-1 Wellington Phoenix win)

If ever a game demonstrated that dominating possession doesn’t mean you will always win this is the one, with the Jets owning over 60% of the time on the ball, yet being put to the sword by a Wellington Phoenix side that is looking better and better each week. Whilst the game was book-ended by some lovely heading work from Newcastle’s favourite son Joel Griffiths, including a goal in the 90th minute, it was his ex-team mate Nathan Burns with two goals, ex-Mariner McGlinchey with one and another ex-Newcastle player Andrew Durante who put Phil Stubbins team down to their second loss of the season. Ernie Merrick has got arguably one of the top three attacking packs at the front of his team thanks to Burns, Brockie and McGlinchey, and with Dutch import Bonavecia and Spanish tourist-turned back Albert Riera there is a spine to the Phoenix that adds steel to the rapier-like attack. It must be said that for the home team the lack of international commitments for the All Whites for their Kiwi players has helped them. Conversely for Newcastle being on the road for a third week in a row, combined with shallow stocks on the ownership front and some less than acceptable performances both in front of their own goal or the opponent’s means that their struggles have the whiff of inevitability about them. Plus there is no light at the end of the tunnel. If there was a club already looking to have a bottom two position locked up for 2014/15 it’s the Jets, whereas for the Phoenix, they have plenty to look forward to.

Adelaide United vs Perth Glory (2-0 Adelaide United win)

Perth have been a pacesetter for the first few rounds of the current a-League season, however when they came up against an Adelaide squad that should’ve been weakened by both their mid-week commitments in the FFA Cup and the absence of key forward Bruce Djite it was the visitors who looked decidedly second rate. The Reds are certainly one of the form teams of the competition so far and what is perhaps most important for them is that they are now winning games without Djite, and improving upon the possession obsessive style of tikki-takka reputedly brought in by Josep Gombau. Carrusca was the go-to man for much of the brains on the pitch for the home team and his coordinating with Cirio and Isais was always a worry for the Glory backs. It must be said that Perth should have equalised before half time when almost without reason Andy Keogh butchered a certain goal. His effort was matched later in the second half by U-21 Socceroo Awer Mabil, but for the Reds’ young star this was not a disaster, as he had already gone a long way to securing all three points thanks to an earlier, well-taken goal in the 68th minute. The visitors were very ill-disciplined after giving away two goals, and the incident involving Jamie Maclaren should have been dealt with more sternly by Kris Griffith-Jones (whose red card stayed in his pocket after Maclaren stomped on Isais, which was a markedly more cautious approach than his sendo ff given to Saba last week). It’s not the end of the road for Glory, however there must be some worry about the lack of purpose from Hersi in his (missed) tackle on Goodwin. For Adelaide they are like Sydney and Melbourne Victory; already spoken of as lay down misere’s for a top four finish.

Best Team of the Round: It’s very hard to split the four victorious teams of this round as each did something rather special. However considering that two of the clubs let in goals (i.e. Phoenix and Victory) the distinction must be between the Reds and Sydney FC, and I would put them slightly ahead of Adelaide insofar as they made last season’s champions look very ordinary indeed.

Worst Team of the Round: Another loss from the Roar this week puts them at the bottom of the heap, though it must be said that the Jets were also less than satisfactory in their efforts. Unlike previous rounds where the Wanderers played and Roar actually had a good sniff at winning, this time without the Wanderers to again compare against and with no goals whatsoever to take some comfort from, the dubious honour of worst team  in round three goes to Brisbane.

Best Goal of the Road: Janko’s goal for Sydney was freakish, and in the spirit of the long distance lob goal from Orlando Engelaar last season for the then Heart. However for me it was Dimitrijevic’s second half stunner in the same match that is the better of the two. Both had some fortune in them (the former came from the opposition goalie literally giving the ball to the lumbering Austrian, Dimitrijevic was aided by a fortuitous rebound off the ref). However the Serbian import scored with more structural support from his team mates, and his awareness was no less than Janko’s

Note: As the Western Sydney Wanderers vs Central Coast Mariners game was postponed their match report will be included in the entry for the closest regular round