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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of FourFourTwo Australia & Eric Berry

Young RBB Members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adelaide United vs Sydney FC (0-0 draw)

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

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

Newcastle Jets vs Melbourne Victory (2-2 Draw)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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

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.