Monday, February 13, 2006

First leg semi-final wraps: Advantage the Mariners and Sydney

Minor Semi, Newcastle Jets 0 v Central Coast Mariners 1; Stung by the criticism of their recent poor form and motivated by the words of manager Richard Money, it was no surprise to see the Jets start the match so intensely.

Word had filtered through that the Jets players were up for this game and it showed. They dominated the opening half, pressing the Mariners high up the pitch and not allowing the visitors to build any of the passing momentum they have become famous for.

The Jets really should have had at least a 1-0 lead at the break, but squandered a couple of golden opportunities, one particularly to Matt Thompson, who had a brilliant first half, constantly terrorising Mariners left back Dean Heffernan.

Most of Newcastle’s good work came down the right, as Nick Carle was again kept quiet on the left. But the old adage in football is about converting your chances when you dominate. Newcastle failed.

The Mariners for their part seemed content to bide their time, knowing that if they could stifle Newcastle, their superior fitness might tell late in the second period. It proved true.

After averting a headed chance to Ante Milicic just after the break, the Mariners took control, with Stewart Petrie proving the menace he has been all season with his amazing work-rate up front.

It was backed up in midfield as Noel Spencer and Andre Gumprecht started to take control, bringing wide men Wayne O’Sullivan (right) and Matt Osman (left) into the game.

The Mariners were particularly targeting Newcastle’s left, with Tom Pondeljak and Stewart Petrie taking turns in doubling-up on Uruguayan left back Mateo Corbo, who was already on a yellow card from a first half indiscretion. This forced Carle to do too much defending and also forced Newcastle’s central defenders out of their comfort zone in the centre.

The Mariners goal eventually came from such a scenario, with Pondeljak, O’Sullivan and Petrie combining to pull both Allan Picken and Ned Zelic to the right sideline. When the cross came, Jade North was on his own in the middle, forced to deal with the late runs of Spencer and Osman from midfield.

It was too much for him and goalkeeper Liam Reddy to handle, with Osman grabbing the winner. The Mariners were on a roll, forcing the Jets to retreat, and had it not been for a couple of smashing saves from Reddy in the final 20 minutes, the tie could effectively have been over.

As it is, Newcastle is still in with a sniff, but would require a major turn around in fortunes. While the Mariners have stretched their unbeaten run to an impressive 10 games, Newcastle has suffered five loses in the same period, hardly the momentum you want to take into such a do-or-die clash.

Major Semi, Adelaide United 2 v Sydney FC 2; While the minor premiers Adelaide should never be underestimated, it’s advantage Sydney in the race to host the grand final on March 5.

Two away goals, an impressive first half showing and the momentum at the right end of the season means Sydney are now favourites to host the decider.

After a poor patch of form following its return from the Club World Championships in Japan and a great deal of conjecture about Pierre Littbarski’s future, Sydney have turned things around at the crunch hour by changing it’s formation, adding more mobility to the midfield.

During its downtime, it was particularly noticeable how static and immobile the midfield was. Basically, playing 4-4-2, only right midfielder David Carney was making any effort to get beyond the strikers and test opposition defences.

But since 19 year Ruben Zadkovich has been introduced to the midfield and Littbarski has adopted a 4-4-1-1 formation, it has become noticeable how each midfielder takes turns in springing forward to get beyond sole striker Sasho Petrovski, who is playing as much as the link man these days, dropping off the front line to bring his five midfielders into the game.

Corica has been particularly mobile the half-half role between defence and attack, constantly springing forward. He hasn’t been on his own however, with Zadkovich, Dwight Yorke, Matthew Bingley and Carney all taking turns to sprint forward and find gaps between and beyond the defenders.

It worked a treat in round 20 against Perth, with Zadkovich scoring a beauty when he got in between defenders and shot first time past Jason Petkovic. Again it worked early against Adelaide, with Zadkovich running at defenders and sliding a lovely ball through to the moving Corica, who clipped it over Daniel Beltrame and past Michael Valkanis.

Sydney dominated the opening half hour, opening up the United defence regularly, and could have had a second to Yorke but for Adelaide’s scrambling defence. Seconds later the ball was in the Sydney net as Adelaide broke with a long ball to the left flank, where the speedy Travis Dodd pushed it past Mark Milligan, rounded Clint Bolton and fired home.

It was Adelaide at its best – resolute at the back, direct, strong and clinical in attack.

Two minutes later they showed their ability at the set piece when Shengqing Qu found Fernando Rech who climbed over the Sydney defence at the back post to head Adelaide into the lead. Smash and grab.

Sydney, from a position of comfort, where suddenly behind, and had to show character to fight back. This time it was Carney on the ball and Bingley breaking forward, his first-time cross laid on a plate for Petrovski.

It was a frantic eight minutes of open football, but after the break the tight and fiesty contest that had been expected beforehand emerged. Sydney was clearly content with its two away goals and re-enforced its midfield by introducing Terry McFlynn, while John Kosmina tightened things up a touch by bringing on Krisitan Rees into central defence and pushing Angelo Costanzo into midfield.

Not surprisingly, given that both teams don’t mind mixing it, the game became physical, with Carl Veart never far from the action.

It seemed both teams were happy to sort things out at Aussie Stadium in a week.

United appears to have lost its momentum since claiming the minor premiership against Perth in round 18, failing to win in its past four starts, while Sydney have put the Japan hangover behind them with three wins and a valuable away draw on the trot.

But Adelaide showed in the first half of the campaign they are at their most dangerous when written off, so this tie is far from over.


Anonymous Johny said...

Did not watch the games but it was like i was there reading your analysis. very good work keep it up

Mon. Feb. 13, 02:57:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sydney were lucky and will find it difficult to win or draw in the return leg.....
Carney is given too much credit. He does the same thing every time (cuts back in) and the rare occassion he does go down the line his right foot always lets him down and unlike Maradonna his left foot does not make up for the lack of a right peg.
Terry McFlynn - i dont know how he has gotten away with masquerading as a professional footballer. He losess the ball every time he touches it and spends more time on the ground than on his feet.
The defense - too slow, cumbersome and with all there height cant manage to win a header.


Mon. Feb. 13, 04:44:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Colo Trifti said...

why was adelaide happy to close up shop for the last few minutes whenthey know they probably have to win to get through?

Wed. Feb. 15, 11:29:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Pinuts Pethia said...

I agree with Davo. But Sydney still continues to survive!

It is up to the opposition to exploit their weaknesses.

Thu. Feb. 16, 01:49:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

The thing I find admirable about Sydney is that they've clearly lifted at the crunch time of the season. Their season looked on the skids a few weeks ago, but they have turned things around by alerting formations and getting some much needed drive out of their midfield, and full credit to them for doing so.

Thu. Feb. 16, 02:04:00 pm AEDT  

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