Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A-League, round one round-up

The four games

Melbourne Victory 2 beat Adelaide United 0; Ernie Merrick said it at half time and he was right, his team was clearly ‘pumped’ and deserved their win. Almost five months of preparation went into this game from home side, and it showed. On a bumpy pitch they were able to control much of the first half, particularly with their two Brazilians, Fred and Alessandro keen to make an eye-catching first impression, which they did. But it wasn’t just the Brazilians demonstrating control, with Muscat and Brebner doing well and defence looking composed and comfortable. Adelaide made some surprise selections, with Costanzo starting on the bench as the likes of Cornthwaite and Spagnuolo started in a 4-3-3, a move away from the 4-4-1-1 that worked so well last campaign. Qu was isolated as the two flankers, Spagnuolo and Dodd, failed to get close enough. The second half was better for Adelaide as Rech, Costanzo and Burns added some spice, but they were sunk on the counter when Allsopp shook off Costanzo, seemingly with an illegal arm, and had a shot saved by Bajic, which fell to the third Brazilian, Claudinho, to bury. To read more, click here.

Queensland Roar 3 beat Perth Glory 0; for large parts of the first half and much of the second, the Roar looked to be struggling for cohesion in attack as they played with a new look formation and line-up to last year. Whereas last season they looked for width from the front three (two wide and one central), here they deployed three out and out strikers, with Milicic sitting behind Lynch and Reinaldo in a narrow three-man attack. Behind them where a midfield trio of Seo, Wedau and McKay, with a back four of Packer, Gibson, Ognenovski and McLaren. So the width was supposed to come from Packer on the right and McKay on the left, but the former failed to cross the halfway mark often enough, while the latter went to his natural area, central, too often. It meant Queensland were bereft of width, and, despite dominating the ball, their play broke down far too frequently. The second half was better, as McKay and Packer got wide and forward, stretching a tiring Perth, who struggled in a number of areas and had to rely on some good defending from skipper Harnwell. Their main problems came from an inability to keep the ball long enough, as Ognenovski powered over Young, and Christie struggled to get a grip in midfield. Their only bright spots came on the odd occasions Bertos got on the ball, while periods of the second half were better as Lazaridis and Saric got involved. Overall they had too many players not firing. There has been a major difference in the amount of work done in the pre-season between these sides and it was always likely to be the deciding factor. When Miron Bleiberg introduced young Vidosic in the last 20 or so minutes, it was the pivotal move, as he was involved in creating the first and then creating and finishing the second. With four strikers on as the match ticked to its climax, it was too much for the tiring Glory, with Lynch bagging one then playing a hand in the second, while Milicic created the first and third. Like Melbourne, a deserved and vital win that relieves some pressure off the boss, but like Melbourne, more work is needed.

New Zealand Knights 0 drew with Newcastle Jets 0; on another terribly bumpy pitch, it was always likely to be difficult for both teams to play attractive football, particularly the Jets who like to keep it on the deck. So developed a scrappy yet competitive fixture where a draw was fair. As predicted in the pre-season, the Knights will be much more competitive, especially in central midfield where Salley impressed alongside Johnson and Gemmill. However, the big question in the pre-season was whether they’d have enough potency up front to score some goals, and on this performance, they’ll need Rodrigues fit and firing soon. While they created the odd half-chance, it wasn’t sustained, meaning they’ll need their defence to be rock solid if they want to sneak their fair-share of wins. Here their defence did reasonably well, but were still opened up on the odd occasion by the pace and movement of Griffiths. Newcastle came to New Zealand with an incredibly attacking formation that only featured two recognised defenders, Okon and Durante. With North injured, Thompson started at right back, with Haliti at left back, as well as three strikers, brave work from Nick Theodorakopoulos, particularly on the road. While the intent was there, ultimately they were unable to break down a tight and competitive Knights midfield. Expect the Jets to be better on a better pitch.

Sydney FC 1 beat Central Coast Mariners 0; for once this game failed to live up to the hype. After four crackers last season (a last minute 3-2 win to the Mariners in Sydney, a 5-1 hiding dished out by Sydney in the return, a fascinating 1-1 draw in Sydney later in the year and the 1-0 grand final win to Sydney) perhaps we’ve been a little spoilt, for this game failed to take off. Tight and feisty in midfield and defence, rarely was either side able to sustain possession or dominance for decent periods. Terry Butcher has arrived at Sydney and immediately molded a fierce and competitive central defensive pair, much in his own mould. Rudan and Topor-Stanley were imposing - tight, aggressive and physical - giving Kwasnik and McMaster little room to move. In midfield, the Mariners buzzed around, snapping at the heels of Yorke, Milligan and Corica, cutting the supply to Petrovski, Carney and Brosque. Consequently, the latter two failed to provide the width that was such a feature of Sydney’s championship run, and Sydney’s attack looked the poorer for it. Ultimately it was a game dominated by defenders and the workhorses in midfield, perhaps fitting it was decided by a defender. While Fyfe grabbed the winner after a poor first half, it was his custodian, the brilliant Bolton, who was the hero, making three world class saves to deny Kwasnik first, then McMaster, then Kwasnik again. How Bolton has been left out of the Socceroos first team for so long, let alone the world cup squad, will forever remain a mystery, at least to this correspondent.

Some other talking points

A weekend to defend; five teams kept clean sheets and most of the best players of the round played at the back. In picking a team of the round (next article), the hardest bit was deciding who were the stand-outs at the back. Such was the evenness across the board, the likes of Vargas, Harnwell, Vidmar, Wilkinson, Durante and Topor-Stanley were unlucky to miss out.

Home is where the heart is; after the upside down season we had last year, where the away side dominated, it was almost a throw-back to see three home sides come up with the points. Will be interesting to see if it continues.

Yellow-card; to referee Simon Przydacz who officiated the Knights-Jets clash in New Zealand, for allowing play to go on for over a minute as Wheelhouse waited for treatment after suffering a serious injury in a challenge with Malik Buari in the second half. The players are under instruction to play on until the referee intervenes, so their hands were somewhat tied, but Wheelhouse was in obvious agony and needed treatment straight away.

Red-cards; to the two groundsmen at Olympic Park and North Harbour Stadium respectively and the club and FFA people responsible for ensuring grounds are in pristine condition. While the surfaces at Suncorp and Aussie, both also used for League, were carpet-like, sadly the other two venues were bumpy, detracting from the spectacle. For a league that is by no means home and hosed, and is looking to entertain, ensuring the surface is up to scratch should be the minimum expectation.

Save of the round; Robert Cornthwaite’s goal-line clearance when it appeared Archie Thompson would walk it in ran a close second, but for sheer athleticism, reflex and anticipation, Bolton’s left-handed save from a Kwasnik header in the first half that appeared destined to give the Mariners to lead will live long in the memory. While Kwasnik was wasteful, Bolton never gave it up.

Goal of the round; not a week of breathtaking strikes, but Queensland Roar did score three, the pick of them the first, scored by Lynch, not so much for the finish, which was clinical, but the build up. When Ognenovski flicked a delightful ball into the area, Vidosic had the vision to see Milicic and chest it towards him, and while Milicic had to win a challenge against Simpson to get it to Lynch, it was nice work all round.


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