Thursday, September 21, 2006

A-League, round four round-up

The four games

Queensland Roar 5 v New Zealand Knights 0; after an encouraging pre-season and opening two rounds, it’s almost a case of back to the bad old days for New Zealand after a second hiding on the trot, this time against a slick Queensland outfit that continues to grow in confidence. After copping three at home to the Victory last week, it’s now eight goals conceded in two weeks, with both losses coming in similar circumstances, after going behind to an early goal. This team built by Paul Nevin appears capable of fighting and scrapping, but in the past two games have proved they struggle to come out and play, particularly after they go behind. Against Newcastle and Adelaide they were engaged in slug-fest, but against both Melbourne and Queensland they had to prove they could bounce back from an early goal, and they didn’t have the shape or class to do it. Despite debuting Dani Rodrigues up front, he was far too isolated from his midfield and wide-men, easy work for Sasa Ognenovski and Josh McCloughan. Nevin’s insistence on keeping three men tight in central midfield is fine when the game is on the line, but when you’re chasing a game, it’s important to get support to your front-man, and there was little evidence of that at Suncorp. The Roar, inspired by the good work of Marcus Wedau and Matt McKay in midfield and the sharpness and finishing of Reinaldo, were too strong, and even had time to debut Chinese striker Yuning Zhang, who looked super slick in his 15 or so minutes. The Knights will be hoping they can engage Sydney in an arm-wrestle tonight because the signs aren’t good when they go behind.

Adelaide United 3 v Perth Glory 0; two weeks ago Adelaide were struggling and the Knights were flying. How quickly things turn around. After last week’s five goals against Newcastle, United turned on another brilliant display in swiping aside a Glory team that missed the inspiration of Stan Lazaridis. In truth even he would have been powerless to stop a rampant Adelaide outfit that was again inspired by the brilliance of Fernando Rech and the hard work or Carl Veart behind him. By dropping off the front-man Shengqing Qu and playing in the hole between Simon Colosimo and Perth’s back four, Rech was able to combine with Veart and control the match, spraying balls left and right for Travis Dodd and Jason Spagnuolo respectively. With Greg Owens and Aaron Goulding venturing forward with monotonous regularity, United were able to pin Perth back and pile on the pressure. Indeed, this was clearly the best performance of the season for Veart, Dodd and Goulding, and it was impossible to find a United player who didn’t contribute to a flowing and efficient performance. At times their movement both on an off the ball was a sight to behold, and after two impressive home displays the appetite wets at the prospect of seeing them venture up to Suncorp tomorrow night for what is shaping up as an early-season blockbuster, two teams in hot form, full of attacking thrust.

Sydney FC 2 v Newcastle Jets 2; as far as debut’s go, few have been better in Australia than that made by Colombian Milton Rodriguez on Sunday afternoon. While the score was 0-0 when he replaced an injured Vaughan Coveny midway through the opening half, soon enough his Jets team was down 2-0 after a couple of characteristically sloppy pieces of defending. First Paul Okon rashly clattered into the back of David Zdrilic for a clear penalty expertly converted by Steve Corica, before the returning Paul Kohler failed to clear a straight-forward header, which presented an opportunity for Zdrilic to outmuscle Andrew Durante. Once again Nick Theodorakopoulos’ men had dug their own hole and it appeared unlikely they’d get out of it. But in a flash, just before half-time, Rodriguez took a firm Nick Carle cross with a sublime first touch at the near post and kept his composure to finish. Newcastle had a life-line and, it appeared, a player capable of rescuing the game. Emboldened by the goal, they came out in the second period and pressed up all over the pitch, not allowing Sydney to settle on the ball. It was enough to frustrate the FC midfield and Corica snapped. Sydney, it appeared, was pressing its own self-destruct button, and when Rodriguez fired in a left foot shoot from a quickly taken free-kick, Clint Bolton made his second error in as many weeks, letting one slip by him at the near post. The Jets, with a numerical advantage and the momentum, were buzzing, and unlucky not the grab a late the winner, first Durante firing over, before Matt Thompson somehow hit the woodwork. Newcastle came with a game-plan built around containment and counter-attack, but proved they have the ability to take it to teams. If they can iron out the defensive mistakes that have dogged their opening month, there is light. Sydney, meanwhile, will need to address some attitude and discipline issues if they are to turn around a sloppy start to the season.

Melbourne Victory 1 v Central Coast Mariners 0; what a contrast between these two sides after four games. The Victory now have maximum points and sit atop the league, while the Mariners are bottom, without a goal and with only the point they gained at home last week. Here they sat deep and allowed the Victory to come at them, trying to counter. Not only was it a sign of respect to the Melbourne attack, but perhaps it also indicated a lack of confidence flowing through the team. Last season there is little doubt they would have taken the game to the opposition, despite being on the road. In truth, Lawrie McKinna did try and changes things in the second half, moving to a back three by pushing Vuko Tomasevic into midfield, but all that did was create space on the flanks for the Melbourne front duo of Archie Thompson and Danny Allsopp to exploit. Indeed, the only goal came when the strong Steve Pantelidis found room down the right, Paul O’Grady making a hash of his clearance for Allsopp and Thompson to profit. After hitting form last week, Thompson was enjoying his evening in front of a vibrant and noisy Victory gallery, and once again exposed a lack of pace in the Mariners defence. The visitors did come back well after the goal, but Melbourne proved they have added steel at the back this year, with Michael Theoklitos combining with Rodrigo Vargas, Adrain Leijer and Daniel Piorkowski to keep out the Mariners in a gripping climax.


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