Sunday, September 10, 2006

A -League, round three round-up

The four games

Adelaide United 5 v Newcastle Jets 1; after suffering two disappointing losses to start the season, there may have been a temptation for John Kosmina to flog his charges ahead of this crucial game. Instead, reasoning that they were jaded from all the travel of the past few weeks and the exertions of winning the pre-season cup, he gave them a light week. It proved a clever move as United raced to a 3-0 lead within half an hour. Clearly freshened and pumped up, and with a number of key alterations to the formation and line-up, Adelaide was too hot to handle for Jets side that appeared to second-guess itself. Kosmina finally sorted out some issues with Angelo Costanzo, who was outstanding as a replacement for the injured Mike Valkanis, while he went back to the 4-4-1-1 that served him so well last year, getting Shengqing Qu and Fernando Rech closer to each other. Newcastle, meanwhile, shifted Paul Okon from defence to midfield, relegating Stuart Musalik and promoting Steven Old alongside Andrew Durante. Whether this was a response to the skipper’s preference or a reaction to his vital mistakes last week, it proved to be an error. While Stuart Musalik hasn’t the presence yet to control games, his performance against Queensland last week was among his best, and Newcastle should have won but for their defensive errors. There was hardly the need for an overhaul, unless of course it’s what Okon prefers. Judging by his defensive work for the first goal, not tight enough on Rech from a brilliant Jason Spagnuolo delivery, perhaps his comfort levels at the back have waned. Indeed, man marking has never been his greatest asset; he is a creator rather than a negator. Regardless, the change in the Jets central defensive two, coupled with Adelaide’s re-shaped front two, shaped the outcome, Qu’s strength drawing a number of fouls from Old that the host were able to profit from. With Spagnuolo also troubling Labinot Haliti, and the Jets expansive game playing into Adelaide’s hands it appeared a case of by how many. The second half was even more open as both sides created chance after chance. While Newcastle could only convert one, they troubled Adelaide’s back four on occasions, giving Kosmina more to work on. While he’ll be happy with the performances of the front two, he would also have taken heart from some of the touches from substitute Bobby Petta. Nick Theodorakopoulos, meanwhile, has much to work on, particularly in building confidence and organisation at the back and deciding where Okon will play. Errors have blighted the Jets season to date, and it seems to be infectious, Ben Kennedy and Durante joining the fray.

Central Coast Mariners 0 v Queensland Roar 0; given the atrocious conditions, with Bluetongue Stadium one giant puddle, this was a decent affair, particularly as the hosts continued trying to play, despite the obvious obstacle. On a pitch so water logged, it is tempting to simply resort to pumping the ball forward and hoping for some scraps around the box. Of the two sides, Queensland were ones resorting to route one, perhaps because they were getting some change out of a Mariners defence that looks more pedestrian than last season. Last year they were fleet of foot particularly with Michael Beauchamp and Andrew Clark central, and Dean Heffernan on the left. But this season, with Clark playing on the right (he was injured for this game) and the central duties shared between Alex Wilkinson, Tony Vidmar and Paul O’Grady, they look a little slower, and were caught out by the shrewd Roar marksmen Simon Lynch on a number of occasions. Had he had his finishing boots on, the Mariners might have paid. While they had problems at the back, the Mariners looked better in midfield, with Andre Gumprecht starting well and Tom Pondeljak getting better as the game went on. Twice he hit the cross-bar in the second period, the first from a sublime dink over Liam Reddy, made more impressive by the fact he was on the run, and in such poor conditions. In the truth the Mariners need the likes of Pondeljak, Gumprecht and John Hutchinson to fire in front of goal, particularly with both Stewart Petrie and Adam Kwasnik struggling to find the net, and Nick Mrdja yet to taste action. Ultimately it would have been harsh on either side to lose this one, but it is a point that suits the Roar more than the hosts.

New Zealand Knights 0 v Melbourne Victory 3; while Melbourne had won both homes games, this first road trip would be a massive test, particularly against a confident and combative Knights outfit, but it was one they passed with distinction, putting behind the dramas over Fred and turning on a superb first half display. Many of the questions before the game were around whether the Victory’s new-look midfield could compete the with the Knights trio of Richard Johnson, Jonas Salley and Scot Gemmill, and Ernie Merrick surprised by bringing Steve Pantelidis in to stiffen the midfield. With Kevin Muscat, Grant Brebner and Pantelidis providing the steel and craft, it allowed the front two of Danny Allsopp and Archie Thompson to run riot, toying with NZ’s back four and taking turns to create and score. First Thompson danced and slid one through to Allsopp, before the league’s leading scorer (yes, you read right) returned the favour. While both were brilliant, Thompson’s return to form was a welcome one for Melbourne, his goal simply superb (read more below), his workrate excellent and his feet so assured in such trying conditions. They were well supported in attack by Kristian Sarkies, given his first run for the injured Alessandro. He played a delightful role in the first before doing what he does best, whipping in a Beckham-esque set-piece that caught Danny Milosevic out for the third. He wasn’t the first and won’t be the last keeper to be caught out by Sarkies’ right foot. What was so impressive about this Victory performance was the link play between defence, midfield and attack, in synch and on song. If it continues, the Knights won’t be the only team on the end of a hiding.

Perth Glory 1 v Sydney FC 1; a classic tale of two halves as the visitors put aside all their off field issues and dominated the opening exchange. Playing the diamond midfield 4-4-2 that Terry Butcher appears to favour for the second week straight, they had Steve Corica at the head of the diamond, in behind Sasho Petrovski and David Zdrilic, pulling all the strings. With Ufuk Talay (left) and Mark Milligan (right) tucked in, it allowed both Iain Fyfe and particularly Alvin Ceccoli to press forward and dominate the flanks. With Perth strangely reverting to a 4-4-2 this week (last weeks they played with width in a 4-3-3), their narrowness played into Sydney’s hands, and Ceccoli in particular was rarely touched. Perth played very deep, which not only allowed Sydney to come on but ensured that there was a massive gap between their own midfield and attacking two of Leo Bertos and Stuart Young, who were isolated for large parts of the first half. Sydney deserved their lead, a delightful weighted Corica cross finding Petrovski, but Ron Smith and David Mitchell reacted well at the break, pushing right-back Jamie Coyne further up the pitch to stop Ceccoli bombing forward. They also pushed Leo Bertos out to the left to stop Fyfe, and defending higher up the pitch. Suddenly Perth were in control, and with Stan Lazaridis resuming his love affair with A-League second halves, it was the hosts asking all the questions. Uncharacteristically, Clint Bolton failed to answer one particular Bertos cross, running into his own defender and allowing Coyne to head into an empty net. Back came Sydney, who had a legitimate Corica goal disallowed for off-side, somewhat summing up a wretched week.

Some other talking points

Any thoughts of a Coastponement? While all four games were affected by the inclement conditions, the worst ground of the lot was Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford on Saturday night. Often players would try and find a team-mate only metres away, only for the ball the stop dead in a puddle on its way there. It’s a credit to both sides that they played on, and played reasonably well and cleanly, but the FFA did neither of them any favours by allowing the match to go ahead. As was the case in the Adelaide vs New Zealand round six match at North Harbour last season, the match became a lottery, the only positive being that it ended in a stalemate and there was no repeat of the farcical Shengqing Qu goal that decided the abovementioned United-Knights clash. Perhaps there is a scope to postpone matches as often happens in European leagues, giving teams a fair and reasonable opportunity to achieve a result.

Crowds duck for cover; given the rain, no surprise to find all four matches attract under 10,000. All four clubs would have been banking on bigger than normal gates, particularly given that both Perth and New Zealand were looking to build on the momentum of last week’s wins, while Adelaide and the Mariners were at home for the first time this campaign. The Mariners especially had terrible luck with the rain last season and will be hoping the sun shines on their remaining home fixtures.

Flag-happy assistants; round two saw a remarkable number of off-sides given when they should have been ignored, but none were as crucial to the outcome of the match as today’s howler at Members Equity, when Steve Corica was denied a clear goal at the back post after Aleks Vrteski had saved Mark Milligan’s initial shot. After feeling aggrieved last week, Terry Butcher had a clear reason to by fuming after this one.

Goal of the week; it was a week of great goals. Adelaide scored a couple of beauties, Mark Bridge’s was nice, Melbourne’s first to Danny Allsopp was beautifully constructed, and Sydney’s goal was nicely worked, but for sheer composure and pin-point accuracy, hard to go past Archie Thompson’s finish. When the ball was played forward from midfield, Allsopp cushioned a first time ball into the run of Thompson. It drew Danny Milosevic off his line, but Thompson’s sharpness beat him to it and took him to the byline. Surely there was no room to sneak it in! Try telling Thompson, who finally kicked off his campaign with one to remember.

Save of the week; not for the first time Scot Simon Lynch was in behind the Mariners defence and looking likely to steal all three points for the Roar, but his 85th minute effort was well kept out by Danny Vukovic, perhaps a vital stop in the context of the Mariners season.

Move of the week; John Kosmina reportedly missed a connecting flight to Kuwait, but it allowed him to stay behind and prepare for Friday’s nights crucial clash with the Jets. He pulled all the right moves, giving the team a light preparation, pushing Rech closer to Qu and bringing Angelo Costanzo in from the start. Even Jason Spagnuolo starting ahead of Greg Owens worked a treat.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

4 reasons why Sydney will fail this year:
Zdrilic, Talay, McFlynn, Bingley


Mon. Sep. 11, 07:03:00 pm AEST  
Blogger Mike Salter said...

Great summary Tony, always enjoy reading your wraps.

This problem of the flag-happy linesmen is just not going to go away. It's a worldwide problem, of course, but I can't help feeling that the A-League linesmen are worse than most.

And they ALWAYS favour the defending side in borderline cases.

Mon. Sep. 11, 08:05:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Mike, thanks for the comment and support....

Hard to disagree with any of that, let's just hope it's early season cob-webs and the standard will improve.

Rd 3 wasn't as bad as rd 2 (but for the crucial Corica goal), but if it's frustrating for us viewers, imaging what it's like for the attackers on the end of the decision.

You're right though, most assistants do err on the side of caution.

Let's hope no A-League calls are as bad as that decision in Brazil overnight when the ball-boy scored, comical stuff.

Thu. Sep. 14, 10:19:00 pm AEST  

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