Monday, September 04, 2006

A-League, round two round-up

The four games

Newcastle Jets 2 v Queensland Roar 3; once known as Marathon, Newcastle’s home ground became Mistakeathon on Friday night as every one of the five goals was a result of sloppy defending. The game promised attacking football and for the first 45 minutes it delivered, with both sides playing an expansive game with room to move, turn and create things. It was a welcome relief from the dour and pragmatic football that pervades the world, two managers prepared to have a real go at each other, long may it continue. The Jets in particular were bombing forward at every opportunity, leaving themselves exposed at the back. When the mistakes eventually came, the defenders couldn’t recover. The first goal was a classic example, Shane Webb and Vaughan Coveny getting in each others’ way near the half-way line, coughing up possession and leaving Paul Okon and Andrew Durante exposed to a quick Roar counter, with Ante Milicic setting Reinaldo free. Even the second came via a quick counter, with Liam Reddy setting Andrew Packer free, who played Reinaldo in with an early ball in behind Shane Webb, his cross causing Okon major embarrassment. Even the Roar made a couple of howlers, Chad Gibson and Reddy getting their wires crossed from a long Durante ball, before Massimo Murdocca and Sasa Ognenovski went to sleep from a Matt Thompson throw, allowing Mark Bridge to equalise. Not surprisingly, the second half was much tighter, with both sides resorting to some orderly shape in midfield. While Newcastle deserved at least a point, possibly all three, they were ultimately undone by a second Okon error, allowing the hitherto quiet Simon Lynch to poach the winner. A hard one for the Jets to swallow, but they have themselves to blame.

New Zealand Knights 1 v Adelaide United 0; if Friday night was an open and flowing contest, played on a lush surface, than this Saturday lunchtime fair dished up the opposite, tight and physical, played on another bumpy North Harbour pitch, just the right formula for an upset. And so it was, the Knights turning on another committed and organised display, not pretty, but effective. What was pretty was the late winner, a sublime strike by the tireless left sided Ghanaian Malik Buari, who cut inside Richie Alagich and shaped a bullet across Robert Bajic into the top corner. John Kosmina surprised yet again by leaving Angelo Costanzo on the bench and starting with the same 4-3-3 shape from last week, the only difference being Fernando Rech starting as the attacking central midfielder, with Greg Owens shifted to the left in place of Jason Spagnuolo. Once again there appeared little fluency in the Adelaide game, and when they did get their odd chances, they were uncharacteristically wasteful. In truth though this was down to the Knights’ ability to match them physically, particularly the central trio of Richard Johnson, Jonas Salley and Scot Gemmill, who never allowed Rech, Ross Aloisi and Carl Veart to get the upper hand in the physical stakes, a characteristic of Adelaide last season. While their style mightn’t do a great deal to attract neutrals, this was a great result for Nevin and his men and will send a huge injection of confidence through the squad. Buari, Johnson, Salley and Gemmill have been prominent in both games and will allow few teams any breathing space.

Melbourne Victory 3 v Sydney FC 2; forced by the unavailability of Olympic Park to take a quantum leap to Telstra Dome, this was a huge win for the Victory, both on an off the pitch, with 40,000 fans investing their faith in the future of the game. On the pitch it was a controversial encounter but one that Melbourne deserved to win. The hosts appeared up for it from the moment Danny Allsopp shook off a couple of lazy Sydney defenders around the 18 yard box and honed in on Clint Bolton. A few moments later he had his reward with a tap-in from a controversial rehearsed corner move, with Adrian Leijer illegally blocking off Robbie Middleby, freeing up space for Kevin Muscat, then Daniel Piorkowski to find the much maligned striker. Soon after the silky-smooth Alessandro was released down the left, Iain Fyfe powerless the keep up, forcing Bolton off his line. The hero from last week, Bolton’s contact was minimal, but Muscat’s finish was clinical. Sydney were slow out of the gates, perhaps evidence the Dwight Yorke saga had taken a toll. Seemingly, Yorke’s departure has at least forced a major re-think from the coaching staff, starting the game with a 4-4-2 when much the pre-season had seen them adopt a 4-2-3-1. Clearly frustrated by the deficit and Alessandro’s toying with Fyfe, Rudan soon snapped, lashing out at the Brazilian when calm was needed from the captain. Sydney refused to surrender and made a game of it, but when Melbourne eventually figured out that you move the ten men around by remaining patient and keeping the ball, they looked comfortable enough. There was time for a late goal a piece and one regrettable moment that will hog much of the headlines in the next day or so. When Steve Corica played a ball back to Bolton on the hour, Fred made a sprint to shut the keeper down, only for Mark Milligan to make a move seemingly aimed at blocking off the run. It was unnecessary stuff from the Socceroo, but even less necessary was the elbow that followed, connecting in a nasty area. True enough, there is no room for elbows in the game, and Fred will have to do his time, but in any incident it takes two to tango, and Milligan wasn’t entirely innocent.

Perth Glory 2 v Central Coast Mariners 0; the performance of the round, this was the Glory as they once were, untouchable on home soil. While the first goal was tainted in controversy, referee Craig Zetter allowing Simon Colosimo to take a free kick before the Mariners wall was set, it was no less than Perth deserved. All over the park they were too slick and committed for a Mariners unit that appeared jaded. After struggling to see out last week’s away trip to Queensland, Perth powered home in this one, coach Ron Smith showing he is learning quick, recognising the need to play through the talented Colosimo. Foxsports commentator Simon Hill touched on a conversation with Smith during the week where the Perth boss is reported to have recognising the need to utilise Colosimo’s constructive ability. It is a significant move away from last season when Colosimo and his fellow midfielders were often bypassed as the defenders looked long. Suddenly Perth were passing and moving with purpose and pace, Leo Bertos and Stan Lazaridis terrorising the Mariners defence and midfield with their speed and dribbling ability. Rarely have the Gosford outfit looked so out of sorts.

Some other talking points

Upside down table; so much for the status quo of last season, a look at the table proves the other four teams are catching up quick. Indeed, but for Sydney’s better goal difference over Perth (one goal), the bottom four from last year would be occupying the top four spots. It’s early days, but it confirms that the hard work is paying off and the top four from last season and this pre-season will have to pull the finger out quick smart.

Goal of the week; there could only be one, Malik Buari’s 88th minute screamer which illuminated a game that had appeared destined to be remembered as a scrappy 0-0. Receiving the ball near the left sideline, he skipped inside Richie Alagich, created some room with another touch and fired a rocket across Robert Bajic, giving him no hope. It brought back memories of Noel Spencer’s strike against Perth Glory early last season.

Save of the week; while he couldn’t touch Buari’s strike, earlier in the half Robert Bajic pulled off a superb save at his near post to deny Sean Devine, getting down quickly to his left and getting enough glove to divert it for a corner, sharp work.

The return the Stan the Man; last week he got better as the game went on and ditto yesterday, Lazaridis proving he has much to offer the league if he can replicate this form. Known for his driving down the left, here he showed he has an added dimension to his game, driving through the centre of midfield on more than one occasion. Indeed, it was his slalom run straight through the heart of the Mariners midfield created the opener, and he didn’t stop there, getting a couple of strikes on goal.

Pre-season efforts take a toll? Both pre-season finalists, Adelaide and the Mariners, sit bottom of the table without a point, no goals scored and three conceded. How quickly things change. While others were able to freshen up in the week or two before the season proper, these two clubs were at full tilt, and may be paying the price. No doubt both will be looking forward to being back at home this weekend. Perhaps it’s little coincidence John Kosmina isn’t off to Kuwait.

Crowd pleasers; while 40 odd thousand fans made the Telstra Dome sojourn a smashing success, there would be more concern at the other three venues, with Newcastle and Perth attracting just over 7,000 and the Knights just over 4,000. Certainly if Perth and Newcastle keep playing the attractive football they dished up on the weekend, and the results follow, there is hope they can nudge towards the 10,000 mark consistently, while the Knights continue to gain credibility and can test the impact of their first home win immediately this weekend.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice wrap and great to see a bit of balance on the Fred-Milligan incident. I also picked up on Milligan's move towards Fred and saw the elbow as a reponse to this move. But I agree with you, no room for elbows in the game. I would say he deserves 2 to 3 weeks.

But overall the officiating in this game was bad, Mark shield missed more than he saw, and he's meant to be our number one ref.

Tue. Sep. 05, 08:46:00 am AEST  
Anonymous dhd said...

Again Tony, its great to read your intelligent notes on the weekend just gone, particularly when for a non-Fox viewer its hard to get a sense fo what happeneded in other games from any other media.

Fred's elbow on Milligan was pure madness, regardless of whether or not Milligan blocked his run. The decision to A) not show these events on the screen in the stadium, and B) not refer to them in match reviews is unbelievably frustrating. In a 1000 word review of Saturday night's game on the Victory site, there was no space for a single word on Leijer's NFL class block play to set up Melbourne's first goal, nor Fred's moment of stupidity.

Today there is the tough talk "We will defend Fred" ( What's to defend? He lashed out an elbow, if he made contact he should take a break. From my perspective in the crowd it was unclear what kind of contact he made as Milligan didn't visibly recoil, but a throat contact is not out of the question.

The upside of this is that Merrick will, i hope, be forced to play Kristian Sarkies.

Does anyone know why the benches are limited to 4 players given that the others on the list are not permitted to play elsewhere?

Tue. Sep. 05, 09:26:00 am AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

dhd, thanks for your support and contribution...

I can concur with your thoughts re the lack of a replay in the stadium, frustrating, but it has become the way of the world. Also agree there is no excuse for the use of an elbow on the field, simply wanted to point out what had been overlooked by many, Milligan's movement to block off his run, it was also unnecessary. It does happen all the time, but an elbow is a cheap response.

As for Leijer's move, I was wondering for a second if the NBL screen had been introduced to the game, it would have made a few of the players in Japan proud.

Will be interesting to see how Merrick adjusts, if, as it seems, Fred is rubbed out. Looking at his bench and substitutions the first 2 weeks, it wouldnt surprise if Claudinho was his direct replacement, but like you I'd like to see how much Sarkies has learnt from his time in an around the national team and would like to see him given some time.

I also enjoyed seeing Alessandro given free license to roam, the A-league needs to encourage this type of player, not stifle him.

Tue. Sep. 05, 12:12:00 pm AEST  

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