Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A -League, round 10 round-up

The four games

New Zealand Knights 0 v Melbourne Victory 4; Paul Nevin put out his most attacking formation of the season to date, but little could disguise the clear gulf in class between his side and the competition front runners. Melbourne has turned on a thrilling first half performance in the third round clash between these two sides back in September, but on this night it wasn't till the second half that they turned it on, the front four of Caceres (left), Thompson and Allsopp (up front) and Fred (floating), simply too skilful, classy and mobile for a Knights rearguard that would struggle in most state leagues. Watching Darren Bazeley has been one of the most painful experiences for the past season and a half, yet he somehow manages to captain this unit. Equally as frustrating has been the work of Greg Duruz. Both were terribly sloppy in distribution on this night, particularly as the Victory defended from the front by pressing them high (which resulted in the second goal, expertly taken by Thompson after great work from Fred). With the Knights constantly turning over the ball in their own half, little wonder the Victory were able to pin them back and string the passes. The third goal was particularly pleasing on the eye, eight passes involving the likes of Allsopp, Storey, Fred, Caceres and Brebner, before he played in Caceres and caught the Knights slow and square. While it was against the Knights, it was arguable one of the best team goals scored in the A-League, typifying everything that is nice about the Victory at the moment - unison, movement, passing and ruthlessness. As with the final goal, it also demonstrated everything is is bad about the Knights - hanging off in midfield, not getting close enough to the ball player and allowing players to run off the ball without being picked up (Gemmill was one of the most guilty). Major concerns.

Newcastle Jets 2 v Adelaide United 1; if the above match featured one of the best A-League team goals, than this one featured probably the best individual one yet, Carle's stunning late winner (more on that below in 'goal of the week'). While it came after a controversial late incident at the other end, there is little doubt the Jets deserved their third win on the trot after another dominant performance, as indicated by almost every stat other than the scoreboard. Possession, time in opposition half, shots of goal, corners, you name it, everything was pointing in Newcastle's favour. Playing the same 4-2-1-3 of a week earlier, they absolutely dominated the opening period and deserved much more than parity. Catching the United defence high and square, the Jets were able to create countless 1 v 1 situations, especially through the lightning pace of Griffiths down the right, who gave van Dommele (mysteriously ahead of Goulding) one hell of a working over. It is a mystery why a United defence, which featured two big, fairly slow stoppers (Valkanis and Rees) played so high in the first period, as they were constantly turned around, Coveny finally profiting. Indeed, Adelaide's defence has looked far from rock solid this season (especially when Costanzo has been out), and they have particularly been poor on the road, other than in that impressive trip to Melbourne. Lucky to go into the break square after a moment of madness from the otherwise faultless Okon, United defended deeper in the second half, tightening things up considerably. While Carle and Rodriguez continued to combine beautifully, there seemed no way through, and the curse of the defensive error almost brought the Jets unstuck again. This time it was goalkeeper Kennedy, otherwise excellent, who failed to get to an Aloisi free-kick, forcing North to bail him out and get sent off. For once, luck was on their side, Veart lifting one over the bar in a fashion that would have made the watching Joey Johns proud. Then came Carle's moment of a inspiration, that would have made the other watching celeb, Harry Kewell, even more proud, a goal befitting not only the excellence of the watching duo, but Newcastle's play.

Queensland Roar 1 v Central Coast Mariners 1; if ultimate justice was served by the result at Energy Australia the night before, than the Roar will feel that luck is currently deserting them. After some stuttering stuff of late, this was a mucg better performance from the hosts, ultimately undone by their own poor finishing and some typically brilliant work between the sticks from young Vukovic. Like the Jets, the Roar dominated most of the key stats, but they were unable to grab a late winner despite throwing everything at Vukovic. Twice he made stunning stops, first to deny the excellent Packer (when he was moved to the right flank) sharp to his right, before flying to his top left hand corner to tip-over a Wedau drive. But perhaps the moment that will haunt the Roar the most came a few moments earlier, a remarkable miss from McKay after he was brilliantly played in by Zhang. While Queensland struggled to breach a determined Mariners defence, earlier in the match it was their own defence being pulled apart by the strength of Mori, who got physical with McCloughan and left him for dead. Indeed, Mori troubled the McCloughan/Ognenovski combination more than most have done this season. But the Roar remained patient and fought back, the impressive Reinaldo rewarded with an impressive leap for the equaliser and an even more impressive celebration. If they continuing performing like this, there is hope they will arrest a recent slump.

Sydney FC 1 v Perth 1; like the Jets and Roar, the home side dominated this one, at least in terms of possession, if not chances. Pressing Perth high and working extremely hard all over the pitch, Butcher's most attacking formation of the season was able to control the midfield against a Perth that appeared to miss Colosimo. Talay and Brosque combined well in the first half, helped by Middleby and Zadkovich on either flank and the hard work of Petrovski and Zdrilic up front. Not giving Lazaridis or Bertos any space also worked a treat. But while they were winning the ball early, too often Sydney were giving it straight back through their own poor passing, particularly from right and left back. It meant for a fairly sloppy contest, neither side able to string three and four passes together consistently. Perth in particular were struggling to clear their defence, and Sydney should have better capitalised in the first half. While they weren't creating too many chances, the half bites they had were invariably rushed. The second period was much better for the visitors and they should have had a goal early on when the assistant linesman incorrectly flagged that a free-kick had been deflected into Despotovski's path by a Perth teammate (it had come off Rudan). Sydney fans who had felt aggrieved by Corica's disallowed goal in round three had their square-up. Despotovski could only laugh at the decision, but later on he was laughing for a different reason, gliding past three Sydney defenders before playing in Glavas with a delightfuly weighted ball. The player who had shown such poise in the NSW premier league grand final was finally given a decent run (due to an early Young injury) and showed he knows how to find the back of the net with a superbly taken first time finish. Short of alternatives off the bench, Sydney had no answer, and the match finished in a stalemate.

Some other talking points

Crowds fluctuate; if two wins on the trot plus the added feature of Kewell attracted Newcastle's biggest crowd of the season, than Sydney's smallest crowd to date was perhaps an indication of the growing malaise at the way they are playing under Butcher. While the climb in ticket prices after one season doesn't help, a few wins would certainly change that. Elsewhere, the Queensland crowd was down, but that was as much to do with a late change in the fixture (originally scheduled for Hindmarsh).

Knights-mare continues; after a promising finish last week, more was expected this week from New Zealand, but after a reasonable first half, they just crumbled in the second. At least the North Harbour pitch has improved, but that only helped the better passing team on this night.

Victory march on; no Muscat, no worries. In steps Pantelidis to help Brebner, Caceres and Fred dominate the midfield, proving that depth is a feature of this squad. After a stutter two weeks ago, they are back into stride, 11 points clear.

Mid-table congestion; behind Melbourne only five points seperates second from second last. Adelaide will need improve on the road, the Roar need to find the right combination up front while Sydney need to find some combination all round. At the moment, only the Jets are playing anywhere near the standard set by Melbourne, but none of the teams will want to peak too early. Only half-way through the season, Melbourne still have work to do.

Save of the week; despite a late mistake which almost cost three points, Kennedy had his best games to date, making two excellent saves to deny Qu and Valkanis, but Vukovic is hard to top for save of the week. Take you pick from his reflex block to deny Packer or his flying save to keep out Wedau. For me it's the later, simply spectacular.

Goal of the week; again some absolute crackers, including Mori shaking off McCloughan and Caceres's beautiful team goal, as described above, but it will be hard to top Carle's climax at Energy Australia, even for goal of the year. Boxed deep in the corner, Matt Thompson did brilliantly to find some space to clear the ball forward. Coming off Petta's head, it went square into central midfield, where Carle did well to drag Aloisi under the ball. Suddenly Aloisi was on the wrong side and Carle had space to drive, and while Spagnuolo tried to track back, Griffiths did well to provide the sheild, allowing Carle to drive at a retreating United defence. His finish with the outside of the left peg from the edge of the box was top-notch.


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