Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A -League, round nine round-up

The four games

Central Coast Mariners 2 v Perth Glory 1; blink and you missed it, such was the start for the hosts, a beautifully taken goal by Pondeljak, set up by some direct work from Kwasnik down the right, who crossed to the near post for Pondeljak to flick past Petkovic at the near post, a Viduka-esque finish if ever there was one. Just as Perth had stung Queensland a week earlier at home, so they'd been stung on the road. After three goals last week, suddenly it seemed the Mariners couldn't stop scoring. With Kwasnik, a late inclusion, having his best game of the season (if not his best ever A-League game), combining well with Pondeljak down the right, Central Coast looked good early on. But Perth eventually settled down and looked particularly good after the break, with Colosimo pulling the strings in a new advanced central midfield role. With Tarka out, Webster was moved to left back, with the replacement Paul Pezos anchoring the midfield. It allowed Colosmio to roam forward and he was excellent, combining with the impressive Pezos to dominate Spencer and McMaster. After equalising when Despotovski followed up an impressive Colosimo hit, Perth looked the likeliest to take all three points. Then came the game's turning point, the sickening leg injury to Petkovic and the replacement of Colosimo, which allowed the Mariners back in, and pushed them above the Glory, within striking distance of the top four. How quickly things turn.

Sydney FC 1 v Melbourne Victory 2; like Friday night, this was a game decided in the main by a couple of key injuries to the team that was on top at the time. This time it was the hosts, Sydney, who dominated the first half, playing their best football since round six in Adelaide and thier best football at home for the season. Pressing Melbourne high up the pitch and squeezing the Melbourne midfield trio of Muscat, Brebner and Fred through their own central trio of Milligan, McFlynn and Corica, Sydney were able to boss the first period. With Brosque (left) and Zadkovich (right) helping Petrovski press, Sydney were able to put more pressure on the Melbourne defence than they have had to deal with all season, and they only just managed to cope. Vargas was having an off night, failing to step out of the line to deny Corica room for the opener, but he wasn't the only one. Melbourne were failing to clear their defensive line and turning over the ball. Perhaps Sydney had seen something in how Newcastle had played the Victory a couple of weeks earlier, but they will have also seen in that game than Melbourne have resolve and belief. So when Corica and Milligan, both instrumental in FC's domination, limped off in a ten minute period before the break, the competition leaders had a sniff. With Brockie and Talay on and Butcher forced to rejig his unit (Brockie went to the right and Zadkovich moved infield, behind Petrovski and ahead of McFlynn and Talay), suddenly Sydney looked less potent. Merrick had also switched Caceres from left to right shortly before the break in order to thwart Ceccoli from getting forward. Now it was Melbourne holding the aces, and with Fred freed to roam down the left and combine with Thompson, suddenly Sydney's defence looked leaky, as it had been for much of the season. Just as they'd done against Newcastle, Melbourne had been able to absorb and hit on the counter, proving they pack the punch up front to trouble most teams. While Sydney came back strongly, they couldn't get in behind, Vargas as brilliant in the second period as he was poor in the first. In driving rain, the visiting supporters were buzzing, and keen to rub it in to the Sydney faithful.

Queensland Roar 0 v Newcastle Jets 1; two from two and counting, what a turnaround from two weeks ago when they were bottom, winless and the coach had just been sacked. Without Okon, van Egmond shifted things around, tightening things up at the back by moving North infield to partner Durante, Thompson to left back and Steve Eagleton into right back. Kohler was moved into defensive central midfield, forming a screening presence alongside Musalik, allowing Carle to play furthjer up thje pitch, closer to the front trio of Griffiths, Coveny and Rodriguez, a formidable attack for sure. While it was the Roar who dominated the first half as Newcastle got their bearings at the back, finally the Jets had a bit of the luck that had deserted them for most of the season, surviving two good chances to Milicic and Reinaldo, before hitting the Roar with one of their first attacks, Rodriguez sending two defenders the wrong way and feeding Coveny, who sat Ognenovksi on the ground and blasted past Willis at the near post. Great front play, but poor goalkeeping to be beaten at the near post, further evidence why Bleiberg's rotation of the goalkeepers hasn't worked. The second half was completely different, the Jets playing their best football of the season, strong at the back (led by Durante) and effective going forward with Carle, Kohler and Rodriguez pulling the strings. Great early signs under van Egmond, now only three points outside the four, but as captain Carle said afterward, it will mean little if they can't back this performance up.

Adelaide United 4 v New Zealand Knights 2; no surprise to see Nevin shake the team up, giving Adam Casey (who looked good as a second half substitute last week) a run up front alongside Victorian state league short term signing Fernando Morales. But Kosmina, banished from the sidelines, had also pulled a couple of surprises, leaving Qu out all together and starting Dodd on the bench as he kept faith with impressive youngsters Burns and Spagnuolo. And once again it was these youngsters, combining beautifully with veterans like Veart and Petta, who provided the spark for a dominant first half display. Some of the football had to be seen to be believed, Adelaide stringing pass after pass as the likes of Owens, Burns and Petta controlled the tempo of the game and moved the Knights around. With Spagnuolo giving Beazley a torrid time and Veart and Burns combining beautifully, Petta was able to roam around as he pleased and run amock. Spagnuolo provided a lovely cross for the first, before Petta played in Veart with a perfectly timed ball for the second as the Knights were exposed for a lack of pace. They didn't let up after the break, Burns turning one in behind Beazley for Spagnuolo to find Petta. 3-0 and cruising, it looked a matter of by how many, but then New Zealand clicked, Adelaide dropped a gear, and the likes of Casey and Buari started troubling United with their direct approach. Two quick goals involving substitute Hickey and suddenly the hosts were rocking, cue for a brilliant constructed winner involving an Aloisi ball to the left for Burns to place delightfully onto the head of substitute Dodd. Adelaide had made harder work of the win than necessary to go second, but played some delightful football on the way. As for the Knights, they were shot by their own poor defending in the first half, but at least they had a go.

Some of the other talking points

Travelling the extra mile; good on every one of those 500 or so Melbourne Victory fans for making the trip up north, despite bringing the weather with you. Passionate and loud, it created some excellent atmosphere and colour at Aussie stadium and added to the occassion. Nothing like some travelling fans to flame the passions, as we saw at the Telstra Dome and Gosford in round eight.

Hamstrung; as if to prove that things happen in three's, Colosimo's hammy was followed by two more on Saturday night, Corica and Milligan joining him on the sidelines for at least a little while. The pity is that all three were playing really well at the time.

Good pragmatic stuff; hindsight is a wonderful thing, but van Egmond's more balanced formation in the absence of Okon played a huge hand in the win. Rarely have the Jets played with two sitting central midfielders this season, but combined with the back four, there were inevitably six bodies behind the ball, making it difficult for the Roar to break them down. Collectively it was a brilliant in-synch performance, very organised. Not bad for two week's work.

What to do with Chad? it appears to be a question dominating Bleiberg's thoughts. With Seo back in the middle due to the absence of Murdocca, why not give Gibson an opportunity at right back. It would mean shifting Packer to the left and dropping Buess, hardly a big loss given he continues to disappoint. After struggling last season, he had a rare opportunity to impress on Sunday, but failed to deliver.

Tommy P for perfect; not surprisingly, the Mariners have a much more potent look abut them with Pondeljak starting and scoring. The unluckiest player not to play more games for the Socceroos, he does look to be struggling a bit with injury, so imagine what he can do if McKinna can get him fully fit.

Goal of the week; while there were some gems from Corica, Coveny, Petta and Dodd, hard to go past the first of the week from the abovementioned Pondeljak, a clever little back heel at the near post from a Kwasnik cross. He showed great improvisation and brilliant technique.

Save of the week; when Melbourne were under the pump early on, Theoklitos had to produce one sharp piece of work at the near post to keep out a Vargas attempted clearance that looked like being and own goal.


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