Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A-League, round six round-up

The four games

New Zealand Knights 0 v Central Coast Mariners 1; if the round five clash between the Knights and Sydney was the worst A-League game on record, than this one wasn’t far behind. Two teams desperate to add three points to their stuttering campaigns played with constraint, as if a loss would end their seasons. No surprise then that a sloppy contest, bereft of constructive attack, ensued, neither side able to string four or five passes together consistently. Indeed, the hosts seemed prepared to knock aimless long balls up to Portuguese striker Dani Rodriguez, said to be a flair player, hoping he could shield the ball and allow the likes of Noah Hickey to join in. It was never going to work, the long balls effortlessly dealt with by Paul O’Grady, who thrives on the stuff. Playing their 5-3-2, the Knights made life difficult for the Mariners at the other end, defending deep and not allowing Damien Mori much room to exploit, but, based on this performance, the visitors are clearly struggling and will be mightily relieved to come away from this game with their first three points after the game exploded in the final 10 minutes on the back of a Darren Bazeley error. While the penalty decision was line-ball, it is hard to have sympathy for a team who set out to scrap their way to points, and show little appreciation of the need to entertain, particularly at home. While the bumpy pitch doesn’t help, it tends to suit to Knights style of play, ugly, making it difficult for opposition teams to come to Auckland and play. Of the five teams to visit, only the Melbourne Victory has managed to play decent football, and that was for only 45 minutes. Despite that, the Mariners appear to lack confidence and continue to drop far too deep in defence, making life difficult for their own midfielders.

Newcastle Jets 0 v Perth Glory 3; another crucial encounter, the Jets came into it minus a number of experienced players including Paul Okon, Vaughan Coveny and Joel Griffiths, and after competing for the first 20 or so minutes, were hopelessly second best for the remainder. Indeed, Nick Theodorakopoulos is said to have had only 12 fit players for the match, Adam D’Apuzzo starting despite having a toe operation earlier in the week. After staring well in the holding role, D’Apuzzo soon faded out of the match as Simon Colosimo and Adrian Webster took control of the midfield, despite a numerical disadvantage. After a couple of disappointing performances on the trot, Perth was clearly up for this match an worked incredibly hard all over the pitch. The move of Naum Sekolovski to left back, forced by the absence of Ante Kovacevic, which shifted David Tarka infield, gave the Glory better balance at the back, allowing Sekolovski to join Perth’s midfield when he ventured forward. Suddenly Perth had some attacking potency from the back and, in combining well with Stan Lazaridis, Perth were able to dominate the left side. Ditto on the right side, where Leo Bertos was too much for Tarek Elrich. With Newcastle stretched, it allowed room for Stuart Young and the returning Bobby Despotovksi to test the Jets back three, with Steven Old in particular struggling to cope. While Perth was stretching Newcastle, the Jets played far too narrow, attacking through the middle and defending far too deep. They played right into Perth’s hands, allowing them to stay compact and then spring forward with width. Clearly they are down on confidence, and while Theodorakopoulos continues to remain positive in front of the microphone, no doubt he’s scratching his head trying to come up with his first win, pre-season included.

Melbourne Victory 4 v Queensland Roar 1; another thrilling football occasion at the Telstra Dome with over 25,000 fans appreciating the positive football on offer. Once again the Victory did their bit with a impressive start, the front two of Danny Allsopp and Archie Thompson continuing their brilliant recent form. They were joined by the returning Fred, and together they caused the re-jigged Queensland defence all sorts of problems. The first goal was simply sublime, Allsopp winning the ball and finding Fred, who was helped by some wonderful movement off the ball by Thompson, whose diagonal run dragged two defenders, Chad Gibson and Josh McCloughan, creating the space for Fred to calmly slot past Tom Willis. Soon after the Roar had equalised, Fred was back to his terrorising best, drawing a penalty out of Matt McKay with his quick feet and movement, clearly intent on making up for missing the past three weeks. With Melbourne’s midfield totally dominate, the Roar were all over the place. Miron Bleiberg had been guilty of some over-coaching, tinkering far too much with a team that had been so impressive against Adelaide last week. Perhaps reasoning that the atmosphere may be too much for some of his younger charges, he went with experience all over the pitch, strangely shifting Sasa Ognenovski into midfield and introducing Stuart McLaren and Willis into the rearguard. Even in midfield, their outstanding player of round five, Massimo Murdocca, was relegated to the bench, as Bleiberg reverted back to three up front. Suddenly the defence looked less mobile than it had been, and Thompson, Fred and Allsopp were profiting, turning, teasing and combining well. While the second Melbourne penalty was line-ball (Joel Griffiths will be wondering what Simon Pryzdacz saw in this incident that he didn’t see last week), there was no doubting the Victory’s superiority, with control at the back and in the middle and incisiveness up front. Their ability to build things up with patient passing in midfield has been a trademark since round one, very easy on the eye. Ernie Merrick was at pains to play down the win afterwards, emphasising that the aim is still to make the finals, and his is right. Melbourne needn’t get ahead of itself just yet, but the signs are good.

Adelaide United 1 v Sydney FC 4; a couple of weeks ago Sydney fans were privileged to see Milton Rodriguez make one of the most impressive debuts in Australia football history. Problem for them is it was for the opposition. This time it was their own import, Benito Carbone, who was the star of the show as Sydney eclipsed an Adelaide side clearly missing their front duo of Shengqing Qu and Fernando Rech. Even five minutes into the match, Carbone had shown enough touches to show he still has the quality to make a favourable impression on the A-League. By the end of the match, Carbone had so illuminated the game it was hard not to imagine his arrival re-kindling Sydney’s premiership ambitions. His ball to play in Ruben Zadkovich for Sydney’s opener was a sublime combination of poise, patience, vision, timing and weight. Admittedly Adelaide allowed him too much room to play it, but Zadkovich could have asked for little more, the ball presented on a plate to stroke past Robert Bajic. Late in the match, with the game far from settled, he played an even more audacious ball, a first time back-heel into the path of Sasho Petrovski, beating the well-marshaled Adelaide off-side trap with one masterful flick of the foot. It was the work of a football brain, a throw-back to the days when football wasn’t merely about who could run the hardest or fastest. In truth, Carbone wasn’t the only one responsible for Sydney’s impressive showing. Terry Butcher had re-jigged the formation, reverting back to the fluid 4-2-3-1 (4-5-1) that won the title last year for the first time since their round one win over the Mariners and it highlighted how Sydney look a more mobile and in-synch unit under this system. Admittedly he had the personnel to play it, playing Carbone off David Zdrilic, with Alex Brosque providing the width down the left and Zadkovich down the right, with Mark Milligan looking more comfortable as a twin defensive midfielder alongside Terry McFlynn than he did on the right side of a four man diamond. Just as the Roar had managed to trouble Adelaide by using the flanks last week, so Sydney went wide. Zadkovich, in particular, impressed with his busy workrate and neat work on the ball, while Brosque was also having his best regular season game to date. Suddenly Sydney was the mobile and cohesive unit of the pre-season, not the rigid unit of the past few weeks. With Qu and Rech out, Adelaide had re-shaped things, giving Bobby Petta his first start, in central midfield, moving Greg Owens to left midfield and partnering Carl Veart with Nathan Burns up front. Truth is that Adelaide struggled for cohesion in the first period as Sydney controlled possession. But the second half was different, Petta, Owens, Burns and Veart becoming more involved. Soon enough the latter two carved up Sydney’s central defence with a superb give-and-go, Burns getting his first A-League goal, one to remember. Back came Sydney, putting behind them the dramas of the past month, showing the character that took them to the title last year, the returning Alvin Ceccoli lucky to have a cross turned in by Travis Dodd. Then it was Benito’s stage, combining beautifully with substitute Petrovski, who made a big difference when he came on for Zdrilic, before finally beating the Adelaide trap to get on the end of a gorgeous Milligan ball to round off the scoring. An immaculate first day at the office, offering hope that Sydney can indeed turn on the style so many of its fans crave.

Some other talking points

Attack, attack, attack; while the round didn’t get off to the greatest start in Auckland, at least it got better by the game, with 14 goals in total, an average of 3.5 per game. Hard to complain about that.

Goal of the week; so many good ones including Perth’s third (a lovely run by Leo Bertos past four Newcastle defenders to tee up Stuart Young), Melbourne’s first (a brilliant run off the ball by Archie Thompson, dragging two defenders and creating the space for Fred), Ruben Zadkovich’s opener for Sydney (played in by a sumptuous Carbone ball) and Nathan Burn’s delightful one-two with Carl Veart, but for sheer improvisation, hard to go past Sydney’s third, with Sasho Petrovski playing the ball infield from the left, only for Carbone to flick it over Adelaide’s defence with a first time back-heel, perfectly weighted into the run of Petrovski. Takes a player of supreme vision to see the pass, but a player of even better technique to execute it. It cast the mind back to a corresponding visit last season, when Japanese legend Kazu rounded the Adelaide keeper and, from a tight angle, lifted his left-foot finish off the ground, giving the retreating Mike Valkanis no chance to clear it before it crossed the line. Special stuff from some special pros.

Save of the week; back in the Perth’s starting line-up for the first time this season, Jason Petkovic didn’t have a great deal to do in Newcastle on Friday, but when Milton Rodriguez played in substitute Tolgay Ozbey on the right with a delightful return ball late in the match, Ozbey’s left foot shoot looked headed for the far corner. With the score only 1-0 in Perth’s favour, Petkovic got down sharply, a crucial save in the context of the game and their campaign. Soon enough Perth were down the other end, scoring their second and third.

Time running out for the Knights? surely patience is wearing thin at the FFA re the continuing problems in New Zealand. Only 1600 odd fans at North Harbour Stadium, the lowest A-League crowd on record, and while Sky TV in NZ is to blame for the Thursday nights scheduling, of equal concern is that Paul Nevin and his staff appear to be doing nothing about the quality of football being dished up. When John O’Neil helped launch the A-League, he spoke of a competition built on the principles of entertainment. We are still waiting for an entertaining North Harbour fair.

Instant impact from two of the great men; while he didn’t get too many chance, Damien Mori showed he still knows how to sniff out an opening, hassling Darren Bazeley into error before pouncing and sprinting goal-ward. It was enough to earn the Mariners their first win, money well spent. Meanwhile, his former Perth teammate Bobby Despotovski was back in the starting line-up for the first time and providing what the Glory have missed so far, great link-up play between midfield and attack. Combining beautifully with Stan Lazaridis, he continues to be the key man for the Glory, so good at using the ball.


Blogger Hamish said...

Thankyou Tony. With no slight intended to anybody else, yours is always game-analysis of the week.

Can you give some indication of your process. Clearly there's a long period of previous observation of the teams and players behind you, but how many times do you watch the games?

Wed. Oct. 04, 12:12:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Thanks Hamish for your ongoing interest and support.

Truth is, with two kids under the age of two, the youngest only 3 weeks old, I'm just happy to be watching each game once.

Thu. Oct. 05, 11:33:00 pm AEST  

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