Saturday, December 23, 2006

A-League team of the week, round 17

A LITTLE late, but given that the Chrissy shopping had to be done, kids Santa photos had to be taken, parties had to be attended, drinks had to be drunk, and the fact there's no football of the local variety this weekend, hope the round 17 team of the week still maintains some relavance and interest. It was a brilliant round, 15 goals in total, the highest aggregate of the season, and two brilliant games, on Friday night in Adelaide and the following night on the NSW Central Coast, not to mention the most incredible atmosphere at Olympic Park on Sunday evening. Half my luck that the game I attended, the Thursday night Sydney v Perth clash, was the least enthralling, one for the defenders. No surprise then that two defenders from that game end up in this week's 4-4-2 formation;

Danny Vukovic, CCM, keeper; let in three and possibly may have done better in coming out to meet the corner for the second goal (Vidosic free header), but it could have been so many more for the Roar had it not been for his usual solid work. Two seasons of consistency and this bloke is fast taking ground off Bolton and Covic in the race to be no. 2 behind Schwarzer. Not many games to go this season, but will be interesting to compare his work to Covic between now and the Asia Cup.

Mark Milligan, SFC, right back; while he continued his good form in central defence, versatility gets him a spot here on the right. After a shaky start, looked a natural in the central spot of a back three also comprising Fyfe and Ceccoli. Handled the physical stuff with Harnwell and Young quite comfortably.

Adrian Leijer, MV, central defender; while the 4-0 scoreline might suggest a comfortable night at the back for the Victory, Alen Marcina created his fair share of work for Melbourne's defence, and Leijer was up to it, tackling strongly, following his man tightly and covering the ground well.

David Tarka, PG, central defender; before he was taken off with 15 or so minutes left, was an absolute monster at the back for Perth, looking after Brosque whenever he ventured over into his zone. Not surprisingly, when he did come off, Sydney's Corica found an avenue in the area Tarka had been defending, and the winning goal came from it.

Matt Thompson, NJ, left back; on a losing side, but didn't deserve to be after another impressive performance driving up and down the left flank, setting up the first for Bridge and getting the second himself with a terrific run, one-two and finish. While Spagnuolo got alot of change down the other side, there was less room for Owens. Indeed, so far forward was Thompson that his direct opponent was often Alagich, and he had his measure most of the night. Special mention to Buess, who looked far more comfortable on the left than he did in the central role a week earlier, the best A-League game I remember him having, and Ceccoli, who did his defensive work with the usual lack of fuss.

Dario Vidosic, QR, right midfield; After coming on so impressively in the middle last week against the Jets, started on the right here, drifting all over the place and generally causing Damien Brown a constant headache. After a comfortable header for his first, he used his chest to bring down a wonderful McKay ball and had the composure to side-foot past Vukovic, albeit at the second attempt. Might have had a hat-trick thanks to an acrobatic volley, another bit of sound technique from a player seemingly brought up with the right fundamentals. Take a bow Dad Rado.

Hyuk-Su Seo, QR, defensive central midfield; playing in his rightful place as a holding midfielder, this was the Seo of last season, all over the place, dominating the likes of Gumprecht, Jedinak and McMaster. Combined well with McKay, himself unlucky not to make this team after some excellent drive and distribution.

Mark Bridge, NJ, attacking central midfield; keeping McKay out with another excellent performance to go with his wonderful display up top last week. Playing in the Carle role, in the hole behind Rodriguez, there was a fair bit of pressure for Bridge, but he lapped it up, demanding the ball and running and distributing intelligently. When Griffiths limped off at the break, Bridge went to the right and gave Kemp a torrid time.

Jason Spagnuolo, AU, left midfield; hot to trot, Spagnuolo wasn't content to work over Eagleton, he also wanted a piece of North. So every time he got the ball, he backed himself, dribbling, jinking and dropping the shoulder. For the first goal he left Eagleton and Kohler for dead, before gliding past North. He also beat Eagleton and North physically for the second goal, showing he isn't afraid of the contest, another eye-catching display.

Danny Allsopp, MV, striker; it wasn't just the two goals, the second especially impressive, but his overall workrate, as good as any player in the league this year. If a Socceroos squad was picked now, Allsopp would be high up the pecking order of strikers, alongside Thompson and behind only Viduka and Aloisi (with Kennedy not back to full fitness). Such a pity he won't get to sample Asian Champions League action this season as it is a long time without top-line football between February (end of A-League) and July (start of Asian Cup).

Romario, AU, striker; finally moved one step closer to 1000, albeit with some conjecture, but his overall performance in his final guest stint was top shelf. Dropping off the front line, knowing where to find space, demanding the ball to feet, he used it perfectly almost every time. Might have had himself a second after an excellent late thunderbolt, using limited backlift, that was well blocked by Covic. One over the shoulder flick to and unmarked Burns will live in the memory.

There you have it, the final TRBA team of the week for 2006. Hope you all have a lovely and safe Christmas and hope to touch base again before the year is out. Time to get on with wrapping gifts.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A -League, round 17 round-up

The four games

Sydney FC 1 v Perth Glory 0; bit of a fizzer all round, not helped by Robbie Williams's work over the past couple of weeks. Ron Smith did some tinkering, playing Mark Lee in the problem area of left back (for Sekoulovski) and bringing Harnwell back into the starting side up front. With Colosimo starting well and Bertos’ mobility causing Sydney’s backline a few problems, Perth looked the most likely to score early on and Bertos had one glorious opportunity after being teed up by Colosimo, but blazed away on the left peg. Little wonder he’s yet to score, despite his impressive all round play. Next time he was through, Rudan clattered him from behind, clear red card. Terry Butcher re-shaped things by going to three at the back, Milligan splitting Fyfe and Ceccoli, with Carney and Middleby meant to provide the depth out wide. Not surprisingly it detracted from Sydney’s attack, Brosuqe foraging alone up front, working hard but well looked after by the imposing Tarka. It was a game for the defenders, until Smith made the decision to replace Tarka with 15 or so minutes left. It was the pivotal move, Colosimo shifted back and Kovacevic going from right to left central defender, where Tarka had dominated. A few minutes later Corica turned Kovacevic (in the mood he was in, Tarka would have taken man or ball, or both) and it was game, set and match, Brosque rewarded for his hard work. The overall performance was hardly flowing, but Sydney, a man down, again demonstrated the character and will to win that took them to the title last year. Corica, so influential since his return home, provided the one classy moment, while Brosque might finally get his season going.

Adelaide United 3 v Newcastle United 2; an absolute classic, two teams having a real go at each other, the luck finally going with the hosts after a wretched few weeks. Gary van Egmond is a philosophical manager, thoughtful and insightful, and even pre-empted that that probability was leaning towards an Adelaide win, and with Carle suspended and Okon out, he had a bit of re-shaping to do. Bridge, so eye-catching a week earlier, got the Carle role, and did wonderful job early, giving Veart his fair share of problems. Kosmina had finally taken the plunge, ‘resting’ his skipper Aloisi, starting Owens out on the right and shifting Burns into the middle. The idea, it seemed, was to provide some much needed drive out of midfield, and play through Romario. Hitherto he’d been seen as being one dimensional, a finisher. Here the emphasis seemed to be on playing it to him whenever he wanted it, and good players generally known how to use a ball. Even in his first game in Gosford, when much was made of his missed chances, I remember his first half for the fact he only gave the ball up once. While there weren’t that many touches, his work was simple but efficient. Here he was wonderful, involved throughout. As one enthusiastic reader commented by text, his movement off the ball was fantastic, his positional sense exquisite. As Kosmina had hoped, it created space and time for others, particularly Spagnuolo, who terrorised Eagleton and North, setting up the first with a sublime dribble. Finally Romario had his 987th, although with a degree of doubt about whether he got a touch, but who could deny him? There was more to come, both from Romario and the game in general. The Jets, despite losing Griffiths at the break, showed they have the character to go with the flair, twice fighting back to equalise, both wonderfully taken. With Griffiths off, Bridge moved to the right but popped up everywhere, his confidence flowing and work on the ball a treat. Then Thompson continued his fine form, dipping the shoulder on Rees and shaping one around Beltrame. Could it get any better? Yes, Romario turning on the edge of the box and squaring it to Owens, who twinkled to his left, shifted the ball to his right and shaped it around a bamboozled debutant in Covic. Thrill a minute stuff that could have a decisive impact on the make-up of the final four.

Central Coast Mariners 2 v Queensland Roar 3; after a couple of dour A-League weeks on the trot (seven goals in round 15, six last week), it was refreshing to see a second game in two nights where the goals and goal-mouth action flowed. After the disappointment of last week’s hiding to the Jets, Frank Farina had a major re-think, and rightly so, shifting Buess to the left, McLaren to central defence, Seo into central midfield and Packer up to left midfield. It looked far more balanced and natural, and it showed, the Roar competing from the outset against a Mariners unit looking to maintain its clean sheet and home record runs. With Vidosic, McKay and Seo dominating the midfield and Mori looking sharp up front, the Roar were on top against a Mariners outfit that appeared to miss a focal point in attack (Mrdja). Despite that, referee Matthew Breeze did his best to keep the hosts in the contest, awarding two penalties that appeared lucky. Given their lack of fortune, the Roar may well have dropped their bundle, but they remained organised, disciplined and hungry, eventually getting a bit of a break (thank goodness it wasn’t literally one) when Jedinak (the ‘silent assassin’ as he’s been dubbed - he is better than that) went recklessly flying two-footed into Seo. A similar incident a few weeks earlier had received only half the punishment, but the FFA would do well to set a precedent tomorrow and rub Jedinak out for a few weeks. There is simply no room in the game for this on-field thuggery. Instead, flair should be encouraged, like that produced by Vidosic when he showed the awareness to chest down a long McKay delivery, despite the attentions of Brown, and score the winner, wonderful stuff.

Melbourne Victory 4 v New Zealand Knights 0; at last count James from Confessions had the Knights as having used 27 players so far this campaign. That was before this most tumultuous of weeks, when they could barely scrape together a starting 11. Give the circumstances, Ricky Herbert, who has done a decent job as All Whites boss and should have been in this role a lot earlier, put out a team that did a decent job in the opening exchanges, until the might and finishing potency of the Victory front-line took over in a breathtaking 10 or so minutes before the break. Four goals, two from quickly taken free kicks, two exposing a lack of pace and organisation on the flanks (Caceres took on Fleming for the second goal down the left, Allsopp powered down the right for the third) and it was game over. The most fascinating aspects after that were the words of Ernie Merrick before the start of the second half (paraphrased; “Terribly disappointed about the first half display, not good enough ahead of the finals.”) and the noise and atmosphere generated by the Olympic Park crowd, particularly in the last 15 minutes, when the crowd went ballistic. Merrick’s words demonstrated that Melbourne have learnt from Adelaide’s mistake last year and there’ll be no taking the foot off the pedal despite having the minor premiership wrapped up, while the noise and atmosphere was a fitting reminder of just how far the game has come in 2006, a slap in the face to those who had tried to put the game down in the preceding week. Marvelous work Melbourne.

Some of the other talking points

Save of the week; not that he knew much about it, but when Roar substitute Reinaldo met a corner at the near post, his header appeared destined for the back of the net, only for Vukovic to somehow get a piece of it. Replays showed it cannoned off his head. Regardless, it was another piece of great coverage from this agile kid.

Goal(s) of the week; it really is hard to go past Ben Griffin’s perfectly timed volley, running onto a wonderful switch from Mori, but I also loved the build up and finish to Owens’s winner against Newcastle, the work of Romario followed by the twinkle toes of Owens, who sent Old one way before cutting back and leaving Covic for dead, crucial and classy. Earlier in the night I thought we’d be hard-pressed to see a better goal than Romario’s, not for the finish, but for the wonderful bit of work down the left by Spagnuolo, dipping inside Eagleton and Griffiths before skinning North and forcing the spill from Covic. Then came three more gems, first Bridge shaping one into the top corner before Thompson and Owens followed suit. Then came Saturday night, with Griffin and Vidosic scoring gems, before Melbourne scored three beauties of their own on Sunday from Caceres, Allsopp (his second) and Thompson. Oh, and the work from Corica to set up Brosque’s neatly placed header on Thursday night wasn’t bad either. So there you go, 15 goals in total, at least 10 worthy of goal of the week in any other round. Given I can’t split Griffin and Owens, have decided to leave it up to you, the reader, to decide. Was it Griffin, was it Owens or was it another of this fine bunch of strikes? Leave a comment with your choice.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A-League team of the week, round 16

AGAIN, not many goals scored this weekend, only six to follow up on last week's seven. Let's hope that's not a trend that continues. Other than the Roar's poor performance, it was a pretty even weekend, thus the spread of players from seven of the eight teams in this week's 3-5-2;

Mark Paston, NZK, keeper; while Beltrame did well at the other end, making three excellent late stops as the Knights tried to pinch it on the counter, Paston made three or four top-class finger-tips saves late to deny the likes of Spagnuolo and Owens. His sharp reaction down to left to keep out a Spagnuolo volley was particularly brilliant.

Andrew Clark, CCM, right stopper; even though he played left in a two-man central defence (his position from last season), I'm plonking him on the right of a back three here after a decent display as an early replacement for the injured Vidmar. Combined well with both Wilkinson and Brown and covered the ground quickly.

Mark Milligan, SFC, central defence; was absolutely skinned by Thompson in that second half run that saw him shoot wide of Bolton, but apart from that his general covering and reading of the play was vital to Sydney keeping a clean sheet. That extra pace he adds has been a crucial component to Sydney's improved fortunes at the back.

Matt Thompson, NJ, left back; continuing his excellent form since being switched to left back, Thompson offered drive throughout, pinning back Gibson in the first half and Griffin in the second. His run to set-up the second goal, for Griffiths, was just typical of his good work.

Greg Owens, AU, right midfield; while it was only a brief cameo, just over 20 minutes, Owens did more in that time than most of his teammates had done prior, driving from central midfield, grabbing United's equaliser and generally causing a tiring Knights midfield all sorts of problems. The dearth of quality down the right this week gets him the gig there.

Stuart Musalik, NJ, central midfield; with so much focus on Carle, Musalik has had the freedom to act as the quarter-back from a deeper role. Picking the ball up off the defenders, he has been the key link-man between defence and attack, and most of his distribution has been crisp and precise. Indeed, watching him over the past few weeks has been among the joys of season 2.

Simon Colosimo, PG, central midfield; not the greatest performance from a Glory team missing two of its biggest names, Lazaridis and Despotovski, but one player who did perform was the skipper. Operating in a deep midfield role, his defensive work to keep both Pondeljak and Gumprecht quiet was good, while his work on the ball was efficient. One free-kick he hit was as clean as you've seen, just wide.

Jonas Salley, NZK, central midfield; no doubt the Knights have missed this bloke, a tiger in the heart of their midfield. While he isn't always the prettiest on the ball, his hassling work on Veart and Aloisi was feature of this match, never giving them space. His work in tandem with Johnson laid the platform for strikers Emblen and Marcina to see more of the ball than they ever have.

Jason Spagnuolo, AU, left midfield; after a relatively quiet first half, exploded into life in the second, involved in numerous chances as United came flying home. Blessed with an excellent attitude and will to learn, continues to play well while his teammates stutter, and gets in ahead of Petrie, who did a decent job against Coyne.

Archie Thompson, MV, striker; caused Sydney' all sorts of headaches with his mobility, quick feet and pace, pick-pocketing them with a quickness of mind and body. All that was missing was a finish, denied once by the brilliance of Bolton and a couple of times by his own wastefulness. Simply beautiful to watch. Special mention to Marcina, who was busy throughout for the Knights.

Mark Bridge, NJ, striker; grasping his opportunity to start and being afforded a fair bit of space by McCloughan and Buess, Bridge scored two wonder goals to take his tally to the season to five. A player who loves having the ball at his feet, he combined well with Rodriquez throughout. If he can develop the consistency required at this level, and that will take time, he could be some player.

A-League, round 16 round-up

The four games

Queensland Roar 0 v Newcastle Jets 3; With Sasa Ognenovski out and Spase Dilevski a late withdrawal, the most fascinating aspect of Frank Farina’s selection would be who would partner Josh McCloughan in central d. Which one of Gibson or McLaren would get the gig? Low and behold, neither did. Instead Farina went for Swiss Remo Buess, hitherto a left back, a struggling one at that. Both McLaren and Gibson were deployed in midfield, the latter playing in the unfamiliar surrounds on the right, a role he hasn’t played since his early days at Marconi. After getting so much right last week against Perth, the starting 11 looked unbalanced to say the least. On the opposite bench, and backing up from a game four days earlier, Gary van Egmond refreshed his unit by keeping elder statesmen Paul Okon and Vaughan Coveny on the bench and bringing in Andrew Durante and Mark Bridge. With the thoughts of some no doubt lingering about the two points dropped in NZ a few days earlier and so much riding on this result, the tinkering was a gamble, but it worked a treat, Bridge in particular having a massive influence. So flat were the Roar that at times it looked like a comfortable training drill for the Jets, a series of triangles played out of the back, with Stuart Musalik always there as the link. Even when the Jets ventured into the final third, the Roar stood off, ball watching, giving the Jets time to play their wall-passes, not that they ever need an invitation to try one. So resulted the first goal, as both McCloughan and Buess stood off as Milton Rodriguez and Bridge went one-two-three-toe-poke-goal. Next it was Griffiths, teed up by a characteristic driving run from Matt Thompson, peeling away from Buess and forcing an error from Reddy, before Bridge toyed with both McCloughan and Buess, showing terrific feet and awareness to send the defenders one way and then the other. The Roar had no answers, save for an encouraging performance off the bench from Dario Vidosic. After last week’s impressive showing against Perth and with so much at stake, more was expected, but as alluded to by Hamish over at Football Down Under and Beyond, it is hard to see them bouncing back from this dispirited performance, almost impossible in the context of this. The Jets, meanwhile, march on, two wins out of four consecutive games on the road.

Melbourne Victory 0 v Sydney FC 0; a bumper occasion in front of an unbelievable crowd, but as is often the case with these mega-hyped encounters, the game failed to take off. Tight and competitive, Melbourne shaded it overall, with Archie Thompson looking the only man likely to score a goal, but on three separate occasions he was wasteful, first firing over in first half injury time, then, after the break, forcing Clint Bolton into a sharp reaction save that rebounded agonisingly close to Danny Allsopp’s head, before shooting wide after skinning a couple of Sydney defenders. In truth, he was the only consistent threat for the Victory as Sydney did a decent job of denying both Muscat and Fred space in the middle. Terry McFlynn was deployed in a shadowing role, told to get up close and personal with Muscat. All of it was clean. With Mark Byrnes doing the same for Melbourne – shadowing Sydney’s main threat, Steve Corica – a stalemate developed, the visitors seemingly content to play for the draw. For Sydney it was another clean sheet and another game on their undefeated run. Momentum is everything in sport, and if Sydney can keep picking up points on the road, perhaps the flowing stuff might follow.

Central Coast Mariners 1 v Perth Glory 0; the team that was so easy on the eye last season has been harder to consume this year, but they are still in the mix and still with aspirations of bigger things. Make no mistake, this hasn’t been the fluent and purposeful Mariners we saw march all the way to the grand final, the feelgood story of the first season, but they are still picking up points, wins no less, and with such a cushy run home might expect to be in the mix come the finals. If they can just turn on the chemistry that so signified their 05/06 campaign, then watch out world. Here, against a desperate Glory, they were typically physical and combative. It has been the hallmark of their version 2, more grinders than high-flyers. Much of the success of late has been down to a tightening of things at the back, and the return of Andrew Clark to central defence the past two weeks (albeit off the bench) has helped the Mariners defend higher up the pitch. Amazing what a bit of pace can do. Ditto the use of Damien Brown at left back. A couple of times yesterday, when Luka Glavas raced through, Brown came across in cover, reminiscent of some of the work from Dean Heffernan last season. In midfield, Mile Jedinak has also helped stiffen things up and his ability to defend in front of the back four has been evident. With the defensive platform in place, they have been able to do enough in attack to get the job done. Here they profited from another moment of hesitation from Naum Sekoulovski, Adam Kwasnik reacting quickest to what looked an innocuous Stewart Petrie cross. The Mariners march on while the Glory are in big, big trouble, missing their inspiration in Stan Lazaridis. In games he hasn’t player, the Glory have lost five of six. In games he has played, Perth have lost four of ten.

Adelaide United 1 v New Zealand Knights 1; if Newcastle were kicking themselves after dropping two points in Auckland last week, then United will be even more frustrated by their inability to obtain maximum points at home. In truth that is somewhat underselling the Knights, who produced yet another decent performance against Adelaide to go with their 1-0 win in round 2 (remember that Buari bomb?). Better organised with Dean Gordon at the back, Richard Johnson and Jonas Salley in unison in midfield and Alen Marcina busy running off the shoulder of defenders, the Knights stung Adelaide early, Leilei Gao profiting from some space down the left, symptomatic of Richie Alagich’s continuing poor form this campaign. It is a mystery why Greg Owens, surly one of the finds of the season, can’t get a start ahead of Alagich after impressing in that role earlier in the campaign. Eventually he did come on for Ross Aloisi, impressing as a driving force from midfield, grabbing an equaliser and being involved in many other good moments. Only the sharp work of Mark Paston, making two or three excellent saves, kept United at bay, while Daniel Beltrame at the other end also had to be on his guard as the Knights created a couple of openings on the counter, getting down smartly at the feet of both Marcina and Michael White. Certainly Adelaide looked far more mobile when Romario and Aloisi were replaced, and while the merits of the Brazilian legends guest stint can’t be questioned from a commercial and branding perspective, John Kosmina will be hoping there is still time to recover from the current malaise. At the start of the season he spoke openly about how having such a deep squad would make for some tough selection choices. With a number of his senior players struggling, now might be the time to make some tough choices.

Some of the other talking points

Save of the week; Clint Bolton produced a sharp save down to his right to keep out what looked a goal-bound Archie Thompson effort, but Kiwi Mark Paston produced a string of fine efforts in the final quarter hour to keep the scores level at Hindmarsh, none better than a brilliant reflex stop sharp down to his left with less than 10 minutes left. When Jason Spagnuolo produced a first time volley, Paston was heading quickly across to his right, only to change his direction and thrust out a quick left hand, turning the volley around for a corner. Smashing reactions.

Goal of the week; take your pick from either of the two wonder goals scored by Jets young striker Mark Bridge. While his first was a sight to behold, a combination of two wall-passes followed by a Futsal style toe-poked finish, I loved the way he shook off two defenders for his second, driving infield and taking McCloughan and Buess with him before shifting back to where he came from, leaving them in his wake and blasting into the top corner. Lovely stuff.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A-League team of the week, round 15

NOT many goals in round 15, only seven in total, so fair to say it wasn't really one for the strikers. Instead, some of the better performances came from the men at the back and in midfield, thus this weeks in vogue 4-2-3-1;

Tommi Tomich, PG, keeper; after a smashing debut in round 12 and follow-up performance a week later, gets his third gig in TRBA team of the week in four weeks, quite a remarkable first month in the A-League. Here he produced a string of remarkable reflex saves to keep the Glory in it right up until he was finally beaten. As Andy Harper pointed out in the commentary, looks to have trimmed down since his debut, no doubt helping him with his agility.

Matthew Kemp, AU, right back; while he played on the left, beats both Wayne O'Sullivan and Hyuk Su Seo to the right back role after a starring performance that saw him create Adelaide's only goal. Took it to Melbourne all night, getting beyond Caceres at will and forcing the replacement to be replaced. Didn't deserve to be a loser, unlike the rest of Adelaide's back-four.

Mark Rudan, SFC, central defender; looking as trim, mobile and fit as he ever has, Rudan made a number of crucial covering clearances to deny Nick Mrdja a clear sight on goal.

David Tarka, PG, central defender; just pips Dean Gorden for the central role after a number of superbly timed challenges, particularly when getting across to cover Naum Sekoulovski, not the greatest in the defensive third.

Damien Brown, CCM, left back; after what can only be described as a disappointing season to date, Brown had his best game by some measure, doing a stirling defensive job on Dave Carney. Getting up in his face and denying him time to turn and face the Mariners goal, Brown provided other teams a template on how to defend Sydney's lethal right midfielder. If he can contine this form, creates a nice solution for his manager who has had little luck finding a replacement for Dean Heffernan.

Kevin Muscat, MV, defensive central midfield; back into the starting 11 and back on the scoresheet, another clinical penalty. But more importantly, he provided a presence in the midfield that was sorely lacking last week against Newcastle, picking up the ball and pinging passes all over the place. Not content with his penalty, he took on more attacking responsibility after Brebner's send off (Mark Byrnes provided the depth in midfield), delivering a sumptuous ball for Allsopp's go-ahead.

Stuart Musalik, NJ, defensive central midfield; after last week's excellent display at the Dome, this was another accomplished performance from a player clearly growing with the season. Admittedly it was against weaker opposition, but the Jets' domination of possession was due in large parts to Musalik's ability to recycle the ball. Growing in confidence and demanding the ball, his work of late has been exciting, and gets in here ahead of Mile Jedinak and the returning Andre Gumprecht, both good against Sydney.

Fred, MV, right sided attacker; while he drifts all over the place, creating headaches for opposition managers, lets plonk him on the right for the sake of a formation (that's what Merrick appears to do). Not surprisingly was involved in most things good that Melbourne did, creating the first and rounding things off at the seocnd attempt. Continues to combine excellent technique with a high workrate, what more can you ask for. Gets in ahead of Griffiths who was a bit wasteful despite his excellent goal and general play.

Matt McKay, QR, attacking central midfield; after some patchy displays of late, this was the McKay of the first third of the season, dominating the midfield with his high work ethic and good use of the ball, proving too much for Colosimo and Webster, especially when he decided to drive beyond the defence. His goal was a gem, both courageous and measured.

Spase Dilevski, QR, left sided attacker; such a talent, Dilevski has failed to deliver on his promise this season, until Saturday night. Drifting in from the left and combining beautifully with McKay and his front men, Dilevski caused the likes of Bertos and Coyne all sorts of problems, all night. At times he clipped some delightfully weighted balls over the Glory defence, such as the one which played in McKay. Other times he drove forward and got a shot on, stinging Tomich's palm. Generally, everything he did was good, but for a couple of needless late tackles, something he needs to work on.

Danny Allsopp, MV, striker; took his tally for the season to nine with a delightful finish but may have had another one or two after causing the slowish Adelaide defence problems throughout. Smashed one against the cross-bar, set up Fred's goal and ran all over the place, just amazing levels of fitness.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A -League, round 15 round-up

The four games

Adelaide United 1 v Melbourne Victory 3; a tame beginning in front of a bumper crowd was brought to life when Rob Bajic dangled a reflex right leg, connecting with Fred. Suddenly the fans, who had hitherto been watching Romario's every move, were involved in a game. Ditto the players and managers, as a fascinating tactical battle ensued. Kosmina introduced Beltrame by sacrificing Dodd, asking Kemp to push on down the left side to provide the width high up the pitch. With Mark Sheild soon evening up the numbers with the send-off of an unlucky Brebner, Merrick decided to make strange substitution. Instead of sending Pantelidis infield from his position on the left (where he was marking Burns), he took him off, pushed Mark Byrnes further into midfield, shifted Simon Storey out to the left (onto Burns) and introduced Adrian Caceres on the right, seemingly charged with the responsibilty of keeping Kemp busy. It was fascinating stuff, the defensive minded Storey on the left, the attacking minded Caceres on the right. But it didn't work, at least not initially. Kemp kept attacking, exposing Caceres's defensive weakness and teeing up the equaliser for Rech. Clearly Kosmina had seen the way Griffiths had toyed with Caceres the week before. Intriguing stuff. Adelaide continued their decent work early in the second half and should have gone ahead after some neat footwork (and surprising speed on one occasion) from the great Brazilian, but the more they ventured forward, the more potent Melbourne became on the counter, particularly with Costanzo making a couple of uncharacteristic errors. The return of Muscat also helped the visitors, combining with Fred and Allsopp to eventually kill off the game and continue the Victory's remarkable away run.

Queensland Roar 1 v Perth Glory 0; finally a win for the Roar, but didn't they make hard work of it. Dominating all over the pitch and looking on the same wavelength (but for the odd moment between McCloughan and Ognenovski) for the first time in a long time, it appeared they would again be undone by their own poor finishing and some remarkable glove-work from Tomich, but up popped man of the match McKay with an absolute bomb, a wonderful bit of technique. It was about time, after he was guilty of missing a sitter earlier in the half. Farina shaped up with a new look in midfield (Young Socceroo Chris Grossman on the right, Dilevski on the left and McKay in front of McLaren, in for suspended Gibson) and up front (Lynch and Mori starting, Reinaldo missing out altogether, Milicic on the bench) and it was working beautifully, the team creating chances and dominating the flow of the game. For a young debutant, Grossman looked handy, always looking to be involved and whipping in a delightful cross for Lynch to volley, remarkably saved by the lightning reflexes of Tomich. But the longer they went without scoring the more chance they had of being hit at the other end. Perth looked particularly likely when Glavas came on, but the Roar eventually got their reward, a crucial win that keeps them in the mix. Remarkably, a team that had a United Nations feel about it under Bleiberg now looks more local than most teams, only two of the starters, Lynch and Seo, from overseas.

New Zealand Knights 1 v Newcastle Jets 1; always a danger game for a team that tends to lift against the big sides (evidence their win last week against Melbourne) and relax against the weaker sides (evidence their loss to Perth the week before), the Jets might just look back on this one closer to the finals and think ‘if only’. In truth, they didn’t relax against the Knights, dishing up some of the most inventive and exciting football of the season. All that was missing were the finishes, mainly due to their own propensity to want to walk it in, partly due to some desperate defending from the Knights, particularly new centre back Dean Gordon (just how many players have this mob used?). With Musalik and Carle running the show from central midfield, at times it seemed a matter of by how many the Jets would win. Griffiths finally registered a goal, a sublime finish from a delightful Musalik ball, but was otherwise wasteful. Ditto the other three up front, Carle tending to pass in the box when a shot might have been the better option, Rodriguez denied by a couple of brilliant Paston saves and Coveny blasting one straight at his compatriot’s head. Ouch to both the shooter and stopper. At the other end, North produced another hand ball in the box and the Jets were punished for not being ruthless enough.

Central Coast Mariners 0 v Sydney FC 0; after last week’s win by Sydney over Queensland, Lawrie McKinna spoke of how well Sydney had passed the ball. He was right, Sydney have looked slick of late but have been given plenty of time on the ball. So his tactical game-plan going into this one was to shut Sydney down high up the pitch, not allow the likes of Talay, Carney and Corica any time on the ball, and it worked a treat, the visitors never allowed to build up any of the passing momentum which has been a feature of the their play the past few weeks. McKinna matched Terry Butcher’s 4-2-3-1, deploying Pondeljak and Gumprecht behind Mrdja to keep Talay and McFlynn pre-occupied, while Jedinak looked after Corica in the hole between midfield and attack. Whenever Corica went further forward and joined Zdrilic, FC looked likely, but for the most part he was well looked after. With Petrie, left, and Kwasnik, right, going head to head with Fyfe and Ceccoli respectively, essentially both teams cancelled each other out. It was physical and tight, not always pleasing on the eye, a point that keeps both managers content. While Butcher’s men have now gone six games undefeated, McKinna will be pleased with his defence, which has struggled for most of the season but kept its third clean sheet on the trot. Nice momentum for both teams.

Some of the other talking points

Defensive shield; not every day Australia’s top whistle-blower Mark Shield gets things so wrong, but a day after appearing on Fox’s Total Football, the jet-setter lost control of the Adelaide-Melbourne clash early on. While his decision to dismiss Bajic looked a little harsh, his decision a short time later to red-card Brebner looked a clear case of ‘evening up the count’, something referees are often accused of. The look on some of the Melbourne players faces told the tale.

Romario watch; more involved than he was a week before, this was a much better display, denied on one occasion by Theoklitos after a neat one two with Kemp, denied again by the keeper after exploding past the quick Fred down the left, and denied by a desperate defensive tackle on the line after turning on a cross and shooting into what appeared an unguarded goal. It sent the memory back to Wayne O’s Sullivan’s last ditch effort a week earlier. Fair to say the Brazilian hasn’t had much luck, but impossible to think he wouldn’t have finished at least one of his chances in his heyday.

Sully the saviour again; speaking of O’Sullivan, for the second week running he made a desperate defensive lunge to deny the opposition a goal, this time deep into injury time when Steve Corica raced through and appeared certain to steal all three point for Sydney. Some challenge.

Save of the week; while Mark Paston made a brilliant finger tip save to his right to deny Rodriguez today, impossible to go past Tommi Tomich’s early reaction save to keep out a Simon Lynch volley (from an excellent Grossman cross), one of many great Tomich stops. What a fist he’s making of his A-League chance.

Goal of the week; only seven goals this week, one of the lowest totals of the campaign. While Joel Griffiths’s lob over Paston was perfectly executed, Matt McKay gets the gig this week for an outrageously placed left foot volley, which he took down on his thigh and measured past Tomich. Took something of this quality to beat him.