Monday, January 01, 2007

A-League, round 18 round-up

The four games

Perth Glory 0 v Adelaide United 0; on a family holiday in Huskinsson, south of Sydney, but thanks to the local watering hole, The Husky Pub, was still able to get my much-missed (it had been 11 days since the Victory had wrapped up the minor premiership at home to the Knights) dose of A-League action. In truth it wasn't the classiest affair, at least not until after the final whistle, Adelaide doing everything they could to butcher two points, squandering a couple (Rech and Burns) of easy chances in the first half, before being denied by the continuing great form of Tommi Tomich. After the disappointment of their round 17 effort a fortnight early, Ron Smith rung the changes, giving the likes of Saric, Micevski and the hitherto unsighted Mark Robertson a chance, starting Bertos up front and relegating Young to the bench. Accepting that the chances of a semi final spot were shot, Smith made his intentions clear. With at least ten spots on next season's roster up for grabs, this was all about opportunity. It provided a perfect opportunity for Adelaide. After the impressive performance in their last start against Newcastle, John Kosmina had a few issues of his own to sort, like what to do now that Romario had gone. He went for two up front, Veart supported by Rech from behind, with Burns playing deeper, in the driving central midfield role that Owens has performed so admirably when given played there. Here Owens was unavailable, and sorely missed. Perth did a good job of stopping Adelaide wide, Coyne on Spagnuolo and Lee on Dodd. In a game where both sides were let down by their work in the final third (poor final delivery the usual problem), only Rech found space regularly, but for once he was wasteful. Perth struggled to create too many openings at the other end and it is no coincidence that they haven't scored since last season's players player Bobby Despotovski limped off in round 15. No goals in four weeks, only two wins in their past 11 starts and their season well and truely shot - little wonder frustrations boiled over after the whistle.

New Zealand Knights 3 v Queensland Roar 1; still at The Husky Pub, the few of us watching the game were all looking at each other, shaking our heads in astonishment when Marcina made it 3-0. What a hiding for the Roar, what a turn-around for the Knights. In truth, it could have been a few more as the Knights were playing Queensland off the pitch thanks to a new brand of pass and move football initiated by manager Ricki Herbert. No, it wasn't FC Barcelona or the Arsenal, but it was far more cohesive and in-touch than we've seen from the Knights in their past 38 games. After only having one training session to put out a makeshift team last time around, this time Herbert had his main troops back and the benefit of a 12 day preparation. It showed, the Knights prepared to keep the ball on the deck, get close to each other and look to do something with the ball. It was no surprise to those who have watched the NZ national team, the All Whites, do reasonably well under Herbert. He appears to have a good philosophy and encourages his men to play, and all the best to him for that. Here he deployed Emblen up top, and the big Brit gave Buess, McCloughan, McLaren a rough time in the first period, drawing the free-kick from Buess that led to Tambouras’s opener and combining well with the Chinese livewire Gao, Canadian Marcina and Aussie Johnson. Talk about a United Nations. Emblen even got himself on the end of a Bazeley cross for the second, the identity of the supplier telling much about the Knights performance. It also told much about the Roar performance, flat and slow to react, just as they had been at home two rounds earlier, strange for a team with so much to play for. The only semblance of life was when Milicic and Reinaldo arrived late, the former bringing a ball down nicely and shaping it past Paston. But the damage had been done, and Farina will be wondering what on earth he has to do to get some consistency out of a unit that has won one week and lost the next for the past month. Fortunately, other results went the Roar’s way and, remarkably for a team that has lost four of Farina’s six games in charge, they are only a point outside the four. While the return of Ognenovski should help against Adelaide, on this evidence the Roar are shot.

Central Coast Mariners 1 v Melbourne Victory 2; new year’s eve on the Central Coast produced another beauty with a bumper crowd of 15,000 plus getting an opportunity to marvel at the trickery and quick feet of Thompson. Not that that’s what the majority were there to see, but the Victory striker again highlighted how lethal he can be, combining with his partner in crime Allsopp to tee up the opener for Fred, before catching out make-shift stopper Brad Porter with his quickness of feet and thought for the second, sharp stuff. The two goals encapsulated everything that is so captivating about this Melbourne outfit, slick and clinical. Admittedly though it was against a new look central defensive pair, who equipped themselves well after the early jitters. In truth, the 2-0 half time scoreline was less than the Mariners deserved after competing well with the minor premiers but failing to convert their chances. Most of the Mariners chances were being created down the left, with Petrie involved in a fascinating duel with Storey. First Petrie would get beyond him and provide a telling ball into the middle. Back came Storey, providing the ball that lead to Melbourne’s second. It was end to end stuff, and the action got even better after the break as the Mariners came out firing, pressing Melbourne high. Soon enough they halved the deficit when Brebner mis-judged a header from a Petrie corner, Kwasnik pouncing quickest. On the Mariners pressed, leaving space for the Victory to counter-attack. It was thrilling stuff, almost a reminder of their wonderful 3-3 seven rounds earlier, but in the end the hosts missed a few good chances and the game was lost. Other results keep them in the top four for now, but two losses on the spin will worry Lawrie McKinna. Here they clearly missed a focal point in attack. How McKinna finds a solution to Mrdja's ongoing absence could be critical to their chances of progress.

Newcastle Jets 0 v Sydney FC 2; in front of a bumper new year's day record crowd of 20,000 plus, many travelling up from Sydney, and with the spectre of a three-point deduction hanging over the visitors, this game promised plenty. But the sight of a sand-logged pitch, heavy under-foot, somewhat ruined the spectacle, playing into the hands of a more physical Sydney FC. Newcastle are a team that like carpet, allowing them to string around their one and two touch passess, uninhibted by any bumps in the surface. Sydney aren't short on passing ability either, but their game, under Terry Butcher this season, is characterised more by their ability to impose their physical will over a game, pressing teams high, giving them little time on the ball, distrupting any rythmn the opposition try to build up and working hard all over the pitch. To impose their style of game, the Jets need a slick surface, which they've had at Energy Australia all season, as I alluded to in an earlier piece. So the sight of a re-laid turf yet to settle would, privately at least, have made Butcher a very happy man before the game. So it was little suprise his unit got right on top of this game, giving Carle and Bridge in particular no space, and pressing high on Musalik and Kohler to stop the Jets supply at the source. Even the normally confident Durante looked shaky distributing out of the back as Sydney's all-tempo game dominated, particularly in the opening exchanges of the second period, where they appeared to up the tempo, with Corica and Carney at the fore. Once FC got in front, Carney, Corica and Brosque given way too much room to score, there appeared no way back for the Jets. A team that looked short of a gallop earlier in the year now looks primed and ready for a tilt at defending their championship, and much of that is down to the impact of late-arriving fitness coordinator Anthony Crea. While it mightn't always be pretty, nine undefeated games and five consecutive clean sheets has instilled a massive dose of confidence in a squad that has already proved it rises for the big games. The team looks far more solid defensively since Milligan has been shifted to the back and in Corica and Carney they have two gems that can unlock any defence. Here the two drifted all over the place, Carney dropping infield to create an extra number in midfield. Suddenly Musalik and Kohler couldn't number up, and Durante and North were under pressure consistently. With Zadkovich doing a job on Bridge and and McFlynn, Fyfe and Talay never allowing Carle out of sight, Sydney had winners all over the park. It was a poor day for the Jets, and there will be concerns that Friday night's crucial clash is against another side who like it physical and may be better suited to the pitch, the Mariners. After a fairly cushy run so far, this is Gary van Egmond's first major test as a manager.

Some of the other talking points

Save of the week; Tomich had another brilliant night, Vukovic did his usual good work and Galekovic made a couple of vital stops, but I'm giving it to Newcastle defender Steve Eagleton for a miracle clearance off the line. With the scores still locked at 0-0 in the first half, Corica had chipped Covic and the ball looked headed for the back post. Middleby, running in late, looked certain to score, only for Eagleton to get himself between Middleby and the goal, lunge full-stretch and clear the ball away. Wonderful effort.

Goal of the week; I liked Milicic's finish in an otherwise poor Roar showing, so clinical, while both Sydney goals were special, the first for the work of Corica, the second for the surprise element, power and placement in Petrovski's volley, but I'm giving it to Archie Thompson for the way he superbly ghosted from behind Porter, took a touch, drew the keeper and clinically slotted it across Vukovic into the far corner, all with a minimum of fuss. While it is a goal you will see almost every week in most European or South American leagues, few strikers in the A-League are as clinical as Archie, just delightful.


Anonymous wayne said...

Thanks again Tony, a superb wrap-up as usual.

Thu Jan 04, 01:22:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Thanks Wayne, also enjoyed your philosophical summation of round 18, and your idea about throwing Matt Simon straight into the starting line-up tomorrow night.

Think it has a fair bit of credibility, and I wouldn't mind seeing it.

Thu Jan 04, 04:10:00 pm AEDT  

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