Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A -League, round 20 round-up

The four games

Central Coast Mariners 0 v New Zealand Knights 0; so much to play for, a win vital to keep its semi-final hopes alive, this performance somewhat summed up the Mariners season - far from convincing. Starting well, the tempo of the passing and movement high, they were clearly up for it, but as they fluffed chance after chance, Adam Kwasnik the most guilt, heads droped, frustration grew, patience ran out and so in the end did time. The lack of composure in front of goal from Kwasnik was in keeping with his two seasons to date; much endeavour but not enough calm, 'blinkered' head-over-the-ball work when a simple foot on the ball and head up would do the trick. When Stewart Petrie latched onto a right foot half-volley deep into the second half, mighty Mark Paston looked as if he hadn't got enough on it to halt its momentum towards the line, but Knights midfielder Richard Johnson had other ideas, sprinting back to meet the ball as it reached the white powder. Did it cross the line? The debate raged, millions of replays convincing some, not others. For what it's worth and given that almost everyone else has had a say, for me it didn't. After a couple of eye-catching displays on the trot, this was far less impressive from the Knights, which made the panic and rush from the Mariners even more mysterious. By the end of the night, Central Coast were relying on Adelaide and Newcastle to slip up and the 10,000 odd fans who had turned up on a Thursday night went home with the 'if-only's' flowing.

Melbourne Victory 1 v Queensland Roar 2; a far better game than the night before, especially from the visitors, who did a rare thing - control the Melbourne midfield for large parts. Farina's shape was good, the performance from his four-man midfield and stand-in keeper even better. Here's the review of a thrilling win that sets up a cracker at home to Sydney on Saturday.

Adelaide United 1 v Sydney FC 0; for a game with so much interest and a great deal riding on the outcome, the quality of football dished up, especially in the final third, was disappointing. Both teams, fearful of the opposition getting in behind, defended very deep, far too deep, but defended well, Sydney looking reasonably slick on the counter-attack but not doing enough on the final delivery, while Adelaide were also breaking down close to the Sydney 18 yard box. With both defensive lines back, there was plenty of space in midfield, so the transition play was decent, but regular chances weren't being created. Both teams were content not to over-commit, seemingly prepared to defend first and scrap themselves to a chance, which eventually fell to Adelaide after a foul on the edge of the box by Mark Milligan on substitute Travis Dodd. With Bobby Petta providing a bit of quality over the dead ball, new boy Diego Walsh nodded back from the far post, compatriot Fernando bundling it over the line. It was more than the hosts deserved but, remarkably for a team that has struggled of late (two wins from their past eight), it took them to second. Sydney have their own headaches to sort out. A team that was rampant in November has only scored three goals in its past six and as hard as Alex Brosque is trying, he does appear to need some support. Terry Butcher has been reluctant to release the shackles and it might just be his undoing.

Perth Glory 3 v Newcastle Jets 3; if the Hindmarsh game just finished was the late show, than this game was the late, late show, two injury time strikes from Joel Griffiths rescuing a crucial point for a Jets side that has struggled more than most with the trip across the country. Not helping them on this occasion were the sweltering conditions and a party mood in honour of an Australian great, the Perth number 10 Bobby Desptovski, succumbing to a back injury. While the latter didn't start, the former (the heat) most certinaly did, and before you knew it, Milton Rodriguez was almost out on his feet, breathless and goalless. The Jets had bagged the first, Nick Carle reacting to a Tommi Tomich spill, but should have had another when Rodriguez shot wide with the goal gapping. While the heat was already having an impact, a drinks break midway throughout the half further blunted the Jets momentum, Perth marching back into the game thanks mainly to the thrust of Simon Colosimo and the presence and personality of Jamie Harnwell. A penalty before the break was followed by Despotovski's introduction at the break. Newcastle were wilting, defending deep, reacting slowly. It seemed only a matter of time, the unfortunate Steve Eagleton's knee injury precipitating a collapse, literally. Steven Old, on at right back, slipped up, the ball whipped in to substitute Josip Magdic to volley against the cross-bar, Harnwell reacting quickest. Perth were soon at it again, attacking Old's side, Magdic sharp to react to another cross, 3-1. Newcastle's wonderful work since October appeared to be coming apart, but, with four minutes of stoppage time due to Eagleton's injury, and Perth retreating, trying to hang on to Bobby's victory, the Jets pressed on, Tomich again spilling. Griffiths reacted quickest, and was on hand a couple of minutes later when Jade North overlapped on the left and whipped a bullet across the goal. Bundled in, it provided a bundle of relief for Newcastle. They must now do what no other team has done this season and grab three points on their own turf against Melbourne. A point and they would need Sydney to knock off the Roar.

Some of the other talking points

Save of the week; despite Tando Velaphi's flying circus, there can only be one, Richard Johnson. Quick to react, it summed up the Knights' new-found spirit. Long may that continue.

Goal of the week; Queensland did some nice things down the right all night against Melbourne, and their winner was a nice build-up involving Reinaldo, Massimo Murdocca and Ben Griffin. While Ante Milicic got lucky in the middle, Dario Vidosic, so impressive this past month, read it best, flicking past Michael Theoklitos.


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