Monday, August 27, 2007

23 hours late; The A-League kicks-off, literally

Round 1 analysis

SFC 0 v CCM 1
QR 2 v AU 2
WP 2 v MV 2
PG 0 v NJ 0

AFTER a fairly tepid season opener on Friday night, v3 really took off 23 hours later in Brisbane and then reached a high point in the final quarter hour at Wellington, before coming back down to earth in a big way in Perth late yesterday.

At Suncorp, two teams with plenty of feeling dating back to the inaugural season, when then managers Miron Bleiberg and John Kosmina locked-horns on the sideline, were back at it. There might be a whole heap of new combatants on the bench and on the pitch, but clearly there is still plenty of tension. Couple that with the start of the season and it's easy to see why the tackles were flying in everywhere, many of them X-rated.

No-one was keener to impose themselves on proceedings than returned Socceroo Danny Tiatto. Never shy of a two-footed lunge, Tiatto’s early work was burgeoning on assault. The only miracle was that he survived a red card, let alone a caution.

Not so lucky was his Socceroos pal Craig Moore, who ultimately snapped after a frustrating evening trying to come to grips with a couple of Socceroos in the making, Bruce Djite and Nathan Burns.

Clearly, and not surprisingly, the Roar aren’t planning to be a soft touch this season. In Moore, Sash Ognenovski and Tiatto, they have three of the most rugged and ferocious defenders in the league.

The thing is though, on this night, they came up against a side that was equally as up for the physical battle. In Jonas Salley and Djite, Adelaide have two guys who love the body combat.

Djite is fast developing a reputation as Australian football’s ironman.

Fresh off the plane from 90 minutes in the heat of Doha with the Olyroos, he backed up with another 90 minute all-action display, grabbing the first of what I’m sure will be many A-League goals by shaking off Ognenovski. Djite is tough, quick and works the house down, and while he might lack the subtlety of a Mark Viduka on the ball, for a big man he offers plenty of mobility and will be hard to match up on.

Big defenders will struggle to keep up with him and the more agile defenders will struggle to deal with his body-work.

His combination with Burns is fast becoming one of Australian football’s biggest weapons, and Burns is no doubt set to profit from Djite’s dirty work in the years ahead, as he did for the opener, a wonderfully struck half-volley.

Elsewhere Adelaide looked solid and confirmed that they will be one of the teams to beat this season, but for the most part it was the hosts that had the ascendancy. Pressing Adelaide high, this was a decent display from the Roar, but it still exposed a number of gaps that will thwart any title ambitions unless they are rectified. While Adelaide always looked a threat up front, Queensland lacked the composure in the front third, relying instead on the thrust of midfielders Matt McKay and Massimo Murdocca for most of their penetration.

Reinaldo was busy and robust, but missed a sitter in the first half, and will need to improve his goal-getting return, while Ante Milicic is no longer the threat he was. Marchino was keen to make an impression but was probably guilty of over-trying. He should improve.

Speaking of improve, the next day, in front a bumper and boisterous Wellington crowd, the ‘new’ Phoenix showed wonderful fighting character, something rarely seem by their predecessor, the NZ Knights, to bounce back with two late goals in a pulsating finish against the champions.

Down 2-0 with little over 10 minutes left and seemingly gone after Daniel missed a penalty early in the second half, the Phoenix rolled up the sleeves and, inspired by Brazilians Daniel and Felipe (a late substitute), kept knocking, eventually cracking Melbourne’s defence, which had hitherto been in total control.

When Shane Smeltz grabbed a deflected equaliser, all of a sudden the Victory defence was rocking and had to rely on a brilliant Michael Theoklitos save, sharp down to his right, to deny substitute Royce Brownlie, before Smeltz headed just over the bar.

It was an encouraging finish from the Phoenix that should give them plenty of confidence for the season. Early on though they looked very shaky, struggling to keep the ball and putting enormous pressure on centre backs Cleberson and Karl Dodd, who struggled to deal with the movement of Melbourne’s front-three. Cleberson grew more comfortable with the game and was a monster in the second half, when the Phoenix kept the ball and stopped pumping long balls to Vaughan Coveny and Smeltz.

If the Phoenix-Victory clash in the east featured the most riveting finish, the one over in the west between the Glory and the Jets was the fizzer of the round, and on this evidence, both teams will be struggling unless there is significant improvement.

While Perth shaded the game overall in terms of control and chances created, the Jets still had a couple of great chances, but were wasteful. While the conditions were terrible - severe winds, driving rain and a poor pitch - the lack of quality from both sides was a massive let-down.

Newcastle had problems all over the pitch; poor distribution out of the back (they were already missing Paul Okon), a lack of fluency in midfield (Denni struggled to get into the game) and little penetration in the front third (Mark Bridge had a poor game by the lofty standards he set last season and Tarek Elrich was barely in the game. Only Joel Griffiths looked a threat). The likes of Denni and Jorge Drovandi (an ineffective substitute) might need a little more time, while Adam Griffiths will need to settle after a very nervy debut.

Perth weren't much better, struggling to lend support to Mate Dragecevic in the first half and lacking a cutting edge in the second. Billy Celeski tried to provide it with an energetic display, but there was little chemistry in what the Glory were doing.

It was a disappointing way to end what had otherwise been a decent first week. Three draws and a Mariners victory by a one goal margin confirmed what many had been saying in the build up; that this will be the closest season yet. On the evidence of the first week though, it will also be the most physical yet, and let’s hope that isn’t to the detriment of the quality of football.

TRBA team of the week (3-4-1-2)

Goalkeeper; Ante Covic (NJ)
Defenders; Matt Osman (CCM), Cleberson (WP), Dean Heffernan (CCM)
Midfield; Andre Gumprecht (CCM), Mile Jedinak (CCM), Matt McKay (QR), Daniel (WP)
Attacking central midfield; Nathan Burns (AU)
Strikers; Sasho Petrovski (CCM), Bruce Djite (AU)


Blogger Mike Salter said...

Great wrap as always Tony.

I was amazed at how Melbourne just plain failed to respond to Wellington's late surge in that match...they (MV) hadn't exactly run themselves ragged in the first half, but they frankly allowed WP to be first to every 50-50 ball in the last 15-20 minutes of that game. Quite worrying for Merrick, I would've thought. Hernandez looks OK, but a worthy successor to Fred...I'm not so sure.

Didn't get to watch the Perth v. NUJ game...but from what most people are saying, it doesn't sound like I missed anything. ;-)

Tue Aug 28, 09:39:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous sir alex said...

Tiatto is a disgrace.
If he wants to play that type of football, he should go back to the lower leagues of british football.
What an animal!

the a-league wont prosper if we bring players of his calibre back home.

Wed Aug 29, 10:00:00 am AEST  

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