Monday, October 15, 2007

180 minutes, 180 emotions as the A-League finally takes off

A-League round 8 analysis

AU 4 v MV 1
PG 3 v SFC 3
NJ 2 v WP 1
CCM 0 v QR 1

IT’S TAKEN the best part of two months, but the A-League version 3 is finally up and running.

A pulsating double-header on Friday night was the perfect way to launch into the second phase of the competition’s three.

After a far from entertaining opening phase of cat-and-mouse, stifle at all costs football, let’s hope that the fair dished up on Friday October 12 sets the standard for the remainder of the season.

Just when the absence of so many players through international commitment, injury and suspension was expected to have a detrimental effect on the quality of football (as happened in round three) we got the opposite.

Adelaide kicked things off with a brilliant display in the round opener, proving they have the depth to mount a serious push for the minor premiership, and maybe more. No Djite, Burns and Sarkies, no worries.

In stepped the likes of Dez Giraldi, Lucas Pantelis and Jason Spagnuolo, and along with the rocket that was no doubt launched by Aurelio Vidmar after an insipid performance the week before in Perth, that was too much for the defending champs.

In truth, it was the loss that Melbourne deserved. Sitting second, undefeated, after the first phase, there’s little doubt that that position flattered last season’s all-conquering unit.

Defensive and combative, their play this season has generally lacked spark and imagination in the front third and they had already played a number of get-out-jail cards; like fighting back for a draw after being battered by Newcastle in round 5; like being second-best at home to Queensland the following week and still ending up with the win.

No such luck this time around. Missing their leader and driving force Kevin Muscat, along with his side-kick Grant Brebner, the Victory’s defensive structure, both in the backline and through the middle, was a shambles, best summed-up by the confusion between Joe Kennan and Steve Pantelidis that led to United’s second.

Lubjo Milicevic, short of a gallop, was drafted into the holding midfield role, surrounding by Matthew Kemp and Carlos Hernandez, but they were powerless to halt the drive and mobility of United’s front five. Pantelis, playing in the hole behind Giraldi, was particularly effective, a neat combination of pace, mobility and technical ability, proving just how much United and the league missed him last season.

As with Tom Pondeljak, it’s a pity there were so many good attacking midfielders under the Frank Farina era, for Pantelis’s football over the past five or so years has surely been deserving of greater honours. At least, at 25, the former AIS graduate and youth international has time on his hands to make the senior side.

While Pantelis’s lovely left peg shone throughout, it was Brazilian Diego doing a wonderful job of prompting and joining United’s front four. After struggling to adapt in his first few A-League games last season, his work this year has been excellent, both simple and creative. At this stage, he appears a perfect compliment to the combative Jonas Salley.

Meanwhile, it was great to see last season’s surprise packet, Spagnuolo, back in the starting fold and influencing things, doubling up with Cassio to give Sebastian Ryall a working over. While Melbourne was missing its skipper, his equivalent Travis Dodd really stepped up, tormenting Kennan throughout and helping himself to two soft goals and a wonderful assist.

Indeed, given the tightness and physicality of the season to date, it was refreshing to see the openness and attacking intent, both in this game and the one that followed at Members Equity.

Certainly, both referees played a significant part in this, staying on top of any tight stuff. After poor games last week, both Mark Shield and Matthew Breeze were back to their best.

Also back to his best was Perth skipper Simon Colosimo, who started in an attacking midfield role and was a constant driving threat, getting on the end of a heap of chances in and around the box. How the Glory managed to be 1-0 down at the break was a mystery.

After battering Sydney for the entire opening half-hour, they again succumbed to some sloppy defending, gifting in-form Alex Brosque the opener. Given their fragile recent state, it was tempting to think the match was over. But back they came. Inspired by the surging runs of Jimmy Downey from right back and the presence of Jamie Harnwell and James Robinson up front, it was a breathtaking three goals in less than 20 minutes. Staggering.

Surely the Glory had done enough! Certainly, when Nikita Rukavytsya zoomed in on goal with only Clint Bolton to beat it looked all over. But he fired wide, and Sydney had its lifeline. With Patrick looking lively and Perth retreating, Sydney halved the deficit thanks to some persistence from Tony Popovic and Patrick, before the game moved into stoppages.

Could the desperate Perth hang on? When Juninho stepped up for a free kick, the cross-bar came to their rescue, but when Anthony Danze gave away the ball in midfield, Juninho was able to feed Mark Rudan, who clipped it towards Brosque. Jamie Coyne wasn’t able to clear his header, and Patrick was there to head back to Brosque to celebrate his 24th birthday in style and go to equal top A-League scorer.

Guttering for Perth, sheer relief for Sydney.

On the evidence of the past two weeks, better days lie ahead for Perth, who appear to be responding to the pressure on their manager. If v3 was meant to be all about “90 minutes, 90 emotions”, one can only wonder how many emotions Ron Smith had just gone through.

Certainly, fans of the A-League had just been witness to 180 plus minutes of breathtaking football. Keep it coming, was the cry.

Unfortunately few fans got to see the start of the Jets/Phoenix game thanks to some extra innings at the baseball, and by the time Fox ventured over to Energy Australia, the hosts were firmly in the ascendancy.

Missing five players due to (postponed) All Whites duty, Ricki Herbert had a massive problem at right back, not for the first time this season. He gambled on Brazilian Cleberson and lost.

Ever the shrewd analyst, Gary van Egmond sensed the opportunity and threw his trump forward that way. While he shouldn’t have been playing, Joel Griffiths was in irresistible form, teasing and tormenting Cleberson, teeing up the first before grabbing the second.

Missing both Bridge and Musalik, the manager played another Joker in youngster James Holland. A more conservative option may have been Paul Kohler, but van Egmond gambled and won, Holland driving forward with monotonous regularly and getting on the end of his fair share, including the opener.

Couple that with his ability over the dead ball and it really was one of the most eye-catching A-League debuts, stealing the thunder from another debutant, Phoenix marquee man Ahmad Elrich.

By the time the Socceroo came on at the break it was his younger brother, Tarek, who was making the headlines. After teeing up the second with a sublime pass from right back, he moved to right midfield in the second period and continued to dazzle, smashing one against the post before playing in Denni, who somehow screwed his shot.

While the Phoenix were clearly disrupted by their missing men, they might have had a little more luck if Ben Williams had had the conviction to send off Steve Laybutt after he brought down Vaughan Coveny when he was clean through.

Certainly, when you compare Williams’s ‘non-decision’ with Peter O’Leary’s send-off of Mariners right back Brad Porter a short time later in Gosford, it is easy to see why fans continue to clamour for consistency.

The one thing that is certainly consistent is the Mariners’ bad luck with injuries. Already missing the likes of Mrdja, Osman, Wilkinson, Vidmar and O’Grady, they soon were without both Damien Brown and Adam Kwasnik.

Farina, on the other hand, was the only manager who had the luxury of choosing the same 11 as last week, and it is an option he took, starting with both Michael Zullo and Robbie Kruse in support of Reinaldo. Early on the trio looked very dangerous, combining beautifully to produce a wonderful save from Matthew Trott, before the keeper failed to deal with the resulting corner and made a present of it to Josh McCloughan.

After a sprightly start, the game deteriorated into a scrappy affair, especially after Porter’s confusing send-off, but given some of football dished up 48 hours earlier, it was hard to be too critical.

TRBA team of the week (3-5-2)

Goalkeeper; Liam Reddy (QR)
Defence; James Downey (PG), Simon Colosimo (PG), Cassio (AU)
Midfield; Tarek Elrich (NJ), Noel Spencer (NJ), Diego (AU), Lucas Pantelis (AU), Travis Dodd (AU)
Strikers; Joel Griffiths (NJ), Patrick (SFC)


Blogger Hamish said...

I like Liam Reddy. He's tough and committed. He doesn't fade when he's down. He's even got a pretty face. But I'm pleasantly amused that he made your keeper of the week - bet he'd be most chuffed.

Reddy will be a great goalkeeper when he can catch and control those balls first time. Too often, including in this game, he leaves us all cringing for breath after he makes his 'save' then scrabbles around among the boots trying to get a final hold of the thing. A bit of luck helps him I reckon.

But that last save was clean and welcome, and critical of course, so congrats to him for his first clean sheet for the season.

Thanks for the excellent wrap-up once again Tony.

Tue. Oct. 16, 06:49:00 am AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Ah Hamish, the choice of who to throw in goals!!!

Along with who to choose in central defence, it was the one that had me most perplexed. No keeper, I felt, really stood out this week. It was one for the attackers. Theoklitos made a couple of good saves, including one memorable double-stop on Spagnuolo/Geraldi, but even then you have to question why he spilt Spagnuolo’s effort. Trott was caught out of the QR goal, Bolton was in no-mans-land for the Harnwell equaliser, Tomich made a hash of Patrick’s first volley, Beltrame and Covic didn’t have much to do, while Moss looked a little shaky.

Given Reddy’s late save from Simon was crucial in deciding the outcome of the match, he got the gong.

Same with central defence…..I wanted Colosimo in the team, so even though he played in central mid, I did a bit of re-jigging to accommodate him.

Tue. Oct. 16, 12:16:00 pm AEST  

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