Round 2 analysisCCM 3 v WP 0SFC 2 v AU 2MV 0 v PG 0NJ 1 v QR 1
LISTENING to the blunt half-time assessment of Gary van Egmond in Sunday’s Newcastle-Roar clash at Energy Australia, the signs of frustration were obvious.
Paraphrased, for those of you off having dinner, he said something like this; “We've defended very well, but we can’t go on doing that for 90 minutes. We have to find a cutting-edge”.
How he was already missing the likes of Nick Carle, Milton Rodriguez and Vaughan Coveny, and feeling the frustration of what appears to be some bungled work around Mario Jardel.
His frustration even extended to Jorge Drovandi’s sloppy performance off the bench in the opening round, and he explained the Argentine’s absence on Sunday by saying he’d "been guilty of giving away far too much ball and was still trying to understand where we needed him to be defensively".
Van Egmond’s frustrations were ultimately down to his side’s lack of fluidity in the front-third for the opening 135 minutes (90 last week and the opening half on Sunday) of the season.
Last week he had a lacklustre Denni playing behind Mark Bridge, with Tarek Elrich and Joel Griffiths on the flanks. They shot blanks, only Griffiths playing anywhere near his potential.
This week there was no room for Elrich (“good defensively”, said van Egmond, implying he wasn’t happy with his attacking contribution), replaced by Troy Hearfield, playing on the right, while Griffiths moved up front and Bridge went to the left.
Clearly van Egmond was looking for some chemistry and a solution up front, but the first half performance suggested there was plenty of work to do. While Denni was looking more comfortable and combining well with Griffiths, Hearfield was struggling, while Bridge seemed to be going through the motions.
It seemed a rocket had been launched in the Jets dressing room at the break. While the second half performance was much better, the chemistry in the front third was still off, so much so that van Egmond ultimately lost patience with Hearfield, bringing on little known local Jason Hoffman.
Ultimately Griffiths rescued the day with a peach of a free-kick, but van Egmond will be scratching his head to find an effective front-third combination for round three, especially with Bridge and Stuart Musalik on Olyroo duty.
And truth be told, he won’t be the only A-League manager suffering front-third frustrations. No doubt the Roar’s Frank Farina will be in the same boat.
With both defences playing deep, there was plenty of room in midfield, but neither side had the creativity to unlock their opposition. Roar’s goal came from a classic counter-attack, the Jets caught in possession in midfield. Otherwise, the Roar were struggling to crack the flood of Jets defenders, resorting far too often to some average long range shots instead of patiently knocking it around. Frustration enough to watch, so you can only imagine how Farina was feeling.
In that respect, it was a similar game to the one at Telstra Dome on Saturday night, another dominated by the defenders. It is early days, and the official line in one of “no panic”, but the Victory, especially Danny Allsopp and Archie Thompson, are clearly still missing the drive and penetration of Fred, and Ernie Merrick is still to settle on a workable solution.
Here he gave 45 minutes each to Carlos Hernandez and Kaz Patafta, but neither grabbed his opportunity.
Indeed, most of the impressing in this average match on a shocking pitch (a sore point of mine - when will the game’s administrators learn that the quality of pitch is paramount to producing the quality on the pitch, thus keeping bums on seats?) was made by Perth, who made up for the absence of David Tarka by shifting skipper Simon Colosimo into the centre of defence, alongside Dino Djulbic, who had an outstanding game in keeping Allsopp and Thompson quiet. The addition of Leandro Love made a bit of a difference for Melbourne, but by then the Glory defence was in 'the zone'.
This defensive control allowed the front third to function better than it had in the opening round, and Billy Celeski continues to catch the eye with his drive out of midfield. Often though the final execution was lacking, and the front three of Mate Dragecevic, Nikita Rukavytsya and Leo Bertos are still working on their understanding, but Ron Smith will be encouraged that they at least created the better chances.
The game of the round was in Sydney on Saturday evening, where both sides showed plenty of attacking verve. The signs for Sydney were far better than in the opening round, especially after Patrick was introduced and Branko Culina again went from a 4-4-2 to a 3-4-2-1 at the break.
Not surprisingly, Adam Biddle made way after an unhappy debut, but the real encouragement for Sydney came from the performance of marquee man Juninho, who was finally able to shake off the attentions of the physical Adelaide defensive midfield – Jonas Salley and Angelo Costanzo - and slide in a number of delightfully weighted balls, even smashing one left foot drive against the cross-bar and hitting the post with a free-kick.
The news this afternoon
that he will be out for a prolonged period is sad not only for Sydney, but the whole league, and the disappointing of watching Sydney live over the past fortnight has been seeing the battering 'the little fella' has copped from teams intent on smashing him out of the game, despite his ability to ride the challenges. Last week it was Mile Jedinak, this week a mixture of Salley and Costanzo. A little less of the physical and of more of the technical would be nice.
Despite one poor miss, at least Patrick was able to provide Sydney with a bit of presence up front and someone to take the buffering. Suddenly Alex Brosque had a little more freedom to roam, and his goal was well taken.
Ultimately Sydney were undone by another defensive mix-up for which Clint Bolton was the main culprit, but at least Culina will be more comfortable knowing that his front-third looked functional in the second period. Patrick looks set to be a first team regular, but how much will Sydney miss their marquee man?
Adelaide, on the other hand, have had few front-third problems of late, but will be hoping that Bruce Djite can develop into a far more clinical finisher than he was on this entertaining night. Twice he rounded the keeper and twice he took too long, but his overall contribution was immense, forcing Culina into the unexpected move of shifting Ruben Zadkovich to sweeper.
Elsewhere, the combination between Cassio and Bobby Petta down the left was easy on the eye, while Nathan Burns continues to marvel. His work in fending off four challengers (Steve Corica, Terry McFlynn, Zadkovich and Mark Rudan) and cutting it back for the opener was simple brilliant, the type of stuff we want to see more often in this competition.
The only team that appears totally functional up front at the moment are the Mariners, the only team to enjoy that winning feeling after a superb first half on Friday night. In Nik Mrdja and Sash Petrovski they have two gun finishers who look comfortable together, but Adam Kwasnik down the left also offers a viable goal-getting option, as he demonstrated with a superbly taken second.
On this night he was able to take advantage of Steven Old's absence down the right, exposing some sloppy work from Steven O'Dor.
After last week's late heroics, the Phoenix couldn’t get out of jail this time, and will need to be far more tight early in games. Last week they were fortunate that the Victory didn't fully capitalise on the defensive holes, but there was no escape against a Mariners team lead wonderfully by the hungry Mrdja.
For the second week in a row, however, Felipe had a massive impact off the bench, combining well with Shane Smeltz, and must surely now come into contention for a starting spot ahead of the disappointing Jeremy Christie.
After all, as most of the club are discovering in this tight league, finding the right formula in the front-third will be the difference between a successful season or otherwise, and at the moment only Lawrie McKinna can be totally satisfied.
It's only appropriate then to leave the final word to van Egmond; "We all have to start to catch them [the Mariners], and be as effective as we can in the last third."TRBA team of the week (4-4-2)Goalkeeper;
Michael Theoklitos (MV)Defence;
Richie Alagich (AU), Dino Djulbic (PG), Jade North (NJ), Andy Packer (QR)Midfield;
Billy Celeski (PG), Nathan Burns (AU), Juninho (SFC), Adam Kwasnik (CCM)Strikers;
Bruce Djite (AU), Nik Mrdja (CCM)