Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mariners the maids no more

A-League final round analysis

FITTINGLY, the team that has been on top of the competition for all but the penultimate round of the season, have finished it as premiers, the first team through to the 2009 Asian Champions League.

Often the bridesmaid, the Central Coast Mariners will finally walk down the aisle in white and be greeted at the other end by an ACL campaign that is sure to excite the masses that have been flocking to the Bluetongue of late.

While it's been a bumpy ride, especially in the final third of the season, where they picked only one win in their seven matches before last night's 2-0 win over the Phoenix, the fact they set the pace for all but the final stretch means they are deserving premiers.

It is also a fitting reward for the three record crowds that flocked to the stadium throughout December and January, only to leave on the wrong end of the scoreboard on each occasion.

Queensland Roar, with a clear equation, just couldn't handle an away trip to an Adelaide United unit with plenty to prove, a stalwart to farewell and a young duo back in unison up front.

Perhaps the signs were there when the Roar turned up without their away strip? Pressure does strange things to people.

No team knows this more than the Mariners. For the past couple of months they have been conceeding goals and finding ways to lose games they had earlier in the season been sneaking.

Here they had the easiest of the final round assignments, a home clash with the rapidly sliding Wellington, a much improved unit on their Kiwi predecessor, but one still a few players short of challenging teams like the Mariners on a regular basis, especially with so much on the line.

With the central midfield duo of Jedinak and Pondeljak back in commanding form after a number of quiet recent performances, the Mariners had too much class and drive, Pondeljak particularly.

There was a day, not so long ago, when a constructive and influential performance like this one was par-for-the-course for Pondeljak, but theses days, because the legs can't produce it weekly, he does tend to be up and down.

When he is in this mood though, he is irresistible. It is little wonder Pim Verbeek is interested. Both assists were the stuff of a class-act, the first a dinked diagnol ball into a space between Phoenix defenders, inviting Aloisi to prod home, the second a typical link-and-drive move which took him deep into the box, beyond defenders.

From there it was heads up and a cut-back, a ball not used often enough in this league.

While Pondeljak's continues to please Verbeek, Mariners fans and purists alike, there is little doubt McKinna will have been equally as pleased with the defensive shape.

While skipper Alex Wilkinson continues to get caught out by the odd foot-race (this time it was young live-wire Costa Barbourouses doing the testing), here his combination with Tony Vidmar, Nigel Boogaard and Alvin Ceccoli looked far more compact.

They will need to lift their performance to another level over the next fortnight, for the combintation of Joel Griffiths, Mark Bridge and James Holland are sure to offer a far sterner test than the 'Nix did on this wet night.

Indeed, the Mariners have some recent experience in trying to deal with the Jets, finishing on the wrong side of a 2-1 scoreline a week ago.

The good news is that the midfield enforcer Jedinak will be on deck, depsite the Fox commentary team claiming his unlucky first half yellow equalled a one week suspension. Indeed, as he confirmed on 2ky's Football Fever tonight, it was his fifth card for the season, meaning he's available.

He will need to do a far better job at containing Holland than in did in round 20, where the youngster gave him the run-around.

It appears the Jets and Mariners will be battling to 'host' a grand final in Sydney, the city that almost typically reacted to having something on the line by turning up in their droves to see if 'their' team could claim the premiership.

Disintersted for most of version 3, suddenly the sniff of minor premiership and the realisation that everyone else has lifted their game of late brought out 33,458 fans, this correspondent among them, creating one of the most electric atmospheres at this stadium since grand final day in the opening season and the night Urawa came to town.

Not only was it a version 3 record, but it re-inforced that if Sydney can start to get things right on and off the field, as they have been of late, the fans will engage. Time for the club to build on the good-will and not take it for granted, as has happened far too often in their short history.

Fittingly, the game lived up to the hype, even if the result didn't particularly please the masses. Sydney did some good things, taking the lead twice and reacting to the rousing support, but they also did some naive things, exposed on the counter-attack a few times too many.

While this match was expansive and exciting, like so many Sydney-Melbourne clashes, there's a good chance Sydney's minor semi-final clash with the Roar will be less pleasing on the eye. Last week's dour 0-0 draw in the 'match of the season' at Suncorp was just the latest in a number of lacklsutre clashes between the two, with only one goal in their three games so far this season.

Factor in the pre-season and it's three 0-0 draws in four games. Fingers crossed something gives.

Right now the only given is the the Mariners have the premiers plate and will be factoring in ACL action at the end of next season. The pressure slighty released, it's time to focus on an even bigger prize, the championship.

The closest A-League season yet promises an even closer post-season.

Stay tuned to TRBA over the coming weeks for all your regular season and finals analysis and feel free to share your thoughts by either posting a comment or sending me an email to roundballanalyst@gmail.com. Enjoy the football.

10 Comments:

Blogger pippinu said...

With Tiatto likely to "earn" a few weeks rest, I see the Roar dropping out after the first fortnight of games, especially so if Juninho is able to get plenty of game time. Your call of a tight contest is spot on - one goal over the two legs would not surprise me in the least. The Roar's speedsters will certainly test Sydney's defence and you are right that they will need to be a bit more compact than they were against my mob. With no real need to go chasing goals, I think SFC can manage that.

I also see the likelihood that the loser of the 2nd semi between CCM and the Jets will not make the grand final. A repeat of the version 1 grand final is on the cards.

Mon. Jan. 21, 12:51:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger Bring Back CL's blog said...

In the 'big' games thus far the roars talented kiddies have frozen.

I see this being a drab match and I will probably head home from the club at half time not caring who wins

Mon. Jan. 21, 01:54:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous sir alex said...

Finals experience will be the difference in the FC-Roar game. Sydney will have learnt from last years 'debacle' against the Jets and should go through. I agree with pippinu in a repeat of v1 GF, with the only differnce being the result.

Ps. Any word whether Sydney FC "picked" a nickname over the weekend?

Tue. Jan. 22, 10:27:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Ed Vegas said...

Tiato will be a huge loss for the Roar. The last game against Sydney in Brisbane was the first game in three seasons that I did not get that feeling familar to all roar fans that we would be hit with the succer punch at any minute.

Unfortunatly it was Tiato providing that sense of stability and assurance.

Oh well, that wont stop me heading to Sydney with my fingers and toes crossed.

Tue. Jan. 22, 11:26:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Matty T said...

I agree Sir Alex. The likes of Corica and Popovic will have the edge over the kids of the roar, especially with no Tiatto.
Won't matter either way, as they will be beat by the mighty Central Coast in the GF.

Tue. Jan. 22, 12:45:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Mike said...

I was also at the Sydney game on the weekend, and as a neutral i could really appreciate the atmosphere and I hope that they can continue to pull some decent crowds, although I believe some of the crowd issues may relate to ticket prices ($23 being the cheapest). I'm not sure if anyone can tell me otherwise but I'm used to paying $18 / ticket in Newcastle and $16 on the Coast. May not seem like alot of money but for some that extra $5 can deter them from attending.

Sir Alex, RE: Nickname for Sydney FC they "picked" the "Sky Blues". Out of all the names in the world, that is all they could come up with? But oh well that's of little consequence since I'm not a Sydney FC fan.

Being a Jets fan, I'm hopeful and a little scared for them at this moment. While I think we can do enough to scrape through, the past few weeks have shown the limitations of our squad (and the disinterest of a certain Mark Bridge, goal aside).

Here's to an exciting V3 final series!

Tue. Jan. 22, 06:16:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Thanks all for your intersts and comments and goo to hear from ya Sir alex an Ed Vegas...

I share similar sentiments to those here that sydney will be tough to beat because of their big game experience...juninho is ripe to come up with something big, and brosque keeps improving...

popovic has been far more important in the past month or so...

it's gonna be a close finals and penalties could be a big factor - the jets have the excellent tactician in van egmond, the mariners are physical and have a classy front third, sydney have the big game experience and frank has been doing a decent job of motivating his men...

while its very close, i'm leaning more to a jets-fc gf...

agree with pippinu and ed that tiatto will be a miss, but becuase of that and their final position on the ladder, roar fans should hope that farina can harness a relaxed, carefree attitude, which might just entice the kids to have a real go, play without the pressure...

Their pace could worry the heart of Sydney's defence, particularly if they're allowed to drift in and around reinaldo..

Agree Mike that even $5 can make a bit of a difference for many, esp if it's family...high ticket prices encourage people to pick and choose their games...i think you'll find it's a little cheaper if you pre-buy...at the end of the day ppl want value for money and they just havent been getting it with sydney over the past two seasons.

Very few games has been as open, rivetting and entertaining as that one.

Tue. Jan. 22, 10:18:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not just ticket prices, IMO it's alot to do with the location of the stadium. It's a little too far from the CBD to just walk there and the traffic is a complete mess after the game. I won't even go into the carpark issue, i'll just say that i feel sorry for people who have to navigate that everyweekend.

Then there's also the fact that this a bandwagon town plain and simple. Tell people here that it's a "Huge" "Not to be missed" "Everything on the line" kind of match and people will flock to it. Otherwise they couldn't give a toss.

To be fair though, our crowds are on par or better than the rest of the league bar Melbourne....People just seem to love sticking the boot in about this kind of stuff.

Wed. Jan. 23, 12:32:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Ed Vegas said...

I think the stadium actually has a lot to do with why the Roar crowds are bigger than most others. It is very central, right on a train station, has excellent free bus services to all parts on game nights.

Regular free shuttles from several locations in the CBD (seriously its less than ten minutes walk from george st)which is great for people comming after work.

Additionaly the stadium looks great and has good visability and atmosphere for a big stadium.

There is no parking, this is intentional to discorage driving to reduce traffic problems.

Also has a huge walk up crowd from the surrounding suburbs.

Of course the size and nature of the stadium contributes to the high ticket prices.

However I am 100% sure that if the Roar where to move to a smaller, less prestigious venue further out of town their crowds would shrink considerabley.

I am a huge fan but would struggle to motivate myself for a trip out to ballymore every fortnight.

I think a large part of Melbourne's success as a sport loving city comes from the fact that all the stadiums are right in the thick of things and easy to access. Lang park is Brisbane's only comparable venue.

Wed. Jan. 23, 12:51:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous wayne said...

Hey Tony, I really should have left a comment here by now, but I've been having a long, long drink of ACL FOOTBALL NEXT YEAR!
To be honest, while the double would be nice, I always wanted the mariners to get the premiership, so if we dont get there to the GF, ce sera sera - although I seem to have picked up a case of the Kendal Creep, meaning a loss to the Jets would urk particularly these days (although come Feb 6,of course, all loathings are suspended, nay inverted if Griffiths and Holland are in the squad...country >>> club every time Im afraid, which makes me even more distainful of Kosmina and his verbal crap - the man should learn the grace of McKinna AND never be let near a Socceroo sideline again).
I just watched the Roar-Adelaide game again, and Qld really did just play into the Reds hands, forgot to play their own game, bypassed their own excellent midfield and just pumped it up and over thinking the left was free because Cassio was going forward. I hope they explode against Sydney, but I'm not confident. Funnily, I am most confident of winning against Sydney, then Jets, and then least confident against the Roar - if they get that far.
With the satellite dish under our belt, Im hoping CCM play with a lot more composure from now on - last week was a good start.

Wed. Jan. 23, 08:52:00 pm AEDT  

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