With the third-last round of the 2013-14 Hyundai A-League season having just been completed, the finals qualifications story has become somewhat clearer.
|2||Central Coast Mariners||25||11||6||8||30||33||-3||39|
|3||Western Sydney Wanderers||25||10||8||7||30||26||4||38|
With neither the Wanderers or Victory able to secure a win this week, the Central Coast Mariners have leapt two places to second spot on the ladder. However a tricky away assignment at Perth Glory and home game with minor premiers Brisbane Roar leave this anything but certain for the run into the finals.
Sydney FC kept their finals hopes in tact as well, after a 1-1 away to Melbourne Victory that leaves them without loss in the three Big Blues played out so far this season.
Wellington and Melbourne Heart both saw any chance of making the finals series dashed in their losses this week to Adelaide and Brisbane respectively to leave Newcastle Jets the only team currently outside the 6 with a chance of qualifying.
So, for teams still campaigning for a place in the finals, the fixtures are as follows:
CCM: Perth Glory (Away), Brisbane Roar (Away)
WSW: Brisbane Roar (Home), Melbourne Heart (Away)
ADE: Melbourne Heart (Home), Newcastle Jets (Away)
VIC: Newcastle Jets (Away), Wellington (Away)
SYD: Wellington (Home), Perth Glory (Home)
NEW: Melbourne Victory (Home), Adelaide (Home)
As evidenced, a lot of teams competing for a place in the post-season competition will need to play each other before the end, with only Sydney spared this fate. Expect a game of musical chairs between now and the end of round 27.
Talking Points for the round:
For what was the third time this season Roar striker Berisha was sent from the field, this time for a poorly-executed challenge on Melbourne Heart goalkeeper Tando Velaphi.
While Roar manager Mike Mulvey was quick to defend the striker and accuse referees of specifically targeting the Albanian import, it was hard to argue about the danger of the tackle , regardless of whether Berisha had intent or not.
It can hardly be disputed that modern-day refereeing places the safety of the keeper as paramount. So any player that chooses to go studs up at one, let alone a player fresh from a previous suspension for a dangerous tackle, should expect little else as reward for their inflammatory behaviour.
The fact is that is hardly surprising that referees are starting to tire of the strikers petulance. Only a few weeks ago against Sydney FC, we saw evidence of his tendency for extremes in his tackling and his playacting, and neither sat particularly well with most fans of the game. This only a few months after a previous two-yellow send-off against Perth Glory (the second offence here).
As Mark Bosnich attempts to reason, it is that same style of dedicated, high energy play of Berisha that makes for attractive football when used for good. He even goes as far as threatening that the striker will leave Australian shores should he continue to get penalised for such incidents. It is all a little bit precious really.
Berisha’s passion for the game is not in question here, nor his reputation as one of the premier talents of the A-League. However the game cannot afford to be held hostage on the issue of stamping out dangerous play just because it means one of the game’s stars needs to reel in their enthusiasm for the sake of the safety of the other players on the field. The A-League is bigger than any one player and should not yield to any threats to take their ball and go home.
Wanderers failing to live up to their namesake
Western Sydney’s loss at Central Coast this week now means they have won only 1 of their last 7 away games (1W 2D 4L). It also marks quite a change from the opening of their campaign, where the Wanderers suffered just one defeat in the 2013 calendar year, with an away record of 3W 3D 1L.
Arguably, the Wanderers were the better team in the first half, taking the game to the Mariners and creating a few good chances for the likes of Aaron Mooy and for the Topor-Stanley goal.
However the second half exposed some frailties in Western Sydney’s defence, with Mitchell Duke in particular running riot through the back line of Wanderers. The Mariners second goal looked a long time coming, and will raise some interesting questions for what Popovic can do to change the recent wavering fortunes of the Western Sydney outfit.
Both teams had plenty to play for in this, the third edition of the Big Blue for the 2013-14 season. Melbourne had the opportunity to secure 2nd position on the ladder with a victory, while Sydney FC needed to consolidate its position inside the top-six, knowing that if they didn’t, the Newcastle Jets would have the chance to leapfrog them the following day in their fixture with Perth Glory. Of course, let’s not forget the attainment of bragging rights as well in Australian football’s premier grudge match.
The first half was certainly entertaining, with a host of chances falling to both teams, more often than not on the back of sloppy defending or errors bringing it out from the back. Near misses at both ends for Barbarouses and Garcia evidenced both the attacking prowess of the Sydney and Melbourne teams, as well as the poor defending that leaves them ranked 7th and 9th for defence in this year’s competition.
The second half, while perhaps producing less opportunities than the first, did not remain deadlocked for very long. Sydney winger Ali Abbas was allowed to cut in from the left wing, and his parried shot was put away by Anthony Chianese for just his fourth goal of the season.
However the advantage would not last long. In the 63rd minute, following what should probably have been an Abbas foul on Victory captain Mark Milligan, James Troisi managed to sneak an equalising goal into the far post after being played in by Brazilian import Guilherme Finkler.
Despite several more chances throughout the half and into injury time, the score would remain 1-1.
The game highlighted the defensive issue that both teams would do well to address before the finals campaign. While neither have struggled to score goals this year (with Melbourne FC ranked 3rd in offence this year and Sydney 4th), both teams have struggled for clean sheets (both with a competition low 5 games) and without changes this weakness will be exposed by the better teams of the competition.
It remains to be seen if either of these teams can be considered genuine contenders for this year;s A-League title.
The Glory of home games
A 2-1 comeback at home by Perth Glory against the Newcastle Jets now makes it 12 games without loss when hosting the Novocastrians.
The current Golden Boot leader Adam Taggart was able to establish the 1-nil advantage for Newcastle in the 61st minute, following a incisive pass in behind the defence from David Carney.
Despite a few chances falling to the Glory, the lead looked like it might be enough. That was until a Nebojsa Marinkovic free kick screamer levelled the game at 1-1 in the 84th. Buoyed by the goal, Chris Harold would score only a minute later to secure the 2-1 win.
While the win means little for Perth Glory in terms of progressing in the competition, the loss does provide a setback to the Jet’s final hopes, who remain outside the top-six despite dropped points by Sydney FC.