Gavin Bergin is here with a round-up of all the news and action coming from the A-League in week nine.
Australia is a country renowned for its sporting pedigree. Regularly troubling the higher echelons of the medals table at the Olympics, recognised as world leaders in Cricket, Rugby Union and Rugby League, and a world leader in sport science.
Football in Australia, spearheaded by its flagship A-League, is growing. While it may not be recognised on such a global level as the aforementioned sports, the national team have now appeared in the past three World Cups, and more and more Australian players are beginning to make their mark overseas.
However, this past weekend demonstrated some of the problems that still face the A-League, and in particular some of it’s smaller clubs, as Central Coast Mariners were granted permission to host a “home” game in North Sydney.
Brief geography lesson alert – Central Coast Mariners regular home ground is located in Gosford, which is roughly an hour north of North Sydney. The equivalent would be Dundalk requesting to play a home game at Dalymount Park. Now imagine instead of Dundalk arranging a home game at Dalymount, they decided to arrange it at Clontarf Cricket Club.
This is essentially what happened on Friday night in the A-League as the Mariners staged their game against Melbourne Victory at North Sydney Oval. A farcical situation which was not only dangerous for the players, as the surface in the middle of the pitch was rock hard, but was also a poor viewing experience for those watching on television.
Despite being champions just a couple of years ago, the Mariners are still considered one of the smaller clubs in the A-League, working off a limited fan-base and catchment area in comparison to clubs like Melbourne Victory and Sydney.
The thinking behind the staging of a game in North Sydney is that it may help to encourage potential fans from further down the coast, to make the journey north to support the Mariners on a more regular basis.
On the flip side, they risk alienating their already small support at Gosford by moving games away from their traditional home. It’s a tough situation for the club, as they need to explore every avenue to firstly guarantee their survival, and secondly to grow as a club.
Staging games at a cricket ground is not going to benefit anyone in the long-run however, and there were complaints all round afterwards about the dangers posed to the players when having to play on such a surface. Nobody wants to see the Mariners go out of business, but if they are to attempt such an exercise in the future then they need to ensure they pick a venue that is up to the standards required for professional football.
A winning performance on the pitch may also help, which wasn’t the case for the Mariners on Friday night. Scoreless at halftime, Victory’s class eventually shone through in the second half as goals from Besart Berisha, Daniel Georgievski, and Connor Pain saw them run out 3-0 winners. Victory remain the only unbeaten team in the league following the weekend’s results and that will be sure to please Kevin Muscat, even if the farce surrounding the game left him rather agitated.
The only other team who approached the weekend with an unbeaten record, apart from Victory, were Sydney FC. Graham Arnold’s men had produced their best ever start to a season but it was to come to a crashing halt as league leaders Perth Glory produced an excellent performance to take all three points away from Allianz Stadium. In what was a memorable performance from referee Alan Milliner for all the wrong reasons, he awarded two soft penalties and got several other decisions wrong as Perth came from a goal down to win.
Glory had much the better of the first half as they continued to show that their current position at the top of the table is far from a stroke of luck, only to fail to take advantage of their dominance for the second game running. It looked like they may live to regret it again as they conceded a penalty on 55 minutes, awarded by Milliner for what he somehow saw as a handball by Dino Djulbic, despite the defender having his arms tight to his body and the ball appearing to hit his shoulder.
Glory players surrounded the referee to complain about the decision before ex-Glory striker Shane Smeltz stepped up to dink the penalty into the net to give Sydney the lead.
Far from letting their heads drop, the Glory players rolled up their sleeves and re-doubled their efforts in search of an equalizer. They were duly rewarded in the 83rd minute as Royston Griffiths headed home a Nebojsa Marinkovic free-kick, and it was to get even better for the league leaders four minutes later.
Once again it was Milliner at the heart of the action as he awarded another dubious penalty for a foul by Chris Naumoff on Scott Jamieson, which meant Andy Keogh could stroke home his sixth league goal of the season to wrap up the win for the Glory.
A game that will be remembered as the end of Sydney’s unbeaten run, but one that once again showed that the standard of refereeing in the A-League leave a lot to be desired. It’s an issue that the FFA really need to address as performances like Milliners seem to be becoming a more regular occurrence.
Wellington Phoenix continue to suggest they will be “best of the rest” outside the top four this season, as they came from behind to beat the winless Newcastle Jets at Hunter Stadium. Phoenix now sit just a point behind fourth-placed Sydney FC, and have opened up a six-point gap to sixth place Melbourne City.
In what was far from their best performance this season, they found themselves a goal down at the break to Joel Griffiths 24th minute goal. Things eventually clicked for the Phoenix on 73 minutes as a wonderful through ball from the ever-impressive Roly Bonevacia was gathered by Nathan Burns to round the keeper and score into an empty net.
Goal number eight of the A-League campaign for Burns, and he’s been rewarded with a place in Australia’s preliminary Asian Cup Squad.
Just a minute later Burns and Bonevacia combined again, with the latter’s shot being parried to the feet of the waiting Michael McGlinchey to tap into an empty net and give the Phoenix the lead.
Things got even better for the visitors as they scored a third goal in five minutes, this time Roy Krishna’s wonderful strike from 25 yards did the damage to wrap up the victory. It was a familiar story for Newcastle as they gave up the lead in a match for the fifth time this season. Phil Stubbins has been given the dreaded vote-of-confidence in recent days as the fans have started to put pressure on the club to make a change.
Elsewhere in the league, Adelaide United defeated a struggling Western Sydney Wanderers at Hindmarsh Stadium on Saturday. An early sending-off for Wanderers Nikolai Topor-Stanley saw the Wanderers up against wave after wave of Adelaide attacks for the remainder of the 90 minutes. Despite the complete domination they enjoyed, the Reds only managed to get on the score sheet twice, through Marcelo Carrusca and Fabio Ferreira either side of halftime.
Wanderers remain bottom of the table, and it emerged over the weekend that a row between the players and the club over the bonuses (or lack thereof) the players will receive for the FIFA Club World Cup. The team are currently in Morocco at the moment as they prepare to face off against Mexican side Cruz Azul, after agreeing to play in the tournament having earlier threatened a boycott over the bonus situation.
It’s been quite the season at Wanderers so far, a victory in the Asian Champions League alongside a win-less A-League run and now this very public row over bonuses. They are by no means out of top-six contention yet, but if the atmosphere at the club does not improve soon then they may well miss out on the play-offs for the first time in their history.
The final match of the weekend was a (perhaps predictably) dull game involving two struggling sides in Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar. A game succinctly described as “two teams trying not to lose” by a fellow match-goer.
There were three notable events in the match: Firstly, Damien Duff picked up a hamstring injury which saw him withdrawn at halftime. He has until December 20th to recover as City don’t play this weekend due to Wanderers being overseas for the World Club Cup.
Secondly, the referee awarded a debatable penalty to City just after halftime. Thirdly, it was duly despatched by man-of-the-match Aaron Mooy. This was to prove to be the winning goal and it was also City’s second win of the season having won the reverse fixture in Brisbane last month.
Full list of A-League results – week 9
Syndey FC 1 – 2 Perth Glory
Central Coast Mariners 0 – 3 Melbourne Victory
Newcastle Jets 1 – 3 Wellington Phoenix
Adelaide United 2 – 0 Western Sydney Wanderers
Melbourne City 1 – 0 Brisbane Roar
Gavin Bergin, Pundit Arena