A-League review: Brisbane Roar's dramatic win at Dolphin Stadium a blueprint for A-League success
It's Monday, so here's the good, bad and ugly from Round 6 in the A-League.
Brisbane in Redcliffe
There were things not to like in Brisbane Roar's 4-3 win over Melbourne City on Sunday. The most notable being the lack of a red card to achieve A-League Bingo, more than City's Denis Genreau being penalised for his face not being destroyed, or the league leader's collective character.
The strongest aspect was a positive, though, outweighing all that and in context, Genreau's handball doesn't exactly decide the match. Much has been said of "boutique" stadiums, but Brisbane finding a way back into the match while feeding off the crowd's energy at Dolphin Stadium was an ideal picture of what the A-League should really be. Well, outside of promotion and relegation.
Proximity is important -- and there can be potentially riskier consequences to that -- but there is a legitimate footballing effect to playing in an infectious environment like Dolphin Stadium. Thereby helping to create a better product overall, aside from the unique atmosphere football provides in Australian sport. To a detrimental effect, playing in the cavernous expanses of Suncorp or Marvel Stadium matters, much like playing over international breaks because of the fallacious notion of "clear air" in the Australian sporting schedule.
Richard Scudamore does not need to be brought in as a consultant to recognise this.
"Progression" of the ball, part one
The Arnie-ball World Tour™ continued on Friday with Australia's 1-0 win over Jordan. The Socceroos are on top of Group B with four wins from as many games and have a goal difference of +15. Yet something lingers. It would be naïve to think games of football cannot be played without moments of discomfort. Interpretation of the Socceroos' matches cannot be separated from the opponents they have faced, though. It is why the question of respective performances is just as important as respective results.
However much respect one can pay to opponents in this second stage of AFC qualification for the 2022 World Cup, games against Chinese Taipei and Nepal were, frankly, processions. But that should not impact approach. Despite almost complete dominance of the ball from Australia, the manner in which Harry Souttar and Jamie Maclaren have scored half of the team's goals simply cannot be ignored.
The third stage will not be as forgiving, and it will ask questions of Graham Arnold's tactical implementation. They are the same questions that were asked after the Socceroos' early Asian Cup exit earlier this year, and the same questions that were asked while he coached in the A-League. How can reality continually be suspended? Results are sustainable or unsustainable, due to performances. That discourse on the topic in Australian football inevitably ends with the question of style or substance -- as opposed to simple logic -- is just as bewildering as having two deep central midfielders effectively playing as left- and right-back against a low defensive block. (Let's leave the selection and deployment of personnel for another day.)
The conversation should not be confined to the prism of quantity and chances taken or missed, but the type of chances created to begin with and why. Wake up, Australia!
"Progression" of the ball, part two
Now, to Arnie-ball Lite. It was the 86th minute in Sydney FC's 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory on Sunday night. Migjen Basha is dispossessed and upon receiving from the breakdown, Luke Brattan has the opportunity to initiate a transition for the home side. After a wall pass with Kosta Barbarouses, Brattan is presented with a number of options to exploit a retreating Victory defence. It's important to note Adama Traore is further advanced than the rest of the front four. Brattan can pass again to Barbarouses, drive past Anthony Lesiotis if he decides to break out of a jog, or turn in the other direction past Lesiotis to create a 3-on-3 scenario for the Sky Blues.
Instead, Brattan brings Traore back into play by passing behind Anthony Caceres, laterally to an advancing Rhyan Grant. It may seem a small and inconsequential moment, but it was highly indicative of Sydney's possessional play under Steve Corica (and Arnold before him). The midfield simply will not expose themselves to risk under any circumstances, even when the numbers and space in a given situation could potentially be in their favour.
Against an undermanned Victory side openly allowing Sydney FC the ball, it is this aspect that meant the Toilet Seat holders only registered their first shot on target in the second half, despite the majority of possession. Sydney eventually overturned a 1-0 half-time deficit, but the continued preference of attrition over penetration can be exploited.
Central Coast, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
As a kind of preface, Central Coast doesn't fall into the categories of good, bad or ugly this week. What is for certain, however, it is highly confusing at this stage. It is admittedly worn out to reference "Moneyball" for a sports team not as affluent as its competitors. Yet they are the last dog at the bowl in the A-League, and Mariners coach Alen Stajcic is at least trying to implement different strategies to the rest this season.
Something that already seems prevalent with Wellington Phoenix, trying to out-Sydney Sydney when disparate squad quality is taken into consideration, just strikes as illogical. Especially given recent history in Gosford, that contrast is refreshing.
Much like Wellington, though, the question becomes the effectiveness of that implementation with the players at its disposal. Because primarily, despite the fact the Mariners are more competitive, the most momentary of lapses can prove costly for them. In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Adelaide United, Daniel De Silva's absence was greatly felt in both defensive and attacking senses. Adelaide's ability to regain control of the match was both a result of their own energy, and the Mariners' consequent inability to sustain pressure.
In the end, the process of renewal on the pitch for Central Coast is one that requires and deserves patience, but there will be moments of difficulty.
Jertec vs. Ugarkovic
How two of the A-League's in-form central midfielders would battle for control of Saturday night's match in Geelong made for a fascinating subplot coming into it. And they delivered.
Newcastle's 1-0 win over Western United was just on the basis of the whole 90 minutes, but the manner in which momentum swung in this one was riveting. Ebbs and flows, assertiveness, moves and counter moves. Everything football should be. Western United's starts have officially become a quote-unquote "thing," but both Steven Ugarkovic and Dario Jertec were at the heart of respective ascendancies.
Newcastle thoroughly deserved the lead at the interval, and with numerous spurned opportunities before Angus Thurgate's deciding goal also in mind, was more dominant than the solitary goal suggested. Ugarkovic was crucial in all of Newcastle's best moments, in both attacking and defensive phases. Connor Chapman's performance alongside Jertec definitely played a part, though, along with appropriate adjustment from Western United coach Mark Rudan -- replacing him with Max Burgess.
As a consequence, Jertec was able to see more of the ball in more favourable positions and could actually penetrate. For both, their impact was not as strongly felt as profligate finishing. Their respective ability to put the team in those positions, though, definitely should not go unnoticed. They were great, and as a result, so was the game.