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Cheats, divers and handballs

The A-League Angle delves into the world of Australian football, providing analysis of the top-flight club competition Down Under.

Cheats, divers and handballs

Last weekend's A-League action will be remembered for two things: Western Sydney notching their first ever win, and Adelaide's Jeronimo Neumann being labelled "a cheat".

Drama erupted at Hindmarsh Stadium on Saturday evening as Ben Sigmund was given his marching orders for tugging back Neumann as the last defender. Referee Jared Gillett was placed in a difficult situation as the Argentine broke free of Wellington's defence. Replays show Sigmund at the very least attempted to pull back Neumann after he is beaten. As the last line of defence, Sigmund should, in fact, be sent-off.

But the theatrical manner in which Neumann hit the ground left a bitter taste in the mouth - particularly for the Wellington players, who must be frustrated by their ongoing woes away from home. It appears Neumann could have continued his run, but only chose to fall under the contact from Sigmund when it was clear he would not retain possession.

After the match, Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante unleashed his thoughts on Neumann's behaviour, and on the performances of the officials - understandable, perhaps, given the 3-1 loss saw Wellington lose their first match of the season.

"We got a few tough decisions against us," Durante said. "I think the first [goal] was offside from what I saw.

"The second one, he's dived. He's a cheat. In my book, if he's dived, he's a cheat. I think the referees were shocking tonight.

"To end the game with a referee's decision like that ... I mean, that linesman on that far side did nothing to help this game. I thought it was extremely poor."

The incident raises a few questions. Firstly, did Neumann dive? Was there sufficient contact to warrant a free-kick had Sigmund not been the final defender? What constitutes a cheat in the context of a game of football?

Regardless, Adelaide justifiably claimed the three points, Sigmund's punishment has been upheld, while Wellington's loss - and the small matter of the Wanderers' first victory - means every team has now won and lost at least one game each. That leaves the competition perfectly poised heading into round five.

Meanwhile, Perth coach Ian Ferguson was left fuming over a decision which saw his men go down 2-1 to Sydney FC. Nick Ward's header struck the arm of defender Rhyan Grant, however referee Peter Green waved away the Glory's appeals.

A penalty should have been given but, in truth, Steve Pantelidis lost the game for Perth when he was shown a red card which led to second-half goals from Alessandro Del Piero and Brett Emerton.

The failings of the false nine

What would Melbourne Victory boss Ange Postecoglou give to have Besart Berisha leading his attack?

During his time at Brisbane Roar, Postecoglou won back-to-back championships as his side blasted through the rest of the A-League. Berisha, the competition's leading goalscorer last term, proved to be an integral part of that storied Brisbane outfit.

Now, having moved to Melbourne to take over arguably the biggest club in the league, Postecoglou has opted to play Marcos Flores at the point of the attack. Usually a number 10, Flores is accustomed to sitting in the hole between defence and midfield in order to orchestrate his team. In the Victory's 2-1 defeat at Newcastle last Friday evening, Flores was flanked by Archie Thompson and Marco Rojas.

Melbourne's play through midfield flowed for the majority of the match, with the wide men providing an enticing outlet to get in behind the Jets' defence. In the first half alone, Rojas had three gilt-edged scoring opportunities, while Thompson will have nightmares over his one-on-one effort against Mark Birighitti. But it wasn't until Tiago Calvano's skewed clearance found the head of Thompson in the 71st minute that the Victory made their breakthrough.

It's hard to believe Melbourne wouldn't be better off with a genuine striker leading the line. Thompson may be the answer in a restructured formation, though his ability to hold the ball up may be brought into question if he is left too isolated. Flores, though, always looked more dangerous when he had players making runs in front of him, rather than drifting deep in a false-nine role that seems to be the flavour of the month.

Neat interplay and intelligent angled runs from deep are to be applauded - and are critical to the A-League's tactical and technical development. But if a formation does not allow this particular team to score goals then it may be time for a rethink.

Down the other end, former England and Liverpool target-man Emile Heskey bagged his first brace since moving from Aston Villa. The contrast between his seized opportunities and the way the Victory players squandered theirs could not have been more stark.


Putting a price on experience

They say the biggest shortcoming with fielding young players is their inconsistency. Perhaps the same can be said of coaches.

Brisbane boss Rado Vidosic, in his first season in the top job, has seen his side endure two defeats, one draw and a thrashing of Melbourne Victory in round two. With six goals for and three goals against, the Roar have been the most hot and cold outfit in the A-League this season.

A "three-peat" was always going to be a tough assignment, but their erratic form has been something of a surprise. The Roar appeared rather stale at home to Western Sydney on Saturday evening, lacking their penetration and fluency with the ball.

It is, of course, too early to rule Brisbane out. They have shown champion qualities time and again and will likely find themselves in the mix come finals time. Unfortunately for their fans, the team seems bound for a topsy-turvy season as they learn their identity under a new manager.

Youth is not a foible in itself, though. Take Melbourne Heart for example. John Aloisi's men played at walking pace, playing into the hands of the visiting Central Coast Mariners, who claimed a 1-0 win thanks to Pedj Bojic's free-kick.

With the experienced Matt Thompson, Richard Garcia and Fred in midfield, the Heart should dominate most games. However, it seems the overall blend of youth and experience is lacking. It's also possible that the existing line-up simply needs to push the pace of the game, particularly when playing at home. Former Socceroo Vince Grella will be available in a few weeks' time, and until then Aloisi must find the tonic to the Heart's lethargy.

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