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Nov 7, 2012

Case for the defence

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

Case for the defence

Has there been a greater capitulation in A-League history than Sydney FC's second-half collapse against Central Coast Mariners last Friday?

The Sky Blues shipped four goals in 12 minutes en route to their heaviest defeat - a 7-2 thrashing. Before Michael McGlinchey scored the Mariners' fourth goal in the 55th minute, Sydney FC were somewhat in the contest, but their defensive frailties became glaringly obvious in the ensuing period.

Sebastian Ryall, Trent McClenahan, Daniel Petkovski and Rhyan Grant were torn apart, and some sloppy work from Ivan Necevski in goal didn't help matters. But, as ever, defending can only be done successfully when carried out as a unit. This is where Sydney let themselves down.

Without the injured Alessandro Del Piero, Sydney appeared rudderless. Ali Abbas has been used as a stop-gap central midfielder, but his defensive weaknesses were exposed by the likes of Mariners playmaker Tom Rogic - who is being mentioned, with good reason, as a future Socceroos star. Abbas' tenure in the middle of the park will surely end when Jason Culina reaches full fitness. While it was necessary to pair Paul Reid - and, earlier in the season, Terry McFlynn - with a player who can distribute, the lack of organisation and defensive awareness left an injury-struck backline exposed.

Culina may feature in this weekend's 'Big Blue' clash against rivals Melbourne Victory, and though it seems a swift shift of responsibility, the former PSV man must take immediate control of Sydney's midfield if they are to address the problems of their structure.

The return of Adam Griffiths and Pascal Bosschaart would also seem both imminent and important. One would expect the physically intimidating duo to form a solid partnership at the back, with McClenahan shifting to his more suited right-back role. Regular left-back Fabio coming back in should also add an element of stability.

As coach Ian Crook pointed out in the aftermath, the last time he conceded seven goals in charge of a team he went on to win the Football League One title with Norwich in 2009. Whether his team bounces back in such fashion this season will come down to how quickly his players can return from injury and their attitude when they do.

Though fans will be baying for blood after the disappointing defeat, it's hard to be too harsh on Crook, who is without his first-choice defenders. It's also important to pay homage to the Central Coast, who thoroughly deserved their win and who have, in Rogic, a special talent.


Fired up against old mates

In a week when Manchester United striker Robin van Persie stole the headlines when he netted against former employers Arsenal, it was apt that so many players scored against their old teams this past weekend in Australia.

Like Van Persie, Adelaide's Dario Vidosic refused to revel in his winner against Brisbane Roar - the team he played for in the inaugural season of the A-League, and for whom his father is now head coach. It was a fine free-kick from 20 yards that preceded the non-celebration, although, in truth, goalkeeper Michael Theo would probably given him less of the near post to aim for if he had his time over.

Brisbane's usually fluent passing game has been off in recent weeks, leaving the back-to-back champions languishing near the bottom of the table on four points. Passes seem to be marginally behind the recipients, and opponents are able to gather men behind the ball before hitting on the counter-attack.

Without this penetration, the Roar have been reduced to firing long-distance strikes. However, it could well have been a different story in scoreline and confidence had Mitch Nichols buried an early chance from close range.

Marco Rojas bagged a brace against his former team-mates in Monday night's game between Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix.

The New Zealand international earned his place in the A-League through an initiative created in 2009 by Phoenix fans, who were understandably fuming when he fled for Melbourne two years later. Rojas has been derided by the Wellington faithful ever since, and there would have been more than a few groans from the Kiwis as the pint-sized winger helped Melbourne to a 3-2 triumph.

It was a tremendous match for goals, with Wellington's Jeremy Brockie and the Victory's Marcos Flores hitting superb strikes, while Rojas kept his celebrations to a minimum out of respect.

Josh Mitchell's Newcastle Jets, meanwhile, may have been on the wrong side of the ledger in Perth, but it will have given the defender a great sense of satisfaction to level matters in the 70th minute.

Gary van Egmond's men were brave in defeat, eventually succumbing to a late winner from Chris Harold. The Jets, like most teams, have a less than enviable record in Western Australia and Mitchell wheeled away in delight when it seemed he had earned his hometown club a point. But Perth remain near the top of the table and could stay there throughout the season.


Home sweet home

Following on from their first ever win last week, A-League newcomers Western Sydney Wanderers penned another note in the record books with their maiden home victory. In truth, the Wanderers met an understrength Melbourne Heart at the right time.

The out-of-form visitors were without their captain, Fred, and only threatened on the odd occasion. Conversely, Western Sydney look a much brighter outfit with youngster Joey Gibbs leading the attack instead of veteran Dino Kresinger. Meanwhile, Aaron Mooy continues to impress in the middle of the park, sparking talk that he and Rogic could be the central midfield pairing for the national team for years to come.

The most important point to take out of Friday's match was evidence that no team in the competition will be easybeats. Every club seems set to notch their fair share of points, making for an intense season until the final round.

Elsewhere, it was the same home and away saga for Perth and Wellington: the Glory won at home, the Phoenix stumbled away.

Both clubs have tinkered with different preparations to overcome the significant travel that comes with being based so far from Australia's east coast, while other clubs are still trying to work out how best to knock down their respective fortresses.

Changing meal and travel times hasn't altered the trend. So, until there is some kind of breakthrough in sports science, the attitude of the away teams will remain pivotal.

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