Wandering to the top
The A-League Angle delves into the world of Australian football, analysing key talking points from the top-flight club competition Down Under.
Wandering to the top
As so often happens in football, after one team dominates the contest thoroughly, their opponent seizes on a slight lapse in concentration at the other end of the pitch to net the winner. And so, in this case, the A-League's hottest team, the Western Sydney Wanderers, pounced away to Central Coast Mariners to move top of the table.
In monsoonal conditions on Saturday, the Wanderers stretched their winning run to a record-equalling eight matches. However, it was not perhaps won in the manner many would expect. Star man Shinji Ono was kept quiet by a combination of the conditions and an organised Mariners backline. And gone were the sweeping attacking movements of the past few weeks.
Instead, the Wanderers held on as the Mariners enjoyed the better chances during the top-of-the-table clash. Daniel McBreen should have done better with his shot in the first half - stopped on the line by Wanderers defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley - while the experiment of goalkeeper Mat Ryan taking penalties ended in the 52nd minute.
After absorbing such pressure, the Wanderers struck with nine minutes remaining through substitute Labinot Haliti. A mixture of Iacopo La Rocca having a rare moment of freedom to feed the strikers, intelligent runs from Mark Bridge and Haliti, and the Central Coast defence presumably focused on pushing up created the chance. The Kosovo-born striker duly finished to give the A-League newcomers a two-point cushion atop the standings.
Will Tony Popovic's men have the stamina, ability and strength of character to stay there over the remaining four games of the season?
There were enough worrying signs against the Mariners to indicate the Premier's Plate is far from won, but perhaps most pleasing for Popovic was his side's ability to make the most of their few clear-cut opportunities.
Victory back to winning ways
One team not yet counting themselves out are Melbourne Victory. After three weeks of indifferent form, which saw them drop away from the Mariners and Wanderers, the Victory returned to the winner's circle in style with a 5-0 thrashing of Newcastle Jets on Sunday.
The return of striker Archie Thompson helped restore balance to Melbourne's attack, and perhaps a little belief within the rest of the squad. Marco Rojas continues to impress, causing the Jets' defence no end of problems throughout the afternoon.
The Jets, meanwhile, are having their line-up questioned following the resting of strikers Emile Heskey and Michael Bridges after a tough mid-week trip to Wellington. However, perhaps of more concern to Newcastle supporters is the exit of Ryan Griffiths to second-tier Chinese outfit Beijing Baxy.
In itself, the loss of an experienced striker to a club not yet in the Chinese Super League with five weeks left in the season is worrisome, but the trend behind the move is more disturbing.
Griffiths is now the club's sixth top goalscorer to leave in just eight seasons of the A-League. Ante Milicic, Joel Griffiths, Matt Thompson, Sasho Petrovski and Jeremy Brockie have all departed after leading the goalscoring charts at the Jets, who must once again re-configure their attack to suit the remaining personnel.
It's a familiar sinking feeling being experienced by Adelaide United following their listless display at home to Brisbane Roar. The back-to-back champions kept their finals hopes alive with a 1-0 win at Hindmarsh Stadium in a match where the home side never got into gear.
Were it not for goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic - not for the first time - Adelaide would have been on the end of an ugly scoreline, with their defensive shape skewed and their passing game off the radar.
The Reds subsequently slipped to fourth below the Victory, and while they possess some of the A-League's best talent in Dario Vidosic and Marcelo Carrusca, their inconsistency as a unit could prove an issue in the knock-out format of the finals.
Interest levels across the competition were kept at a maximum as the bottom two sides, Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix, claimed three points apiece.
The Glory hosted Sydney FC, but not even a 25-yard bomb from Alessandro Del Piero could rescue the Sky Blues in Western Australia. Sydney's cause was not aided by the sending off of Fabio in the second half, who were stung in the opening stanza by Chris Harold and Shane Smeltz.
Now sitting within striking distance of sixth-placed Brisbane, Perth will have faith in reaching the play-offs, but their next two fixtures against Newcastle and Wellington are likely to be critical.
Wellington, meanwhile, bounced back from a midweek loss to the Jets to defeat Melbourne Heart 1-0. On this occasion it was the winners who were reduced to 10 men, but an early goal to Jeremy Brockie proved enough.
The Phoenix remain one point behind the Glory, and arguably have a more difficult stretch of matches over the coming weeks. After taking on the Wanderers next week, Wellington will make the long trek to Perth before finishing at home to the Victory.