A-League Tops and Flops
It's time for the latest instalment of ESPNsoccernet's A-League Tops and Flops, our new weekly review of the best and worst from Australia's top flight.
Round 5 saw more woe for last season's Grand Finalists and a first ever win for the newest club to join the A-League party.
North Queensland Fury may not have been among the winners in Round 5, but Tops and Flops isn't a mere recap of results. Central Coast, Adelaide and Perth were all solid without sparkling in victory but Fury continued their infinitely impressive start to the season by dominating Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park despite losing 1-0. They only failed in the finishing department - not an insignificant area of the game, to be fair - and paid the price with a set piece goal by Nick Kalmar. But they deserve credit for keeping up their slick attacking play for the fifth week of a taxing Away-Home-Away-Home-Away sequence of fixtures.
Sydney FC found out just how quickly times change in the A-League on Saturday. The defending champions have had a disastrous start to the new campaign and their 3-1 loss to Adelaide in front of their smallest ever home crowd was one of the lowest points in the club's short history. Problems persist with injuries but more worrying for coach Vitezslav Lavicka was the apparent lack of effort displayed by the majority of those who took the field against Adelaide. The 'Champions' tag has been more poisoned chalice than lucky charm in the A-League, so these players must do much, much better to find their first win.
Mile Sterjovski took a season to get used to the A-League and he's now hitting his straps for table-topping Perth Glory. The striker was superb in Glory's 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix on Sunday on his return from injury. Playing off the last defender as strike partner Robbie Fowler dropped off to find space in the hole, Sterjovski's movement off the ball destroyed Phoenix. The timing and energy of his runs constantly found space in behind; on one occasion he was booked for brilliantly chipping the ball home after an incorrect offside call. Never mind, he still scored a goal and set up Fowler for Perth's winner.
Roddy Vargas had a night to forget as Melbourne Victory fell 2-0 to Central Coast Mariners in Friday's clash at Bluetongue Stadium. In fitting with our title, one of the defender's first involvements was a hopeful flop to the ground in the Mariners' box after soft contact from Rostyn Griffiths - not what's required from a centre-half in a physical league. Vargas then let Griffiths leap completely unchecked at the other end to open the scoring from a header from a set piece. Later in the first half, Vargas made the criminal error of letting a high ball bounce before getting all too easily pushed out from under it by diminutive winger Ollie Bozanic. He then fouled the Mariner and earned a yellow card for backchat. Victory fans will be looking for Vargas to harden up after this display.
Rini Coolen's Adelaide United sit top of the table with Perth after their successful sojourn to Sydney. Coolen deserves eternal credit for transforming the wooden spooners into an A-League force despite limited preparation time. Coolen has constructed a well-oiled front third at the Reds, fitting the contrasting styles of Matthew Leckie, Marcos Flores and Sergio van Dijk together like pieces in a complex puzzle. Coolen's faith in Van Dijk was vindicated on Saturday when the target man broke a rare five-game drought with a match-winning double.
Ernie Merrick faces a tough week of reflection as Melbourne Victory threaten to slip off the early pace. Merrick is notoriously reluctant to tinker with his formula - which is fair considering his enviable record - but his side have just five points from five matches, their sole win coming against a severely underpowered Gold Coast United. Friday's loss to the Mariners was symptomatic of Victory's recent problems. They dominated possession but failed to create chances effectively and were far from convincing at the back. Merrick's back three accommodates Kevin Muscat as a sweeper but he desperately needs to develop a Plan B for when things don't go as expected.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
In a round bereft of super-strikes, Perth Glory's opener was a team delight. Robbie Fowler dropped into space and released the perfect pass for the onrushing Todd Howarth, who broke clear and fed Mile Sterjovski in front of an empty net.
SAVE OF THE WEEK
Queensland Roar's scoreless draw at Newcastle Jets otherwise avoided mention this week but Michael Theoklitos went a long way to keeping Roar level with a smart near-post block from Ali Abbas' shot through a forest of legs. Honourable mentions go to Justin Pasfield and Tando Velaphi.
BEST OF THE REST
Melbourne Heart finally got their first victory under their belts on Saturday, funnily enough in one of the matches they've least deserved to win. Heart have no shortage of stars on their roster but they have uncovered some gems, especially Victorian Premier League graduate Nick Kalmar. They could yet make an impression this season. Another goal-scorer, Mariners striker Daniel McBreen, raised eyebrows by 'giving birth' to the ball in his celebration - only to reveal his partner went into labour shortly before kick-off.
WORST OF THE REST
A-League crowd numbers continued to cause concern in Round 5, with Sydney and Heart both registering record lows. The football media is becoming increasingly critical of the FFA over their perceived lack of leadership in addressing the problem. The FFA took action on another issue on Monday night, offering short-term financial assistance to cash-strapped Newcastle Jets to lock in their next few fixtures at least. But a grey cloud hangs over the long-term future of the club.