A-League Tops and Flops
There were four home wins from five A-League matches in Round Six, which is a rare occurrence in this topsy-turvy competition. Other than Victory's second-half explosion at the expense of Brisbane Roar, each match was decided by a single goal in the biggest indication yet that this will be the tightest of seasons. The closeness of games certainly made it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff this week. Difficult, but not impossible.
Melbourne Victory were the obvious standout performers with their 3-0 dismantling of in-form Brisbane Roar at AAMI Park on Sunday. This wasn't a victory in the usual Victory style. It was born from hustling and harrying the opposition to force them into errors while trying to play their way out from the back. Carlos Hernandez and new striker Ricardinho are more known for individual technique than their defensive work-rate, but that made the win all the more impressive. They adapted as the situation required and executed their plan ruthlessly.
Newcastle Jets are a club in crisis due to their widely reported financial problems, although that didn't appear to affect the players' focus too much as they gave a credible performance in a 2-1 loss at high-flying Adelaide. The Jets are the somewhat unfortunate recipients of this dubious honour this week not due to a lack of effort or togetherness, but for a worrying lack of quality in the attacking third. Michael Bridges worked hard to bring others into play but those fellow attackers, particularly Marko Jesic and Jeremy Brockie, failed to penetrate. Only a late blunder by Adelaide defender Cassio allowed substitute Sean Rooney to give the visitors a consolation goal.
This week one of the league's unsung heroes, Central Coast Mariners midfielder Rostyn Griffiths, earned his share of the limelight with a commanding performance in his side's 1-0 win over Melbourne Heart. Always the willing disrupter of opposition moves, Griffiths expanded his repertoire at the base of the Mariners' midfield diamond to include some excellent switches of play and even the odd foray forward.
Brisbane Roar defender Luke DeVere was visibly distraught after each of his two errors which led to Victory goals at AAMI Park. It was his misplaced pass to Erik Paartalu that allowed Tom Pondeljak to swoop for Victory's opener. Then he was nutmegged by Ricardinho on the edge of his penalty area before making a good recovery to get his body between man and ball only to be embarrassed as the striker slid between his legs to touch the ball past Michael Theoklotis and into the net.
Miron Bleiberg has his critics but there's no questioning the eccentric Gold Coast coach's ability to pull off the odd impressive result such as his side's 1-0 win in Perth on Sunday. The trip to the West is one of the A-League's most daunting and few expected anything but a fifth home win of the weekend at nib Stadium. But Bleiberg instilled belief in his men and set up a clever shape with Michael Thwaite sitting deep in midfield to deprive Robbie Fowler of space in the hole. His wide men pinned Perth's back, leaving no avenue to goal for the hosts, who huffed and puffed but rarely threatened Glen Moss's goal.
For the first time, the top coach meets the flop coach. Perth boss Dave Mitchell set up his team in exactly the same way as recent games - understandable given their recent success - but when a team successfully negated that formation, Perth failed to adapt. Mitchell has criticised his team for a lack of intensity in the aftermath of their first loss of the season but it was fresh ideas, not extra effort, that might have been the tonic.
Goal of the Week
Nick Ward marked his Wellington Phoenix debut with a screamer but Marcos Flores takes the cake again for his mazy solo effort for Adelaide.
Save of the Week
Daniel McBreen scored his second goal in two games for the Mariners but it would have come earlier if Heart 'keeper Clint Bolton hadn't pulled off a sharp reaction save from his close-range volley.
Best of the Rest
The past week of A-League has been dominated by debate about the health of the competition and in particular the performance of FFA management. The competition's problems, however deep, are there regardless of whether they are talked about or not. So it should be considered a positive that we now have a public discussion about the A-League's issues, holding the FFA accountable and raising ideas for improvement. It's a difficult period, yes, but better than one where problems fester away undetected, and hopefully one that leads to solutions.
Worst of the Rest
The inconsistent refereeing in the A-League must drive coaches mad. On Friday night, Melbourne Heart defender Michael Beauchamp was sent off for a 'headbutt' on Ollie Bozanic that wouldn't have cracked an egg. Then across the weekend some brutal challenges were punished with only a foul. Why didn't Perth captain Jacob Burns see yellow for his late, hard chop across Adama Traore's shins? And quite how Victory skipper Kevin Muscat escaped further sanction for lashing out at Henrique, elbowing Erik Paartalu in the ribs, catching Massimo Murdocca in the face or raising his studs toward Thomas Broich is hard to fathom.