A-League Tops and Flops
The A-League had its first coaching casualty of the season over the international break as Perth Glory's David Mitchell either stepped down or was pushed - either way it didn't help as new man Ian Ferguson led his men to their fifth consecutive loss at his old club North Queensland Fury. But Perth's woes still don't get close to matching the overall flop of the season so far, Sydney FC, whose thrashing at the hands of Melbourne Victory means they are still yet to win since the Grand Final.
Three hotly contested draws rounded out a weekend that saw Wellington Phoenix move clear as the now sole holders of the record for most games undefeated at home (24) in Australian top flight history, while Adelaide matched Central Coast's run of 12 games without a loss in the A-League.
So comprehensive was Victory's 3-0 win over Sydney that they could easily occupy all the respective Tops and Flops but, for those who might have missed it, Brisbane Roar deserve some recognition for another stellar showing in their 1-1 draw against the Jets at Suncorp. Roar's progressive, attacking football has made them a Tops and Flops favourite, although their inability to turn what must be unprecedented stats in possession and chance-creation is becoming worrying for their season prospects. Still, 27 shots to four, 13 corners to one. That is a dominating team performance.
Winless Sydney FC can't be spared this title after being destroyed 3-0 in Melbourne. Victory weren't particularly dominant - not to the extent of Brisbane at Suncorp - but they comfortably picked off their woeful visitors with set pieces and counterattacks while repelling what threat the champions mustered with the ball. Sydney are neither the solid, hard to beat unit they were last season or a fluid attacking force to compensate for their soft underbelly. Vitezslav Lavicka's slavish adherence to a rigid diamond 4-4-2 formation is not helping, but the players are certainly not doing their part. A team bonding camp last week didn't work so it's hard to know where the rock bottom team will turn next for inspiration.
Carlos Hernandez gave Victory exactly what no player could give Brisbane Roar: the individual class to turn moments into goals. Hernandez picked Victory's return to Etihad Stadium for his personal return to the match-winning form we've come to expect. Hernandez picked up a goal and an assist while displaying his invaluable ability to make space with the ball and put team-mates in behind the opposition defence, critical in Victory's counterattacking game.
Perth Glory's defenders have done each other the favour of being equally off-colour so as to make this a group award following their 2-1 loss to Fury. Jamie Coyne's cheap turnover gifted Fury possession in the first half and Naum Sekulovski's miscommunication with Jacob Burns made it a fatal error when they failed to close down Chris Payne as he strode into the box to fire home. In the second half, Andy Todd showed little urgency to track David Williams back despite his pace disadvantage, meaning the striker's simple one-two with Payne was enough to create the match-winning opportunity. The goals were just two examples but Perth's back four just doesn't look cohesive or assured, meaning Ferguson's top priority must be to tighten up at the back.
Perhaps the most interesting tactical battle of the round played out across the ditch as Melbourne Heart grabbed a valuable point at Wellington. And John van't Schip must have been happy with that result, even though his side went closer than most to actually winning at Westpac. Heart's 4-3-3 matched up ideally against Ricki Herbert's experimental back three in the first half, earning a 2-1 lead by the break. Herbert switched to a more suitable back four to earn a draw in the second half but where Van't Schip deserves credit is his transformation of his team into a tougher away force. Van't Schip learned from Heart's 4-0 thrashing in Brisbane three weeks ago, dropping in-form forward Alex Terra for the more disciplined youngster Adrian Zahra as one example of his new willingness to sacrifice style for steel when necessary.
That leaves Gold Coast United's 0-0 draw with table-topping Adelaide. Given Adelaide's unbeaten record, a point could have been considered a decent result for Miron Bleiberg. But Adelaide were without their two best players, Marcos Flores and Matthew Leckie, meaning Gold Coast should have been pressing for a win in this fixture. Bleiberg shuffled his pack as usual, and defender Bas van den Brink made a successful first start of the season in midfield, but it was the team's wider strategy that puts Bleiberg on the Flop list. Gold Coast were happy to retain the ball deep in their own half, meaning there was usually 60m or more between their defenders and strikers. This gave strikers Bruce Djite and James Brown little support or service and failed to make use of the team's best player Jason Culina. Gold Coast have conceded just six goals and scored only nine in nine games thanks to Bleiberg's new defensive focus, but the club's crowd crisis could only be helped by some attacking football.
Goal of the Week
Matt Thompson's imaginative turn and finish for Heart had defenders scratching their heads and Tops and Flops reaching for the rewind button.
Save of the Week
Ben Kennedy's super-quick left-handed tip over from Thomas Broich was just the icing on the cake of a great performance that kept the Jets alive against Roar.
Best of the Rest
Fans under 15 were let in for free in Brisbane and Townsville this round and Newcastle Jets, under the new ownership of Nathan Tinkler, announced a raft of unprecedented ticketing initiatives in midweek. Rain somewhat ruined Fury's attempt to bring people through the gates, so they've extended their offer to their next home game. There are positives signs the A-League is starting to turn the corner after its early-season funk.
Worst of the Rest
As the A-League struggles for prominence in the midst of AFL and NRL finals in its first few weeks, we seem to get told that the round ball will take centre stage when those competitions finish up. But after the superb showcase of the Melbourne Derby in the international break, there doesn't seem to have been any discerning marketing push or great hype generated in the 'clean air' now available - aside from the valiant promotional efforts of the clubs mentioned. The December 2 World Cup host decision can't come soon enough, for whatever the result, the FFA can afterwards turn its attention to giving the A-League a much needed marketing boost.