A-League Tops and Flops
A-League round 13 took the concept of Tops and Flops to a whole new level as Brisbane Roar dished up one of the finest performances seen by an Australia club side in Saturday's 4-0 thrashing of fellow high-flyers Adelaide, before bottom boys Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets played out one of the more forgettable matches in the competition's short history on Sunday. Four 1-0 results around ten-man Roar's Suncorp Stadium masterclass only served to accentuate the Brisbane team's dominant display as we near the halfway point of the season.
Who else? Brisbane Roar hosted Adelaide United in what was billed as a potential Grand Final preview. Adelaide were missing key men Marcos Flores and Mathew Leckie so it would be unfair to deem the 4-0 result a true reflection of these teams. But what's telling is that the Reds still put in one of the better performances of the weekend. Brisbane were simply unstoppable. Reinaldo's first-half goal came as a result of one of Roar's trademark one-touch passing move which dragged Adelaide out of shape before striking at their heart.
Ironically, the Brazilian striker's dismissal opened the scoring floodgates in the second half as Roar utilised the now-vacant space up front to attack from all angles. Roar, down to ten men, had central defenders Matt Smith and Luke DeVere scoring and creating goals from open play, hinting that the team is approaching the Total Football philosophy made famous by a side who wore the same orange strip as these A-League revelations.
In stark contrast to Saturday night's blockbuster was the visit of Newcastle Jets to Sydney FC on Sunday. Sydney triumphed 1-0 thanks to an extremely controversial goal, moving them off the bottom of the table ahead of the Jets. But in truth, neither side showed any evidence they are likely to press for a finals place and Sydney could just as easily share this mantle with their New South Wales rivals. Goal-scoring remains Newcastle's Achilles heel.
They desperately lack quality in the front third and even when Sydney gifted them clear-cut chances, notably to Ben Kantarovski and Ali Abbas, they didn't seem to believe they would score and simple opportunities went begging. The club has brought in former Everton and Arsenal striker Francis Jeffers on a guest stint but he will have to make some impact if the Jets are to start scoring on a regular enough basis to make a charge up the ladder from their new position of dead last.
In honour of the five clean sheets kept in round 13, Central Coast centre-back Patrick Zwaanswijk warrants a mention. Some imports might not fancy the trip to North Queensland to face the Fury but the big Dutchman is relishing the challenges of the A-League and he took it upon himself to score the winner at Dairy Farmers. Former Mariners great Mile Jedinak used to speak of his desire to influence the outcome of matches as much as possible and Zwaanswijk seems to adopt a similar attitude on the pitch.
In addition to his secure defending, he seeks to make a difference with every pass, looks to carry the ball out of the back and, when the opportunity presents itself, he does his all to get on the end of opportunities and contribute to the team's goal tally. In two matches against the Fury, Zwaanswijk has headed home the decisive goal on each occasion, making him an instant bogeyman for the men in green.
FLOP PLAYER Perth Glory hit a new low as they were turned over at home by Wellington Phoenix, poor travellers at the best of times, on the world's longest away trip. It was the fourth match in a row in which Glory have failed to score, meaning Tim Brown's first-minute screamer was enough to secure all three points for the visitors. Perth have problems all over the park but the main area of concern is clearly up front, where Michael Baird must take his share of the blame.
The speedster, in the starting XI at the expense of Robbie Fowler and Branko Jelic, was put clean through on goal in the first half but failed to finish what should have been bread and butter for any quality striker, or in fact any professional player. To be fair to him, Baird is certainly not alone in lacking confidence in the Glory side and his toothless performance was more symptomatic of where the team is at. But it's time for Perth's players to stand up and perform for their fans and their coach.
TOP COACH AND FLOP COACH
There was a fascinating tactical battle at Etihad on Saturday as Gold Coast performed a classic smash-and-grab 1-0 away win at Melbourne Victory. Miron Bleiberg has labelled his strategy a "lizard system" this season, presumably meaning Gold Coast can adapt to the opposition like a chameleon can change its colours. That eccentric comment was certainly justified as Gold Coast morphed themselves into a tight, deep 4-3-3 shape to nullify Victory's strengths.
The three midfielders clogged up the central area where Victory almost exclusively like to attack, and the defenders dropped off to eliminate the space in behind that Victory's strikers love to exploit. Gold Coast's counter-attacks where sharp and committed, causing real problems for their opponent's exposed defence and eventually leading to Rodrigo Vargas' own goal.
It's a wonder more teams don't copy these tactics against Victory because they seem to work so often, last season's two wins in Melbourne by Central Coast being prime examples. Indeed, Ernie Merrick has been asked these questions before, and again he showed the lack of a plan B to get around a team set out to stifle his outfit. His failure to create some natural width in his attack, which would have stretched Gold Coast sideways and opened up space centrally, meant that Victory fans left the ground feeling as though their team had spent 90 minutes banging their head against a wall.
Goal of the Week
Save of the Week
Matt Ryan was lucky not to concede a penalty as the Fury pushed for an equaliser but from the incorrectly awarded corner that followed, the Mariners 'keeper pulled off a top notch stop from Isaka Cernak's long-range half-volleyed strike to keep his team ahead.
Best of the Rest
Monday brought with it the news that Adelaide United has been taken over by a consortium of local businesspeople led by the rich and powerful Robert Gerard. It's great news for the club and even better news for the FFA, which had been controlling the club since the previous owner handed back the license more than a year ago. With one less financial burden on its books, the FFA can hopefully sort out the future of North Queensland, another club under the governing body's reluctant ownership.
Best of the Rest of the Rest
Who needs a Worst of the Rest? Can't we be positive for a change? The A-League welcomed back its most marketable character on Saturday as Victory striker Archie Thompson returned from the injury he suffered in March's Grand Final. The Twittersphere was nearing meltdown with Archie overload and the media latched onto his comeback, which featured some flash new pink Nike boots inscribed with 'I'm back'. This week, Archie has been kicking about with golf superstar Sergio Garcia. The A-League needs its characters and it's good to have its biggest one back in action.