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Nov 24, 2010

A-League Tops and Flops

Welcome to a special midweek edition of ESPNsoccernet's A-League Tops and Flops. Normally 'Ts and Fs' focuses on weekend action but in honour of the massive triple header on Wednesday night, it's the perfect time to have a look at those rising above the fixture congestion to perform strongly from weekend to midweek, and of course those who are failing to cope with the heavy workload. Come the end of the season, teams' ability to handle the challenging schedule on a limited squad will be one of the major determining factors in who finishes where.

TOP TEAM

Brisbane Roar have proved themselves as the midweek masters, backing up consistently impressive performances with short turnarounds in a horror run of fixtures. After their latest Wednesday appearance, a 3-2 win over Perth Glory, Roar will finish an incredible run of 11 matches in six weeks at Central Coast on Sunday. But they've thrived in those circumstances, losing none of those matches and constantly finishing better than 'fresher' teams in a sign of their superior fitness.

On Saturday, Ange Postecoglou's men met a resilient North Queensland side who sat on an early lead until Roar finally knocked the door down in the last ten minutes with an Ivan Franjic equaliser. Wednesday's victory could and should have been far greater, as they were denied two clear penalties near the end. Grinding out results and blowing teams off the park, Brisbane are showing all the signs of a championship team.

FLOP TEAM

The team on the end of Wednesday's defeat at Suncorp, Perth Glory are in stark contrast to Brisbane. Coach Ian Ferguson can't seem to catch a break, as injuries and suspensions further diminish what is already a squad low on confidence and form. Sydney FC have won just three times this season, and after Glory's 2-0 reverse in Parramatta on Sunday, two of those victories have come against Perth. Ferguson was forced to field a young side against Brisbane and although they staged an unlikely fightback, they were lucky not to lose by more given the weight of possession and chances.

Teams out of form need to find ways to pick up points but Perth just aren't solid enough to manage that. And most alarmingly, Brent Griffiths' red card against Sydney was followed up by two more for Scott Neville and Josh Mitchell against Roar, leaving them desperately short at the back. It's hard to imagine how things could get any worse from here.

TOP PLAYER

Thomas Broich edges out a resurgent Paul Ifill for this award in respect of his more consistent performances across two matches. Broich wasn't at his best as Roar took on Fury, but he was still involved in most good things they did and he created what would have been a timely goal for Jean Carlos Solorzano but for the assistant's incorrect offside flag.

On Wednesday, Broich was in his element. Built more like Frank Lampard than Lionel Messi, the silky German's deceptive dribble tormented Glory's defenders throughout. He combines well with Matt McKay but when his influential skipper took an early shower, Broich's involvement seemed to grow and he created danger from more areas of the park. His floated cross to the back post after cutting back onto his right foot has become a dangerous signature while his set-piece delivery continues to be a source of Roar goals, Matt Smith being the latest to convert a Broich inswinger.

FLOP PLAYER

The congested fixture list certainly caught up with Alex Wilkinson as his tired error cost Central Coast Mariners a point on Sunday. Having put in a full shift at centre back on Thursday in Melbourne, Wilkinson was moved to right back in the crucial home match versus Gold Coast. The overlapping runs required of the full-backs in Graham Arnold's diamond 4-4-2 formation took their toll on the Mariners skipper in the Gosford heat, and by midway through the second half he was visibly struggling.

His heavy legs eventually led to disaster as his poor chest control and failure to recover his error allowed Gold Coast sub Andrew Barisic to sneak in for the cheapest of winners in a 3-2 defeat. Also blighting Wilkinson's copybook was his hanged-head reaction to Gold Coast's second goal, when the captain should have been rallying his troops. A much better performance back in the centre against the Jets on Wednesday will have Wilkinson hoping he doesn't have to play wide again anytime soon.

TOP COACH

Branko Culina's Newcastle Jets rescued a point in the dying embers of the F3 Derby, but it was no less than they deserved after dominating both their home fixtures this week. Culina won the tactical battle and the match against Ricki Herbert's Wellington on Saturday. He used the strikers in his diamond 4-4-2 to occupy the entire Phoenix back four by making diagonal runs from inside to wide positions, leaving a handy four versus three overload in the centre of the pitch.

Control of midfield allowed his full-backs to push on past Wellington's wingers, who rarely track back, giving the Jets total control and eventually a 1-0 victory. The Mariners proved to be a much meaner opponent on Wednesday but the Jets were more than a fair match, overcoming unfortunate injuries to find a way to level late through former Coastie Sasho Petrovski. Culina's best work was done before the match, keeping his team's minds on the Central Coast despite the hype surround the exhibition friendly against David Beckham's LA Galaxy this Saturday.

FLOP COACH

There were two losses in five days for John van't Schip's Melbourne Heart. Van't Schip's men were undone all too easily by a classic away performance from Adelaide United on Friday, losing 2-0 to a pair of cheap goals while allowing the visitors to be all too comfortable inbetween. After nicking an early lead, Adelaide were happy to sit deep and counterattack. The first half really passed Heart by as they held possession at the back but failed to find any penetration going forward.

The Dutch coach couldn't find a solution at half time and Heart resorted to some long balls in the second half but never looked like hurting Adelaide's organised shape. Wednesday's 2-0 loss in Wellington was a harsh lesson as to how quickly things can turn around in the A-League. Less than two weeks ago, Heart were the form side of the competition and up 1-0 against Brisbane at home. A second-half turnaround and now two rapid-fire losses later and it's back to the drawing board for Van't Schip.

GOAL OF THE WEEK

Of all the wonder goals the Brisbane faithful have witnessed this season, Perth midfielder Adrian Pellegrino's screamer was up there with anything the home side have mustered.

SAVE OF THE WEEK

Mariners' teenage sensation Matt Ryan almost has as many SotWs as he has had birthdays, with his latest high-flying act to keep out Andrew Barisic just the latest in a growing reel of highlights.

BEST OF THE WEEK

Marcos Flores lit up AAMI Park with the dribble of the season on Friday night, taking Melbourne Heart's defence on a merry dance with his Argentine trickery. The Adelaide No. 10's lucky charm seems to be the Fox Sports commentary duo of Michael Zappone and Paul Trimboli, who always seem to be covering his best games.

WORST OF THE REST

EnergyAustralia Stadium and Bluetongue Stadium have both had new turf laid in recent weeks but whatever brand of grass is being put down seems to have an aversion to staying intact. While it looks flat on the surface - excuse the pun - any kind of sliding challenge seemed to rip up unbelievable divots at both grounds. The growing injury toll at Newcastle in particular is of major concern if the dodgy playing arena is deemed responsible.

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