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A-League Tops and Flops

With matches involving first vs fourth and second vs third, it was always going to be a case of the men being separated from the boys. And while it was expected that the top two teams - Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United - would further separate themselves from the chasing pack, the ease with which they managed to do so was not.

It was also a round that saw the likes of Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix increase pressure on both Melbourne teams for a place in the top six.


After publicly naming Jason Culina as the A-League's best player, it would have been foolhardy to expect Adelaide United coach Rini Coolen to allow the Socceroos midfielder to roam free around Hindmarsh Stadium.

Coolen cleverly restricted the space in midfield for the Gold Coast captain to operate, forcing him to drop deep into his own half to retrieve the ball. And when he was in possession, Culina found himself quickly closed down by the United front men - including Marcos Flores.

This compact approach also restricted the Gold Coast from playing anything through midfield and providing any service to a lonely Bruce Djite.


You can probably hear the sigh coming from Gold Coast's Miron Bleiberg for not being nominated this week. However, he came mighty close after being totally outplayed by Rini Coolen at Hindmarsh.

When Central Coast Mariners coach Graham Arnold sent out his troops to tackle Ange Postecoglou's Brisbane Roar in a 4-2-3-1 formation, he thought he was being fairly clever. In reality, it was suicide. He resisted the tried and tested in-your-face approach and high defensive line used by other teams to nullify the Roar's ability to play their natural game, and subsequently, the Mariners were torn apart on the flanks and in midfield - basically, all over the park - as they succumbed to a 3-0 scoreline inside the opening 25 minutes, eventually losing 5-1.


The Brisbane Roar's opening 45 minutes against the Mariners was arguably the finest exhibition of football the A-League has seen this season. The Roar carved open the Mariners defence as if they were a Christmas Turkey, slicing through the backline with such suave economy that it appeared as though goalkeeper Matt Ryan had more touches behind the goalline than in front of it.

Yet again, the Roar played with the type of flair, speed and precision that not only has them sitting pretty at the top of the A-League and lauded as genuine championship contenders, but hailed as perhaps the finest team to play in the A-League.

The win against the Mariners was an A-League record 14 on the trot. They face Melbourne Victory on Friday night at AAMI Park - the team that recently ended Adelaide United's magical run.


Yes, the Central Coast Mariners did catch the Roar in unstoppable form, and yes, they weren't helped by a suspect tactical approach. But failing to do the basics right (being first to the ball, closing down, hitting targets) and be competitive is inexcusable. Arnold and Mariners captain Alex Wilkinson were correct in apologising to their fans for the inept effort. They deserve better.


It's so easy to nominate the entertainers like Marcos Flores or Carlos Hernandez for their silky skills and crafty defence-splitting passes. However, T&F has decided to look a little deeper this week, behind the scenes if you will, at the tireless workhorses who make these headline acts possible.

While Paul Reid has a solid case for a nomination this week, Sydney FC's Stuart Musialik has narrowly pipped him at the post. Musialik may not have had the prettiest game against Melbourne Heart, however his immense work-rate in midfield ensured Sydney controlled the bulk of the match and nullified any influence the Heart attempted to exert. He successfully restricted Gerald Sibon to a spectator's role and salvaged a point for his team after sliding in to deny John Aloisi an almost certain match-winning goal.


To be fair to Melbourne Heart's Dean Heffernan, he hasn't played much football in the past month - and it showed. You can count on one finger the amount of times Heffernan kept possession, regularly coughing it up as if suffering from an allergic reaction to the leather. His 15 minutes on the pitch contributed very little in the way of positive play for the Heart and reaffirms Aziz Behich as the player of choice in the left full-back role.


There you go, Adelaide United's Paul Reid does get a nomination this week, although fans of Bas van den Brink will no doubt cry foul for his absolute cracker from 25 yards being overlooked. Where Van den Brink's goal was simply spectacular, Reid's was one of pure beauty, finesse and ingenuity, and there should be no surprise that Marcos Flores had a helping hand in it. A delectable chip on the turn from Flores flew over the ball-watching Kristian Rees and into the path of the galloping Reid, who drove the ball home from virtually point-blank range.


With Perth Glory 1-0 up and a man down, Tando Velaphi pulled a save out of the top drawer to keep the Fury at bay. Ufuk Talay bent the ball to perfection as it climbed over the wall and began its descent on goal, however an outstretched Velaphi managed to get a few knuckles in the way to produce a stunning save.


The foreign imports were yet again in their element this weekend, showcasing their usual suitcase of skills to dazzle A-League audiences and torment their opponents. Thomas Broich was his usual influential self, so too was Marcos Flores, and Carlos Hernandez sure is a happy man now that fellow tormentor Archie Thompson is back by his side - so happy, in fact, that he handed Archie his 50th A-League goal on a silver platter.


Some 23,317 fans may have turned up to watch Newcastle Jets take on David Beckham's LA Galaxy, but less than 35,000 passed through the turnstiles at the weekend for the five A-League fixtures on show.


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