Christmas is almost here, and the A-League delivered up a feast of football tasty enough to rival any festive dinner.
From a thrilling Melbourne derby to the ‘miss of the decade’, Round 11 didn’t leave us wanting. So let’s dissect the biggest questions from the weekend’s action!
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How far will the Jets fall?
This season promised good things for the Newcastle Jets.
When I spoke to captain Nigel Boogard ahead of Round 1, he said the Novocastrians were confident of making the finals – and doing damage in the knockout stages.
Fast forward a couple of months and the Jets are in disarray. They’ve conceded 10 goals in their last two games, sending them crashing to the bottom of the ladder.
Injuries have taken a heavy toll. Star import Wes Hoolahan copped a long-term knock before the season had even kicked off. Panamanian striker Abdiel Arroyo has been in and out of the team with recurring injuries. Recently, captain Nigel Boogard – the rock of the Jets defence – has joined the casualty ward. None of the three look likely to return in the near future.
In their absence, the Jets have consistently struggled for quality in the final third, and Newcastle’s young defence has become increasingly leaky.
They gifted Perth each of the first three goals in Saturday’s 6-2 defeat, and were completely outplayed by City in the 4-0 defeat a week prior.
Without the cash to bring in reinforcements, the Jets are forced to rely on youngsters – who have tried their hardest but surely must be disheartened by recent results.
Ernie Merrick is the most experienced coach in the competition, and his job is surely not under threat at this stage.
But he’s got a tough task on his hands to turn around the fortunes of the Jets. Merrick might need to forgo his traditional attacking structures and prioritise clean sheets.
As Sydney FC icon Alex Brosque said on Fox Sports, “They need to strip it back, go back to the beginning, and go back to basics.”
Are Perth the real deal?
“We’ve been waiting for a performance like this since round one.”
That’s what Alex Brosque said about the thrashing Perth handed Newcastle this weekend – and it’s something many fans and pundits have been thinking.
Perth coach Tony Popovic must have been desperate for his side to pull it all together. After all, he’d added Bruno Fornaroli – one of the most skilful attackers the A-League has ever seen – to a forward line already boasting Diego Castro and young star Chris Ikonomidis.
Many tipped the reigning Premiers to pour in the goals this campaign. Until this weekend, it didn’t happen. Then, as Brosque said, “against Newcastle it just all clicked into place.”
Funnily enough, Ikonomidis was dumped from the starting line-up. Joel Chianese was brought in and was exceptional picking up a deserved goal in the second-half. So much for Perth’s all-star front-three!
Perth are now sitting pretty in fourth spot, ten points behind Sydney but just four behind City in second.
Maybe bridging the gap to the rampant Sydney side is out of their reach. But if they play like they did this weekend, a finals spot is the least of their ambitions.
Does City have an attitude problem?
Fantastic one week, thoroughly disappointing the next. It must be a Melbourne City are a lesson in inconsistency! Look at their last six results: win, loss, win, loss, win, loss.
The latest loss was probably their most disappointing, being completely outplayed and outran in a 2-1 derby loss to Melbourne Victory.
No wonder Bozza absolutely blasted the effort and dedication of City’s stars – and coach Erick Mombaerts didn’t hold back either.
Mark Bosnich labelled City skipper Scott Jamieson’s actions as ‘petulant and pathetic’, while Mombaerts said he was “very disappointed about our performance.”
Alex Brosque says City need to build on their successes if they’re to challenge this season.
“Since they were bought by Manchester City they’ve got a big club feel about them, but it’s just not there on the pitch.”
“After a good win, you expect them to follow it up (the next week).
“He (Mombaerts) needs to find a way to stop (the inconsistency). If they want to be a real challenger … they need to fix it.”
Next week is the perfect opportunity to rebound with a win. City face Sydney in a top-of-the-table clash, and victory could see City cut the gap to just three points. Lose, and Sydney could leap to a nine-point gap.
It’s also a battle of the golden boot leaders, in Sydney’s Adam le Fondre and City’s Jamie Maclaren. As if we needed any more excuses to tune in.
Is the curse of the bye real?
With the addition of the A-League’s 11th team, Western United, this campaign has seen teams face a new challenge – the bye. Plenty of managers haven’t enjoyed that prospect, but is having a week off really hurting teams the next week? Let’s look at the stats.
One argument is that teams a more likely to lose the week after a bye.
Another argument is that they start the following match slower – conceding more often in the first half and scoring less often in the first half.
Here’s how the results stack up:
In Round 1, the Jets had the bye. The next week, they conceded in the first half and went on to draw 1-1 (vs Mariners).
Brisbane had the bye in Round 2, and lost 1-0 to Victory in Round 3 (conceding in the first half).
The Mariners had the bye in Round 3, then won 2-1 in Round 4 v Perth. All three goals came in the first half.
Adelaide had the bye in round 4, then beat Brisbane 1-0 the next round. The goal came in the second half.
Sydney had the bye in Round 5, and beat Victory 2-1 the next week. Sydney conceded in the first half before scoring twice in the second.
In Round 6, three teams had the bye: Perth, Wellington, and WSW.
The next week, Perth lost 3-1 to Sydney (scoring and conceding once in the first half).
Wellington beat Brisbane 2-1, scoring once in the first half.
WSW lost 3-2 to City despite scoring in the second minute.
In Round 7, the Jets had the bye. They beat the Wanderers 2-0 the next week (no goals in first half).
In Round 8, City had the bye. They lost 3-0 to Perth the next week, one of the goals coming in the first half.
In Round 9, the Mariners had the bye. They conceded in the fifth minute the next week en route to a 1-0 loss to Sydney.
In Round 10, Adelaide had the bye. They lost 2-1 to the Mariners the next week, conceding twice in the first half.
What does this show?
This season, a team playing the week after a bye has won five times, drawn once, and lost six times.
It doesn’t get much closer than that.
In eight of those twelve matches the following week, the team that had had the bye conceded in the first half.
Only four times did the bye team score in the first half the following week.
So maybe the bye does make a team start slower the following week. But it doesn’t appear to impact the actual result of the match by any significant amount – which is all that really counts, in my eyes.
Brisbane had the bye this round, so let’s see how things pan out for them next week against Newcastle.
Are A-League fans the best in Australia?
It’d be hard to write about the week that was in the A-League without mentioning the bushfires. There’s no doubt they played a role.
There was a moment’s silence or round of applause at every match, given in respect of the fireys hard at work (and the two RFS volunteers who tragically passed away doing so).
Teams donned black armbands too, many having trained on smoke-filled, heatwave-baked grounds throughout the week.
But the fans did just what we expect A-League fans to do – they went above and beyond to respond as a community.
Western Sydney Wanderers active support group Red and Black Bloc (RBB) fundraised a massive $28,812.47 for the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal.
WSW sponsors reportedly contributed around another $25,000 to the Red Cross and Rural Fire Service in response to the RBB fundraiser. That’s a total of $53,000. What an effort!
The Mariners led the way in terms of clubs, donating $2 from every ticket sold at their last two home games to the RFS. We’re still waiting for the final figure from that.
And on a slightly different note, Jets’ fans held their first-ever ‘teddy bear toss’ a week ago. 1414 bears were donated by fans and will go to families via local charities!
Newcastle CEO Lawrie McKinna is pushing for the entire league to adopt the initiative next year (in the final round before Christmas).
All too often, the football community cops a bad rap from numerous areas of the media (for ‘hooligan’ behaviour, flares, active support, etc).
But look at what the fans have delivered in the last couple of weeks and you’ll see just what a great community this sport has.