It’s never a good sign when the focus of attention shifts away from the field of play, but that is just what has happened in the last week. The FFA was forced to guarantee the short-term future of the Newcastle Jets, who have fallen into the financial mire. With Adelaide United still controlled by the federation, Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury not much better off and questions over the planned expansion team Sydney Rovers’ viability, the FFA and its chairman Frank Lowy have been accused of taking their eyes off the ball, so to speak; chasing the 2022 World Cup at the expense of a financially sick local competition.
And if that wasn’t enough trouble for the game, Matildas’ striker Lisa De Vanna has proven that Stephanie Rice isn’t the only Olympian to display almost inexplicable naivety when it comes to social media. If nothing else, we’ve at least seen the passion evident in those who do care but getting more people along to the games would be a good start.
Five Burning Questions from Week 5:
- Will there still be 11 teams come finals time?
- Is Adelaide United definitely back to its Grand Final form of two seasons ago?
- How can Melbourne Victory stop leaking goals?
- Will Brisbane Roar ever concede one?
- What is the difference between Sydney FC and a triangle?
Central Coast Mariners v Melbourne Heart
Friday 10 September, 8pm AEST at Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford (Fox Sports 1)
Another week, another Melbourne team for the Mariners, who dispatched the Victory 2-0 last weekend at home. This time it’s the Heart coming to visit in a rematch of the opening game of the season, which saw Central Coast spoil the party with a 1-0 victory thanks to captain Alex Wilkinson’s strike. Matt Simon received plaudits for his defensive job on Heart playmaker Josip Skoko, who will miss this time out with injury. He’s far from the only absentee; no sooner does the Heart bring players back than another couple go down again. Striker John Aloisi returned last week and central defender Michael Beauchamp will return tonight, but wingers Rutger Worm and Alex Terra have both been ruled out with knee and groin complaints respectively. The Heart’s squad depth and gradually-forming fluency will be tested to the limit against the Mariners, whose performance against the Victory was efficient, to say the least. Rostyn Griffiths and Daniel McBreen got on the scoresheet, while the defensive pairing of Wilkinson and Patrick Zwaanswijk was rock solid. The Mariners only won two straight matches once last season, but those looking for proof that this season bears no resemblance need only look at the teams currently holding down first and last on the ladder.
Team News: The loss of Worm and Terra severely affects Heart coach John van ‘t Schip’s preferred 4-3-3, as they provide the kind of width up forward not easily replaced. It seems likely that Matt Thompson will be shifted forward, from where he created a goal for Eli Babalj against Adelaide earlier in the season. Aziz Behich can also deputise, while right-back Michael Marrone or Jason Hoffman could slot into midfield. For the Mariners, Patricio Pérez has another week of suspension still to serve but should field a similar squad to last week.
Prediction: Central Coast Mariners 2-2 Melbourne Heart
Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC
Saturday 11 September, 5:15pm AEST at Westpac Stadium, Wellington (Fox Sports 3)
What was it about the teams first and last on the ladder at the moment? The reigning champions are looking up at the rest of the league with just two points (as opposed to a triangle’s three – see above) and are a shadow of their former selves. Having lost three key players to the Heart and with captain Terry McFlynn and striker Alex Brosque also missing, this seems inevitable now with the benefit of hindsight, but few predicted such a steep decline. Wellington will be thrilled to return home after its travel woes continued last week with a loss to Perth. However, the Phoenix showed some fight at the end after going two down, pulling a goal back and making a game of it against one of the competition’s leading lights. Back at home, they have a 22-match unbeaten streak and can equal the Australian record of 23 held by Sydney United in the old NSL. This is also a rematch of the preliminary final from last season, when Sydney’s 4-2 victory was aided by a Chris Payne handball incident. It’s extra motivation for the Phoenix, while Sydney’s miserable start looks set to continue.
Team News: For Wellington, Manny Muscat returns after having played in Euro 2012 qualifying for Malta while new signing Jade North was involved with the Socceroos and could come straight in. McFlynn and Brosque were to have come back from injury this week but have been ruled out for another match, while Nick Carle may also join them on the sidelines after failing to train this week due to strained toe ligaments.
Prediction: Wellington Phoenix 3-0 Sydney FC
Adelaide United v Newcastle Jets
Saturday 11 September, 7pm AEST at Hindmarsh Stadium, Adelaide (Fox Sports 3)
In contrast to Sydney FC’s fortunes, Adelaide United – last year’s wooden spooners – sit on top of the ladder following their 3-1 drubbing of the defending champions, in Sydney no less. Despite the Reds’ own financial woes, Rini Coolen has turned their on-field fortunes around, the team displaying a more attacking flair. Striker Sergio van Dijk finally got on the scoresheet with a double against the Sky Blues while Matthew Leckie scored his second of the season. After two draws to start the season, it seems to be all coming together for Rini Coolen’s men with three straight wins and they will try to make it four against the Jets, whose financial plight has highlighted the A-League’s woes. On the pitch they managed to hold out for a scoreless draw against Brisbane despite having Ruben Zadkovich sent off late in the game. At home, however, they would have expected a better result and despite having only lost once, remain winless with three draws to their name. That’s hardly the form to suggest they can go to Adelaide and upset the taple-toppers.
Team News: Adelaide look like going into the match with no major changes – and why would they? – although Robert Cornthwaite may play a larger role this weekend after his return against the Sky Blues. For the Jets Labinot Haliti comes into the squad for the suspended Zadkovich, while Sean Rooney and Taylor Regan have been dropped. Neil Young is sidelined with an illness possibly picked up as a result of Rockin In The Free World, while Jobe Wheelhouse also misses with a helpfully indentified “hamstring/knee” injury.
Prediction: Adelaide United 2-0 Newcastle Jets
Melbourne Victory v Brisbane Roar
Sunday 12 September, 3pm AEST at AAMI Park, Melbourne (Fox Sports 3)
These two teams could hardly be more contrasting: Brisbane, who has failed to concede a goal in its four matches thus far, against the Victory, who have given up nine. It’s actually not the most in the league (that honour is jointly held by North Queensland and Sydney) but, with five coming from set pieces, ‘keeper Michael Petkovic is under pressure. While the Victory’s defensive lapses are at least as much to blame for the goals, the focus on Petkovic is inevitable due to the return of former ‘keeper Michael Theoklitos. The Roar’s new keeper returns to face the team with whom he won two A-League premierships, and credits his superb showing since returning from a year in Europe to having played for four years with the Victory. However, it cannot be ignored that despite keeping four clean sheets, Brisbane has only scored two goals. Eight points and third place on the ladder does the talking, but eventually the Roar must give up a goal and unless they can find the back of the net more often, a single lapse will continually cost them matches. The hosts have had the wood in recent times with five wins from six matches, and the other match being a thrilling Carlos Hernandez-inspired comeback to rescue a point after Brisbane had led 3-1. Hernandez hasn’t yet hit the heights of his sublime form from last season, but one feels his best is not far away, while Matt McKay has played a huge part in the Roar’s strong opening to the season and looms as a key figure.
Team News: Both teams will go in with unchanged squads although the Victory is expected to give Brazilian striker Ricardinho his first start and may rest key players once the result is all but settled, keeping half an eye on a midweek meeting with the Phoenix. Brisbane coach Ange Postecoglou has brought three players into the travelling party – Matt Mundy, Rocky Visconte and Luke Brattan – but it remains to be seen whether they will take part.
Prediction: Melbourne Victory 1-0 Brisbane Roar
Perth Glory v Gold Coast United
Sunday 12 September, 5pm AEST at nib Stadium, Perth (Fox Sports 3)
Perth’s excellent start to the season continued last weekwith a 2-1 victory over the Phoenix, enough to retain top place on the table. (In fact, Perth has an identical record to Adelaide and trails on… alphabetical order.) Robbie Fowler got on the scoresheet for the second consecutive week while Mile Sterjovski opened the scoring and currently leads the A-League with three goals. The Glory’s attack seems irresistible at times, led by Fowler, Sterjovski, the still-suspended Michael Baird and Branko Jelić, and powered by Steve McGarry in the midfield. Gold Coast, ridiculously, has had two byes in the first five weeks and sits in tenth position with two draws and a loss to its name. There’s certainly no danger of fatigue setting in, although injuries will play their part with Brazilian import Robson and striker Joel Porter under injury clouds and not expected to play the full 90 minutes, if at all. Should Porter miss altogether, the visitors could seriously lack firepower, having also lost Shane Smeltz in recent weeks. It’s hard to see a positive outcome for them against the rampant Glory.
Team News: Bruce Djite has been brought in to replace Smeltz and will debut for Gold Coast. He may play as a lone striker as a result of Robson and Porter’s absence. Coach Miron Bleiberg will tweak the side’s formula, but obviously has given little away. For Perth, Baird is still suspended and no new injuries came out of last week’s win. An extended squad has been named including Josh Mitchell, Josh Risdon and Andrija Jukic.
Prediction: Perth Glory 3-1 Gold Coast United