Credit: “File:Kardinia Park January 2016 Melbourne Victory Central Coast Mariners.jpg” by Paladisious is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
I can’t think of a better way to have kicked off my A-League coverage than the games in MW9.
Shock defeats, goals galore and a sprinkling of VAR controversy… this round had it all!
Adelaide United v Central Coast Mariners
Central Coast Mariners remain league leaders despite a shock defeat to a struggling Adelaide United. Central Coast took the lead thanks to a bit of magic from Jack Clisby, the left back marking his 150th game with an amazing through ball from the outside of his foot finding onrushing Danny De Silva who capitalised on some poor defending from the Reds.
The home side managed to end their three game losing streak, thanks to a hattrick from Tomi Juric, who slotted away three controversial penalties for Adelaide.
My ‘One to Watch’ Alou Kuol managed to bag a fantastic goal shortly after coming off the bench, outmuscling his defender to rocket one in off the near post to become the league’s leading goalscorer.
Western United v Macarthur FC
I named Saturday’s clash between Western United and Macarthur as my Game of the Week, and it didn’t disappoint!
Macarthur headed to Ballarat second in the league after thrashing Adelaide 4 – 0 the previous week, and I had expected United to struggle to deal with the in form Bulls attack.
You could feel the Spanish influence on this game.
Macarthur started well, keeping possession and pinging the ball around the park but they struggled to capitalise on their dominance, with Moudi Najjar looking particularly ineffective in the final third.
Despite spending much of the first half chasing the ball, it was Western United who opened the scoring against the run of play, with Iker Guarrotxena beating his Basque compatriot Beñat and driving a low shot that skimmed along the grass to catch out Adam Federici.
From there on, it was Guarrotxena’s game, with the Spaniard pulling the strings and providing magic moments for United to tear the Bulls apart. He played a delightful cross-field ball to an unmarked Alessandro Diamanti who squared to Besart Berisha for their second, and nearly scored the sides fourth of the day with a beautiful curling effort, which ultimately ricocheted off the post for Berisha to smash home from close range.
United’s defence has been shaky this season, especially from set pieces, but they were organised and professional throughout. Filip Kurto pulled off a number of important saves and Tomislav Uskok and Tomoki Imai were like a brick wall, with the Japanese defender making an absolutely audacious goal line clearance to prevent a Macarthur comeback.
Veteran striker Berisha will undoubtedly grab the headlines as he becomes Australia’s second leading all time goal scorer, but for me, this game was all about Guarrotxena.
Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar
With the top two stumbling, Sydney FC had a real opportunity to boost their title defence. However they were unable to break through a brave Brisbane defence that was epitomised by Roar captain Tom Aldred playing the best part of an hour being held together by strapping. There was no dream “debut” for 36 year-old Bobô, who made his return for the reigning Champions three years after departing the A-League. The prolific forward came off the bench and had a fantastic headed opportunity denied by ‘keeper Jamie Young who played a pivotal role in the shutout.
Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Victory
Angus Thurgate celebrated his 50th appearance by scoring a 71st minute winner for Newcastle on Sunday. A third win of the season for the Jets piles the pressure on the struggling Melbourne Victory, who remained rooted firmly at the foot of the ladder following this defeat
Wellington Phoenix v Western Sydney Warriors
A depleted Wellington Phoenix welcomed Western Sydney Warriors to the WIN stadium in Wollongong, their home for the duration of the 2020/21 season, for the final game of the weekend. Both sides fielded much-changed teams for the clash, with numerous players missing through fitness or disciplinary issues. The Kiwi outfit grabbed the first goal with a smart bit of counter attacking play, but seemed content to sit back and throw as many players behind the ball for the remainder of the game. Wanderers clearly missed Graham Dorrans in the middle of the park, and most of their play consisted of Tate Russel banging beauties in to the box from out wide. Phoenix managed to cling to their lead until the 71st minute, when the game burst in to life.
Kwame Yeboah grabbed an equaliser, nodding home at the back post from a set piece, to which Wellington youngster Ben Waine promptly responded by going up the other end and scoring, only for it to be disallowed for offside. Moments later, Bruce Kamau gave Western Sydney what looked to be a deserved winner, poking home a fantastic Daniel Wilmering cross, but Wellington defender Louis Fenton managed to rise above a sleeping defence to grab them an equaliser on the 79th minute. The majority of the action came in a an eight minute flurry, the real highlight of the game was Ulises Dávila’s travelling Mexican fan club who brought some real atmosphere to Wollongong.
Melbourne City v Sydney FC
Sydney had a second chance to pick up some points on Tuesday morning, facing Melbourne City at AAMI Park. The home side came in to the game on the back of three consecutive defeats but had seen their last two games rescheduled due to Covid-19. City had clearly put this time to use on the training ground, and looked well rested, well drilled and well organised, running a visibly tired Sydney side ragged.
Jamie Maclaren grabbed the opener after 8 minutes, and Adrian Luna added a second 20 minutes later to send the hosts in with a 2 – 0 lead heading in to the break. City looked to continue their dominance in the second half, with Jamie Maclaren popping up for his second less than ten minutes in, and it looked to be curtains for the visitors.
Sydney’s tiredness led to some sloppy challenges, the defending champions managed to rack up five yellow cards and were arguably lucky to end the game with eleven men on the pitch. However, things changed for the Premiers with the introduction on Milos Ninkovic, who was pivotal in their comeback. The Serbian midfielder drifted through an alarmingly large gap in the City defence to bring one back for the visitors in the 72nd minute, before latching on to the end of toepoke from Ryan McGowan to square past an on-rushing Tom Glover for Patrick Wood to grab their second in the 90th.
There were plenty of positives for Patrick Kisnorbo’s men, who managed to break their losing streak despite a late collapse. City looked dominant in possession and lethal on the counter, however, switched off for the first goal and looked panicked for the final 20 or so minutes any time Sydney had possession in the final third.
Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix
Grant Brebner can finally breathe a sigh of relief, as his Victory side picked up a key victory against the Wellington Phoenix. The struggling Victory got off to an awful start, losing both Dylan Ryan and Marco Rojas to injury shortly in to the first half.
Former Stoke defender Ryan Shotton piled further concern after looking to injure his back taking a trademark Potters long throw, but he managed to make it to the break. The Kiwi’s were the better side for much of the half, their defence managed to keep former Premier League stars Callum McManaman and Rudy Gestede from combining effectively, while their Mexican maestro Ulises Dávila and the pace of Reno Piscopo looked dangerous going forward.
Unfortunately for the ‘Nix, their lack of attacking options showed, and they threw away all the chances they did manage to create with a succession of poor decisions and simple errors anytime they got within shooting range.
It was clear for all to see that the Victory attack was to be built around the presence of Gestede, so it was surprising to see the Phoenix concede so many set pieces from foolish challenges, and this would ultimately come back to haunt them.
The Boys in Blue had failed to score the opening goal all season, but it finally came with Gestede batting Alex Rufer aside to nod home from a corner in the third minute of injury time, his first goal for the club giving them the lead headed in at the break.
The Benin international bagged his brace just four minutes in to the second half, once again beating Alex Rufer to head home a Jake Brimmer corner.
There were promising debuts for Dalibor Markovic who played a full 90 minutes, and Zayden Bello, who replaced the injured Shotton at half time. With Nick Ansell, Adama Traore, Storm Roux all unavailable for this clash, and both Dylan Ryan and Shotton both picking up knocks against the Phoenix, we will probably see a lot more of the duo in the decimated Victory back line in coming weeks.
Until today, Iker Guarrotxena was by far my stand out of performer, but after providing such an attacking presence, and bagging two vital goals to lift the Victory off the bottom of the ladder, I feel Rudy Gestede is befitting of my Player of the Week award.