The New Year started with a bang as the A-League rolled out a full round of mid-week matches. Football Federation Australia hailed the success of the 'Big Wednesday' concept as a large TV audience was treated to a marathon day when 23 goals were scored in five games. On the pitch, the Central Coast Mariners took their unbeaten run to 11 games to remain top of the table with a win over Melbourne Victory, Brisbane Roar's charge continues to look shaky as they salvaged a point in Perth, and Wellington Phoenix were too strong at home to Sydney FC. At the other end of the table, Gold Coast were left to rue missed opportunities in Newcastle, while Adelaide's revival under returning coach John Kosmina claimed its latest victim in Melbourne Heart.
It's difficult to look past Graham Arnold's Central Coast Mariners after the former Socceroo tactician guided his men to a comfortable win over a star-studded Melbourne Victory outfit. The Mariners have taken their place at the top of the ladder without fuss, and will now take some serious stopping as they forge a path toward the Premiers Plate. Indeed, the Central Coast are now six points clear with the competition well past the halfway mark.
If you asked Ange Postecoglou after Brisbane's draw at Perth he'd have you believe the "cowardly" Roar would take this title. However, in a tightly contested round, Sydney FC lacked the dynamism and - perhaps most importantly - belief to beat Wellington in New Zealand. The conditions, crowd and travel make a trip to Westpac Stadium a daunting task at the best of times, and the Sky Blues were bereft of the intensity and cutting edge needed. Again defensive errors cost Sydney dearly, while they still appear to lack a top quality striker at the point of the attack.
Perhaps sentiment weighs too heavily on occasions such as this, but Matt Simon provided something of a fairytale finish as he bagged a brace in his final game for the Central Coast before heading to the K-League and the Chunnam Dragons in a lucrative deal. Simon, in his usual energetic, bustling style, was on the spot to convert some fine lead-up work by Troy Hearfield for the opener before sealing the win with an impressive strike six minutes prior to the final whistle.
Sydney FC's Pascal Bosschaart takes it this week for his woeful attempt at stopping Paul Ifill from scoring in the final minute. It may seem unjust to judge a player so harshly based on one incident, but the Dutchman really did get it horribly wrong. Ifill, one of the A-League's finest imports, danced his way past Bosschaart to send the Wellington fans into raptures. Bosschaart's face after the blunder said it all.
Though John Kosmina will no doubt come in for great praise after Adelaide halted Melbourne Heart's run of five consecutive wins, the ability of Graham Arnold to get the most out of his squad continues to impress. Arnold hailed his team's 2-0 triumph over the Melbourne Victory as "a fantastic night, and I think the performance of the season". It's hard to argue, as the Mariners' tactics nullified a potent Victory frontline, while Simon finished well to ensure the Mariners put a gap between them and the rest of the competition.
Vitezslav Lavicka must unfortunately earn the award this week. Sydney, finally, started a game well. But it all fell apart after Brett Emerton's penalty gave the Sky Blues a 16th-minute lead. Wellington coach Ricki Herbert got the better of his opposite number from that moment on, and while Sydney restored parity in the second half, it seemed inevitable the Phoenix would finish the stronger of the two teams. And they duly did.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
There were plenty of contenders as goals were belted in from all angles on Wednesday, but Melbourne Heart front-man Eli Babalj scored a wonderful goal against Adelaide, as he turned past his man sharply inside the area before finishing with aplomb. It was almost reminiscent of a young Mark Viduka holding off defenders with ease in Melbourne colours before heading off to Europe.
SAVE OF THE WEEK
Again - to steal a quote from a Harry Kewell press conference - there were many top-quality saves to choose from. But for sheer importance as his team look to build momentum, Ben Kennedy's block on Ben Halloran's attempted equaliser for Newcastle against Gold Coast takes the gong.