A-League Tops and Flops
Round 7 of the A-League gave us just seven goals as three out of five matches ended in draws and the off-field issues surrounding the competition continued to play their part. But it wasn't all bad news, as some top-notch goals and high quality football welcomed new Socceroos coach Holger Osieck to Australian shores.
One of the aforementioned off-field issues is the ongoing uncertainty over the future of the Newcastle Jets. The FFA confirmed on Monday the club's next two games will go ahead, but living week to week would be a testing proposition in any workplace. The Jets players deserve credit enough for sticking together and supporting each other, in a financial sense in some cases as they covered each other's rent payments. But for the team to then come out and beat Perth Glory 2-0 on Friday night showed character beyond the mere sporting realm, not to mention plenty of quality too.
The other crisis facing the A-League is Gold Coast United and the dwindling crowds at Skilled Park. Just over 2,000 souls attended the goalless draw with Central Coast on Sunday. Looking across a number of matches it's apparent the lack of atmosphere in the stadium leads to flat performances on the pitch. Indeed, Gold Coast seem to be a much better side away from home this season. But just when the club needed an inspired Jets-style performance to boost morale, the team failed to fire, barely testing a Mariners outfit happy to settle for a point away from home.
The weekend's other goalless draw between North Queensland and Melbourne Victory was not short on endeavour from either side but top quality defending from the likes of Mark Hughes kept the sheets clean. The young Fury centre back has an uncanny knack of making last-ditch interventions in the box in the mould of another Englishman, John Terry.
Adelaide United striker Sergio van Dijk said before his return to old club Brisbane Roar that he wouldn't celebrate if he scored against them. Well, he needn't have worried about that as he struggled to make things click in the final third during their 1-1 draw at Suncorp, capping his performance with a horror miss from one yard out in front of an empty net. Luckily, Holger Osieck was otherwise treated so some of this season's best football in Brisbane.
Melbourne Heart boss John van't Schip has endured a difficult start to his maiden A-League campaign. Injuries and suspensions have undermined the new boys' efforts to date. Van't Schip's ability to find solutions was tested to the maximum on Sunday as he ran out of centre backs when youngster Brendan Hamill was injured but he coped well by moving Mr Versatile Matt Thompson from the wing into the heart of defence. He also withdrew target man Gerald Sibon into a new central midfield role and his rearranged team eventually overcame Wellington Phoenix 2-1.
For the second week running, the top and flop coaches come from the same match. New Zealand's World Cup mastermind Ricki Herbert fielded close to the same starting XI as he had in Wellington's last two matches, both in the last eight days. The result was a flat performance and a lesson to A-League coaches to rotate their teams when they face midweek fixtures, something players aren't used to in this part of the world.
Goal of the week
There were only seven goals this week but most of them were from the top draw. Alex Terra's sweet left-footed strike in Heart's win edges out Matthew Leckie and Michael Bridges.
Save of the week
Terra would have had another if it wasn't for Danny Vukovic's superb stop low to his left from the Brazilian's header. John Aloisi contrived to miss the rebound from two yards in a lowlight to rival van Dijk's.
Best of the Rest
Most of the teams in action were weakened by the absence of the Olyroos, who assembled under new coach Aurelio Vidmar for the first time last week. This week the Young Socceroos, many of whom are established A-League regulars, will also be leaving their clubs for international duty. It's a positive sign for the A-League that so many of these next generation players have established themselves in the first teams of their respective clubs. The competition, for all its faults, is certainly serving its purpose in providing an opportunity for these youngsters to play good quality football in a professional environment.
Worst of the Rest
Another week passes, and the likelihood of one or even two A-League clubs ceasing to exist seems to grow closer. Newcastle and Gold Coast ironically meet on Wednesday night in the latest midweek clash and the Jets' future has only been guaranteed for one more match beyond that. Gold Coast face the prospect of setting the record for the lowest A-League crowd on Australian soil for the second time in four days, bringing their viability into question in the short term. On a lighter note, the close-range misses by Sergio van Dijk and John Aloisi are sure to vie for top billing on the end-of-season bloopers reel.