A-League Tops and Flops
The previously tight A-League table is starting to look a little stretched after Round 8 brought wins for the competition's two most impressive sides and disappointing results for the four lowliest teams. Winless Sydney FC are now 15 points adrift and have next to no chance of winning back-to-back Premier Plates, while Adelaide and Brisbane Roar are looking like the early title favourites after registering eye-catching home wins.
Brisbane Roar dismantled hapless Melbourne Heart at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday and their 4-0 victory could easily have been more on another day. Heart were forced to field a makeshift defence but it was through midfield where Roar's movement overwhelmed Heart's less mobile players, leading to total domination of possession and chances. Roar have had the better of other matches, only to fail to capitalise, but on Saturday they brought their shooting boots and pulled off the complete performance.
There must be a certain level of sympathy for Melbourne Heart, whose squad was decimated by injuries, suspensions and international call-ups. Versatile midfielder Matt Thompson had to partner captain Simon Colosimo at the back due to the lack of cover in defence, but the team didn't produce the backs-to-the-wall performance required by the circumstances, instead imploding unforgivably with the exception of outstanding goalkeeper Clint Bolton. Colosimo failed to lead his men through the game (going off with a neck complaint) and, when experienced left back Dean Heffernan took his place, he got himself sent off.
Sergio van Dijk grabbed the headlines with his timely double, but Matthew Leckie was the undoubted star of Adelaide's 2-0 win over Perth Glory on Friday. The wing sensation thrilled the home fans with his direct dribbling, burning opposition players with his blistering pace. On Tuesday we'll find out whether new Socceroos boss Holger Osieck was equally impressed when the German names his squad for Australia's upcoming friendly against Paraguay.
Carlos Hernandez has failed to live up to his lofty standards this season, but why listen to Tops and Flops when Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick had this to say after their scoreless draw against Newcastle on Saturday: "He hasn't had his scoring boots on for nine games now... He is disappointed in his own form." The Costa Rican wizard normally features prominently on the scoring and assist charts but his lack of both is reflected by Victory's mere 11 points from nine matches.
As good as Brisbane and Adelaide were this week, special mention should go to Wellington Phoenix boss Ricki Herbert for steering his side to their 24th match undefeated at Westpac Stadium - an Australian league record. Consistency of that level is a rare commodity in the A-League so Herbert should be commended for making his team almost a sure thing on home turf. Match 24 was a comfortable 2-1 win over North Queensland Fury, who were also stretched to the limit by injuries, international call-ups and even a visa issue for Ugandan Eugene Sseppuya.
The weekend's other match was a largely forgettable 1-1 draw between Sydney FC and Gold Coast United. Vitezslav Lavicka's Sydney were a much improved outfit in the first half, mostly due to the movement of Alex Brosque on his return from injury. But when Brosque inevitably tired, the Sky Blues against looked bereft of ideas and inspiration. Gold Coast went down to ten men thanks to John Curtis' brain explosion but that almost played against Lavicka. Suddenly Sydney were expected to play freely and attack at will and, when they failed to do so, the crowd's frustration started to turn towards their championship-winning coach.
Goal of the Week
Adelaide striker Sergio van Dijk may have registered one of the misses of the season last week but he showed his class by making amends with a double against Perth, starting with a show-stopping header. Joe Keenan's cross had pace but not the ideal direction, forcing van Dijk to stretch awkwardly on the run to steer the ball just inside the far post from a full 15 yards.
Save of the Week
Clint Bolton and Eugene Galekovic strung some quality saves together, but the best stop of the week was Phoenix goalkeeper Danny Vukovic's fingertip tip-over from Osama Malik's eight-yard strike.
Best of the Rest
Sometimes you think you've seen it all in the A-League, then you watch senior referee Matthew Breeze in action during Adelaide's win over Perth. Breeze is known for his habit of having a strong influence on matches he officiates, but few could believe their eyes when Breeze, after being hit by a stray pass, returned the ball to its path by giving it a sidefoot of his own. It's fair to say that at 1/1, Breeze's pass completion rate is the highest in the league.
Worst of the Rest
If only Justin Pasfield had the surety of touch of Breeze. It was a gust of wind, ironically, that played havoc for the poor Fury goalkeeper as he made an absolutely howler to let Chris Greenacre open Wellington's account on Friday. As he went to clear the ball upfield, the gust diverted it sideways mid-swing and Pasfield instead knocked the ball only as far as the Phoenix striker, who rounded him and tapped home. Pasfield might blame the conditions but he'll have to weather a different kind of storm as his gaffe is replayed all over the world this week.
And a quick note... to new Newcastle Jets owner Nathan Tinkler, who took control of the club last week and saved them from extinction. Welcome to the A-League Nathan, and thanks for bringing us something to cheer about after a few unhappy weeks in Australian football.