Tops and Flops is back after a week's hiatus as the A-League's best just keep winning and strugglers continue to stumble. There were fairly comfortable victories for the top three but most of the attention was elsewhere as the second Melbourne derby lit up Round 18. This time Melbourne Victory claimed the honours, making the A-League's format of playing each team three times seem like a piece of genius since the sides will get to face off in a 'decider' to determine which set of fans will take bragging rights into the off-season.
Victory's stars will get a mention later, but for a ruthless team who only looked like winning at the weekend, we couldn't go past Adelaide United. To say they cruised to their 2-0 victory over the understrength North Queensland Fury would be an understatement, as foreign stars Marcos Flores and Sergio van Dijk established an early lead which was never threatened. In truth, it was a game Adelaide were expected to win, and while their fans might have been eyeing a thrashing after the two early goals, it was an efficient and ruthless performance befitting a team who has aspirations of a top two finish.
Had Fury and Wellington Phoenix met at the weekend it would be easier to judge who was worse but fortunately, that's not a match anyone will have to witness. But while Fury were severely understrength in Adelaide, Wellington had no such excuse as they rolled over for a 2-0 loss at Gold Coast. Wellington's typical struggles on the road continued and they fell all too easily into Gold Coast's trap of sitting deep and compact before striking like a coiled viper when Phoenix let their guard down. The visitors were neither enterprising enough to threaten United's rearguard, nor resolute enough to look like holding out for a much-needed away point.
Victory's strike force of Archie Thompson and Robbie Kruse pushed their claims for Holger Osieck's Asian Cup Socceroos squad with stand-out roles in a pulsating derby victory over Heart at AAMI on Saturday. Kruse stole the headlines with his double but Thompson was equally as good, if not better, as he set up one of Kruse's goals and Victory's other for Adrian Leijer. Heart's tactical set-up, where they look to stretch the field to play out of the back, played into Thompson and Kruse's hands as they capitalised on the space available in transition to lethal effect.
As focus turns to the A-League after Australia's failed World Cup bid, one of the many aspects of the domestic game up for discussion is the marquee system. Robbie Fowler has no doubt been one of the more successful versions of the marquee player due to his huge profile, but it's not unreasonable to expect a marquee man, on marquee wages, to influence matters on the park as well. Fowler missed five chances as Perth drew 1-1 with Central Coast on Sunday afternoon, one of them a free header from close range. Two others were attempted chips from outside the box, low percentage efforts where options other than the spectacular might have helped his team close out the match as they led 1-0 in the second half. Finally, Fowler found himself in the left-back position late in the match as the Mariners pushed for an equaliser, and Michael McGlinchey left 'God' embarrassed on his backside before delivering the cross that led to their dubious equaliser.
For once, Brisbane's players didn't quite warrant selection as Tops in their own right but there was still a lot to like about the way coach Ange Postecoglou approached the weekend. After Roar accounted for unambitious Sydney FC 1-0, their first ever victory in the Harbour City, Postecoglou said that he had specifically told his team to take their foot off the pedal in the second half and simply protect their first-half lead. So while other coaches are still searching for the right formula, the Brisbane boss is intent on adding another string to his side's bow, teaching them the virtue of "playing for a result" so they are prepared for all kinds of scenarios come finals time. More than that, he was comfortable enough in his own skin to tell the world about it - impressive stuff.
The A-League top four seems to have taken shape even this far out from the finish line, and all four besides Central Coast took three points on the weekend. Part of the blame must lie with Graham Arnold, despite the fact the Mariners eventually snatched a point in the west. Perth's fifth-minute goal gave Arnold nearly the whole match to react, yet only his last throw of the dice, sending defender Patrick Zwaanswijk up front, brought the Mariners level. Prior to that, Arnold lost the tactical battle, his side resorting to ineffective long, straight balls over the top as Perth effectively shut down key midfield pivot Rostyn Griffiths to stop the Mariners from building their play. In the attacking transition, the Mariners were far too impatient with the ball, picking high-risk, low-reward options that simply cost them possession, in itself a costly mistake in the scorching Perth heat.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Gerald Sibon was the only player to score in a losing side this week but he can at least celebrate this award for his artfully curled free kick for Heart in the Melbourne derby.
SAVE OF THE WEEK
Ivan Necevski's awful positioning let Roar score the only goal against Sydney but he redeemed himself with a full-stretch tip over from Rocky Visconte's chipped shot in the second half.
BEST OF THE REST
Heart may have lost the derby but they had a good week on the promotional front as honorary season ticket holder Jon Bon Jovi visited Melbourne on his Australian tour. A meeting with JBJ wasn't enough to inspire Heart's players to victory and the ageing star got a taste of the city's allegiances when he donned his Heart strip for his encore during his concert, only to be met with some audible boos from Victory fans in attendance. So there you go: football passion transcends musical taste. Heart's weekend of rock rolled on as British giants Muse and their roadies challenged the club to a match on Monday, with the Heart XI, made up of fringe players and staff, allegedly coming out comfortable winners.
WORST OF THE REST
The other promotional gimmick making headlines this week is Gold Coast United owner Clive Palmer's decision to open up the gates for this Sunday's match against the Mariners. Now that is certainly a positive since United's dismal crowds need a kick-start, and getting people into the stadium for a taste of football is a good start. But Palmer's reasoning for the move doesn't sit quite right. He has pledged the free admission as a mark of respect for FFA chairman Frank Lowy and his bid team's gallant and exhaustive attempt to bring the World Cup to Australia. That's a nice gesture, but for a club desperate to attract fans, is that the priority here? Why didn't this move come long ago as a marketing ploy, or as a gift to the Gold Coast population Palmer so desperately needs to reconnect with? Is the club going to leverage this one-off opportunity by generating some serious hype around town, or let the opportunity pass?