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Sunday, October 21, 2012
Rivalries ignited

Rob Brooks

The A-League Angle delves into the world of Australian football, providing analysis of the top-flight club competition Down Under.

Rivalries ignited

Round three of the A-League kicked off with one of its most intense rivalries to the fore as Melbourne Victory hosted Adelaide United. The Victory - tipped as hot favourites to win the title by several high-profile pundits - had started their campaign in rather insipid fashion, but the heat of the battle against the Reds saw Ange Postecoglou's men finally fire. Melbourne had appeared disjointed throughout the opening two rounds but, spurred into action by Dario Vidosic's opening goal for Adelaide, showed some of the potency they have in attack. Socceroos defender Mark Milligan levelled matters before Marcos Rojas netted the winner. Like Rojas, the Victory are yet to truly realise their potential. They were torn to shreds by Brisbane Roar last weekend as former Roar boss Postecoglou looked on in dismay. Though they have not yet put Postecoglou's passing philosophy into practice, the determination they showed against their South Australian rivals will provide hope for their supporters. The A-League's oldest derby did not fail to disappoint either. Newcastle, who have former England striker Emile Heskey in their ranks, got one over the Central Coast Mariners in a clash that provided its fair share of controversial moments. Heskey scored for the second consecutive week and, while the Mariners had the better of the play for reasonable periods, the tenacity of the Jets in midfield saw them through. Saturday evening also saw the first Sydney derby as Alessandro Del Piero earned maximum points for Sydney FC against A-League newcomers Western Sydney Wanderers. In this instance, the experience of the Italian maestro, rather than sheer strength, made the difference. Del Piero won a penalty after drawing young Wanderers midfielder Aaron Mooy into an unnecessary challenge inside the area, and converted the spot-kick as his team lurched off the bottom of the table. The highlight of the game from a neutral's perspective, though, was that Parramatta Stadium was sold out more than a week before the two sides began what is sure to be an intense and lasting rivalry.

Wide of the mark

One evident problem for many teams last weekend, particularly the Wanderers, was a lack of width. Coach Tony Popovic opted to tweak his starting line-up by including Labinot Haliti at the expense of Youssouf Hersi. Haliti, usually a striker, along with Mooy, who was forced deep, were unable to provide Shinji Ono and Dino Kresinger with enough support in attack. Tarek Elrich remains on the substitutes' bench, but it would seem a natural move for Popovic to deploy the former Newcastle Jets winger in front of Jerome Polenz on the right-hand side. Kresinger lacks the pace to get in behind from the through-balls Ono likes to play, leaving high crosses into the box from wide areas as the most likely source of goals. In order to do that, the fledgling club must begin to utilise Elrich's electric pace. Melbourne Heart also suffered from a similar problem in their 2-0 loss to last season's grand finalists Perth Glory, and Aziz Behich and Mate Dugandzic must become more ruthless on the left and right respectively.

Ref riot

The performances of referees came into sharper focus than usual over the weekend, with officials at the heart of some of the key moments. Mariners boss Graham Arnold questioned the performance of Ben Williams after his side conceded a penalty in the opening exchanges against the Jets and said the contest was almost over within the first five minutes after a collision between Heskey and the Mariners' Michael McGlinchey. It was a contentious call and had a huge bearing on the F3 derby. A-League referees have been roundly criticised since the competition's inception, but most fans would agree that the overall ability of the men in the middle appears to have improved. That, though, is unlikely to placate Arnold or the Central Coast faithful this week. Strebre Delovski also pointed to the spot in the Sydney derby, though his decision will garner considerably fewer headlines. Wanderers midfielder Mooy can have few complaints after sticking his leg out as Del Piero changed direction intelligently.

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