A-League review: Sydney's win, Newcastle's draw show vintage styles
It's Monday, so time for the A-League's good, bad and ugly from Round 17...
Sydney FC's 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar on Friday night could not have been accompanied by a more Sydney FC performance. There are obvious trade-offs but Brisbane opting to defend in their own half -- as opposed to Sydney's half in the first game in Kogarah this season -- was feasible. There was a moment at the end of the first half that encapsulated how Sydney are conditioned. Because it was a first half in which Steve Corica's dominated possession. Yet, as Milos Ninkovic continually dropped deeper, it was all of little substance or improvisational quality closer to goal.
With the interval approaching, Luke Brattan spreads the ball out to Rhyan Grant on the right, but instead of creating a penetrative line of pass off the ball, breaks out into a sprint towards the ball. As though doing the same thing, but just running faster, will actually manipulate defensive positions. Though definitely not the primary intention, there is still an attritional element to such possession. It shone through not in Scott Neville's handball after Bradden Inman's loss of the ball and quick transition, that led to Adam Le Fondre's decisive penalty. Rather, it showed through Neville's cheap and needless yellow card early in the second half, that meant his handball would lead to an early dismissal. Though Sydney might have been hanging on against a 10-man Brisbane by the end, pressure creates mistakes and the reigning champions capitalise on them better than anyone in the A-League.
In a similar way, Newcastle's 0-0 draw with Western United on Saturday could not have been accompanied by a more Newcastle performance. More than anything, that the Jets were able to maintain such energy across the 90 minutes, in such oppressively warm conditions, was remarkable. Western United contributed to the Jets' ascendancy in the game's rhythm, continuously trying to attack as quickly as possible upon breakdowns in possession, when there was a need for a more varied approach. There were times to stand on the ball, in other words.
However, much like in Adelaide, the Jets dominated and actually created good chances for no reward. It was ultimately a game of energy. Newcastle and Western United are disparate in that sense, but as much as the latter played into the former's hands, the Jets consistently proved they will not capitalise in front of goal. It's strange. Although unluckiness compounds profligacy, the Jets are also lucky in a way. In other games, an opportunity like the one Max Burgess had in the 80th minute would likely have finished in the back of the net. And then there's the one-on-one opportunity Panagiotis Kone would have had, if Besart Berisha decided to pass the ball. Saturday afternoon was ripe for the goal against the run of play, and to Newcastle's benefit, it didn't come.
The Pace and Power Derby
Something something, unstoppable force. Something something, immovable object. Adelaide United's 3-1 win over Melbourne City on Saturday night in the PnP Derby was just perfect. In the same way Tommy Wiseau's The Room is, just to clarify -- unintentional, but nonetheless must-watch. A frenetic, up-and-down opening 15 minutes, all four goals from breaks in play, speed, aggression and most importantly, no time for thinking. Especially after the manner in which they lost the FFA Cup Final to Adelaide in October, City somehow tried to take even less risk in phases of possession, so that the home side could not transition as effectively. The match resembled a coiled spring, specifically following the initial phases, just waiting for one stray pass or poor movement to suddenly release all kinds of energy. Fittingly, City had almost half the amount of shots with more of the ball and when there was a need to chase the game in the second half, Connor Metcalfe and Lachlan Wales were the options off the bench. Despite the clarity they would have provided in such a situation, Denis Genreau remained on the bench and Stefan Colakovski -- who had only extended his contract with Melbourne City last week -- was not even in the squad.
Change? We'll see
After recent dismissals of respective coaches, Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney put forward positive performances on the weekend. Victory earned a 2-2 draw away to Perth Glory in what was their fourth game in a fortnight, while the Wanderers were relatively comfortable 3-1 winners over Central Coast. There's always the initial jolt in energy in football, that comes with the positional insecurity of a new coach. There are details worth examining further, but for the moment, body language from both teams at least appears more positive. For fans of both Victory and the Wanderers, the effort that encompasses is a positive. But it can't be everything, especially as time passes.
The Y-League, and change
Sydney FC defeated Melbourne Victory 5-1 in the Y-League Final on Friday afternoon, and it all oddly played out amid the backdrop of incoming change. Like many Y-League games, there were odd flashes of imagination, but it was all very mechanical and formulaic. That's more important than the result, because there ultimately has to be a purpose to it all. That purpose is to develop players good enough to play for the Socceroos and beyond the A-League. News on Thursday revealed plans to implement a second division consisting of A-League reserve teams and National Premier Leagues clubs. Recognising the need to play youth players is only commendable if there a willingness to truly act on it. Expanding the age limit and creating a consistent playing environment is fine. As noted before this season, so is a hybrid containing both A-League reserve teams and NPL clubs. At least on a conditional basis. When weighed up against the reality A-League teams are pushing to expand foreign player quotas, though, the sentiment underpinning and selling these plans to change become as empty as the phases of possession in Australian youth football games.