The quality of the A-League continues to rise
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“There’s no such thing as an exciting 0-0 draw” someone once told me, but they clearly possessed little understanding of the nuances of football. For if Melbourne Victory’s pulsating scoreless draw with Sydney FC is any indicator, this will be the most exciting season of the A-League yet.
Talk about living up to the hype.
Saturday night’s Etihad Stadium grudge match had everything but a goal as two of the A-League’s fiercest rivals went at it hammer and tongs in front of a raucous 40,000-strong crowd.
At times the frenetic pace left you breathless as the two sides traded near misses, outstanding goalkeeping saves, a missed penalty, a red card and a heated all-in scuffle in what was a fabulous advertisement for A-League football.
Brett Emerton was the biggest loser, as his scuffed penalty was brilliantly saved by an Ante Covic who had practically just stepped off the plane from Sweden after signing as a late injury replacement for the stricken Tando Velaphi.
Statisically speaking, Covic didn’t always have the best goals-against record during his time at the Newcastle Jets, but on his day the lanky custodian is one of the best shot-stoppers in the league and he was on fire against a determined Sydney strike force.
That Sydney played so well with their backs against the wall bodes well for the rest of the season, although Sky Blues fans will hope Emerton is not haunted by his costly penalty miss.
Of course, Emerton wasn’t the only star on show and Harry Kewell proved he’s not back home for a holiday with an industrious display full of intelligent running and the occasional shot on goal.
Nicky Carle also chimed in with several incisive touches for the visitors and some of the football on display at Etihad Stadium was a joy to watch.
Carle is just one of several big names still looking to make their mark on the A-League and one of the most underrated did exactly that in Saturday’s early kick-off against Melbourne Heart.
Newcastle Jets midfielder Ryan Griffiths essentially dropped off the international radar during his time in China, yet the talented sibling of twins Joel and Adam proved he’s more than capable of making a name for himself with two excellent strikes.
His first goal – a wonderfully taken left-foot free-kick – showed just how much technical prowess is filtering through to the A-League.
And while the rest of the goals in Newcastle’s absorbing victory over the Heart weren’t necessarily of the top drawer variety, there was plenty of great football on display to keep the purists enthused.
Mitch Nichols also impressed as his winner for Brisbane Roar saw off an outmatched Central Coast Mariners, and Nichols is another who will hope to make the step up from competent squad member to genuine match winner this season.
The Roar need to find a new go-to man now that Matt McKay is plying his trade in Scotland, and if Nichols can overcome his penchant for blazing wild shots over the crossbar and hitting impetuous passes into nowhere, his dynamic drive to get forward could prove a key component of the Roar’s title defence.
Put simply, there’s more than enough good football on display in the A-League to keep football enthusiasts glued to their seats and the joke is on those who insist the competition is not up to scratch.
It may have some way to go to match the heights of the region’s best leagues – see the improvement made by Shimizu S-Pulse star Alex Brosque or the importance of Nagoya Grampus striker Josh Kennedy to the Socceroos.
But if the quality continues to rise at its current rate, then the A-League is well and truly on the right path when it comes to providing entertaining spectacles for fans.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman