A-League regular season in review
- Sydney FC news
- Melbourne Victory news
- Central Coast Mariners news
- Wellington Phoenix news
- Adelaide United news
- Newcastle Jets news
- Perth Glory news
- Brisbane Roar news
- Gold Coast United news
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- A-League news
- Melbourne Heart news
The seventh edition of the Hyundai A-League has been a compelling campaign, both on and off the pitch. It wasn’t always smooth sailing off the field; however the football has be a pleasure to witness on it.
Technical standards continue to escalate in an upwards trend, while the final weekend of the home-and-away season encompassed a thrilling climax – Central Coast edging its way past the finishing line to deny Brisbane Roar of successive Premiers Plate titles.
With the 27-round season now culminated, let’s depict and analyse each team’s season and look at the highs and lows ahead of the highly anticipated A-League finals series.
Gold Coast United: 10th
It’s been an arduous season for the competition’s problem-child, with the Surfers Paradise club seemingly on life support, uncertain of its A-League future beyond this campaign.
After a series of controversial remarks – condemning Football Federation Australia and illustrating utter contempt towards the code and its affiliates – Clive Palmer’s A-League license was hastily revoked by the national governing body. Following that the FFA took ownership of the club for the remaining four games of the term.
With the forthcoming media rights agreement up for negotiation, the competition can ill-afford to contract to a nine-team league.
An innovative community ownership model has been submitted to FFA, whereby a consortium of businessmen, accompanied with interests from south-east Asia, are interested in bankrolling the Queensland club.
Statistics imply that the Gold Coast region is an attractive proposition for a football club. Currently it’s the sixth-largest Australian market, and is forecast to boast a population of 700,000 residents by 2021.
Under Palmer’s egotistic style of management, the club was never going to be an attractive proposition for the Gold Coast community. However, on the pitch, the youthful exuberance demonstrated has been a revelation to watch.
Despite being anchored to the foot of the table, this team was by far the most exciting side to win the notorious wooden spoon. With turmoil engulfing the club over the past few weeks Gold Coast finished the season with integrity, and this must be applauded.
Steered by inspirational leader Michael Thwaite, United’s brigade of youth performed shrewdly, exceeding expectations.
Zach Anderson, Adama Traore, Mitch Cooper, James Brown, Chris Harold, Ben Halloran and Golgol Mebrahtu are just some of the prodigies that made waves around the competition. With insecurity hanging over the embattled club, many these players have already secured contracts elsewhere, or are on the verge of doing so.
Interim Gold Coast boss Mike Mulvey believes a team on the coastal strip will add value to the A-League, and given his ability to produce youth – winning two National Youth League titles with Gold Coast – expect to see more talent unearthed next season if the club is still in business.
Adelaide United: Ninth
The Reds failed to rekindle the form which saw them grand finalists on two occasions, and third in 2010-11, and finished ninth in an underwhelming campaign.
Adelaide, widely seen as one of the dominant forces on the domestic scene, couldn’t replicate its achievements from seasons gone by.
Following a catastrophic beginning to the season, the board anonymously agreed to part-ways with Dutchman Rini Coolen on December 18, who was replaced by John Kosmina. He recently celebrated his second-coming at Adelaide with a one-year contract extension, with an option for a second.
Opinion is divided on Kosmina’s appointment, with some believing he isn’t the ingredient which will drive the club forward on the back of disappointment in the A-League.
However, it’s difficult to argue that he doesn’t possess the experience and nous required to build a successful team.
Evidently, Kosmina admires his hometown club, while possessing the passion and desire to hoist this club back to the top of the tree.
There are signs of this already in Adelaide’s venture on the Asian continental stage. With two wins from as many games, the club is fantastically positioned to make the knockout stages for a third time in its fourth attempt.
In many ways, the Reds are fast becoming the A-League’s current version of Liverpool – poor on the domestic front, but potent in the cup football arena.
Adelaide appeared rejuvenated in the Asian Champions League, and it may just be the catalyst for an improved campaign in 2012-13.
Melbourne Victory: Eighth
The competition’s biggest and most celebrated club has certainly had a season to forget. In a year where many expected Victory to be challenging for the title – with the acquisition of Socceroos luminary Harry Kewell and exciting youngster Marco Rojas – fans were left with nothing short of an astonishingly tenuous campaign.
Victory, touted as a star-studded side with a legion of attacking options including Carlos Hernandez and Archie Thompson, couldn’t duplicate its accomplishments from previous years.
After the first few matches, in many ways it was apparent that rookie coach Mehmet Durakovic wasn’t the right man for the job.
It’s inexcusable; that after a worldwide search, the club’s hierarchy managed to hand the A-League’s most lucrative coaching assignment to a man who was unequipped for the rigours of such a role.
A club of Victory’s stature needs a manager who is confident, reassuring and importantly, is a sound spokesman when addressing the media.
After sacking Durakovic, Victory appointed Irish-born Jim Magilton as caretaker boss. His record of only two wins from 12 matches isn’t anything to brag about, however to his credit he has shown the credentials to take Victory to the next level.
The former Ipswich boss spoke passionately in the press regarding Victory’s imminent future, calling for a player overhaul and culture change to aid the club’s progression.
In many ways, he is correct. Many players have exceeded their stay at the club, while others simply don’t seem to have the ability to be an automatic pick for first-team selection.
Melbourne has already begun preparations for 2012-13, with the signings of left-back Adama Traore from Gold Coast United, defensive utility Sam Gallagher from the Mariners and young sensation Julius Davies.
Central Coast striker Tomas Rogic is also reportedly in negotiations with Victory.
An important off-season looms for Victory, with stability the key constituent to re-building this club back to its former glory days.
Newcastle Jets: Seventh
The Jets re-branded themselves under the Nathan Tinkler empire to have a direct correlation with the NRL’s Newcastle Knights outfit.
Both teams donned the burgundy and blue strips as a symbolic gesture to the Hunter Valley region. This proved to be a master stroke, with the community getting behind the club.
Crowds have risen this term to a healthy average figure in excess of 12,000, a considerable 4,000 better than last season.
The club is in good hands, with stability evident. However, its healthy state off the field failed to transmit into a top-six berth, with the Jets narrowly falling short after an enthralling three-two loss to Sydney FC on the final day of the regular season.
Gary van Egmond – in his second stint at the club after replacing Branko Culina, who sacked on the eve of this campaign – will be disappointed with the club’s table position. However he will get a sense of optimism knowing that the club is moving in an upwards direction.
Jacob Pepper has been a late-season revelation for the Jets.
The 19-year-old was promoted from the NYL team in December 2011, and subsequently signed a two-year deal to remain with the Novocastrians. He also earned his first appearance for the Olyroos, in their scoreless draw with Iraq in March.
With a full pre-season to work and mould his playing philosophy – a similar structure to the revered Brisbane Roar – van Egmond’s troops should be better prepared for what is an articulate game-style, needing time and patience to master.
Melbourne Heart: Sixth
It’s been a breakthrough season for Melbourne’s expansion club, earning a place in this year’s finals series, subsequently earning bragging rights over its cross-town rival Melbourne Victory.
Despite claiming a play-off berth for the first time in the club’s short history, the Heart will be vastly disappointed to only scrape through the last hurdle, finishing sixth in a 10-team competition.
On the cusp of the New Year, Heart occupied second position – after trouncing Sydney 4-0 across the border – holding high ambitions of challenging for the Premiership Plate, or at the very least securing a home-final.
However, a torrid run of form saw the red-and-whites only claim two wins in its final 14 outings. Hardly the form warranted in pursuit of championship glory.
It isn’t an ideal scenario for Heart, although it will be buoyed knowing it has the fire-power to cause any team havoc on its day.
Most notably the Heart will be confident against defending champion Brisbane, having triumphed over the Roar once and having drawn twice in this campaign.
Captain Fred knows the feeling of finals pressure, having played a significant role in the 2007 grand final triumph with Victory.
The Brazilian playmaker provided five assists for Archie Thompson in the 6-0 rout of Adelaide United.
There’s no underlying secret; if Fred can act as the architect en route to goal, then Heart has every chance of proceeding past the first week of the finals.
John van’t Schip’s tenure in the A-League will conclude once Heart’s finals voyage comes to an end.
Thus far, when assessing his stay in Melbourne, results wise, it has been a tad underwhelming. On a two-year deal worth $1.4-million, fans would have anticipated for more than eighth and sixth on the ladder.
At the other end of the scale, the Dutchman has helped guide the club in its vision, cultural standing and football ethos.
He nurtured and developed young talent, bringing through many players as first-team regulars, including Michael Marrone, Brendan Hamill, Eli Babalj, Curtis Good and Aziz Behich.
Van’t Schip’s legacy at Heart is one of great debate.
Is one finals appearance enough to merit praise? Or does the notion of player development and building for the future outweigh its performances in the club’s inaugural two years?
The general consensus from Heart fans seems to be the latter.
Sydney FC: Fifth
The Sydneysiders will be participating in finals football this season, but they had to do it the hard way, triumphing three-two over Newcastle last Sunday, in a do-or-die fixture at Allianz Arena.
After the game, outgoing Sydney FC coach Vitezslav Lavicka described the win as a “great relief”, in a campaign which can only be described as topsy-turvy.
On many occasions this term the Sky Blues have been at their inconsistent best, playing a meticulous brand of football in one half before looking quite the opposite on the turn of the interval.
It isn’t the formula the club will warrant heading into the play-offs, although it will feel a sense of buoyancy knowing that it has the artillery to threaten any team.
The return of Socceroos winger Brett Emerton has been a positive injection not only for the Sky Blues, but for the competition.
Like Kewell, Emerton has taken his time to find his feet in the A-League. Yet he has proven his worth, amid a must improved showing in the second half of the campaign.
His performance on Sunday was arguably the best since his domestic return, providing two assists and playing a pivotal role in the outcome of the game.
On current form, the 33-year-old could offer the impetus for Sydney to progress through its finals campaign.
Meanwhile, Joel Chianese’s rise to fame has given Sydney a surge in confidence, providing another attacking option in the final third.
After only making his A-League debut in round 19, the 22-year-old has impressed on the centre stage, with fans already drawing comparisons with ex-Sydney striker and current Socceroos Alex Brosque.
Chianese’s brace last weekend illustrated the aptitude he acquires, and is definitely one with a bright future.
To date, the Sky Blues would be disappointed with the season is has endured. With lofty ambitions of a top-four placing and a home final, their primary objective wasn’t achieved.
On a positive note, crowds have increased – coinciding with the signing of Emerton – with an average home gate of around 12,000.
Nonetheless, Sydney has proven that when the team is playing with confidence and composure, it has the talent and grit to challenge any team. How far they go in the finals remains to be seen.
Wellington Phoenix: Fourth
When pundits and fans were given their predictions during the pre-season many envisaged the Nix to finish near the foot of the table.
Bearing in mind the issues inundated at the club prior to round one, amid budget constraints with player signings and a precarious future with its ownership, few picked them to claim a top-four placing.
But the Kiwi’s have surpassed expectations yet again and are now firmly in the hot seat to have a crack at the A-League championship.
Despite its dour form leading into the play-offs – obtaining a solitary point in its last three outings – the Phoenix have richly deserved the accolades it has achieved.
A stern assignment awaits the Phoenix when it entertains an invigorated Sydney outfit in front of what should be an animated crowd at the Caketin.
English-born Barbadous international Paul Ifill will play an imperative role for the hosts. His experience and expertise in big games could be the vehicle to Wellington’s progression in the finals series.
The 32-year-old has had an interrupted season with injury, although he has proven to be a critical ingredient to his team’s fortunes.
His seven-goal tally may be less than what fans have expected, however his ability to display moments of individual brilliance – as portrayed in his stunning equaliser against Melbourne Heart in round 25 – could pave the way for a Phoneix triumph.
After controversy swarmed the 2010 preliminary final – when the Sky Blues scored a dubious winner from an apparent handball – Wellington will be eager to extract revenge on their Sydney counterparts.
Playing on their home turf, this could be their moment to gain retribution.
Perth Glory: Third
After living in the shadows of its former glory days – in the now defunct National Soccer League – Perth is finally beginning to emulate the success it was once renowned for. Since the inception of the revamped domestic competition the West Australian club has only featured in one finals series from six seasons.
On the contrary, it has been a breakthrough season for Perth, whose fans have endured much frustration and disappointment after making the transition from the NSL, where it was crowned champion in both 2003 and 2004.
Come this weekend, the Glory will be hosting its first finals fixture in the A-League. It has been a taxing journey for the ardent supporters in the west, but one they will cherish with high regard.
With the objective of earning a home final, Perth owner Tony Sage was true to his word, granting a contract extension to coach Ian Ferguson during the week.
The deal will see him remain at the helm for an additional two-year period – a just reward after many fans were calling for his head earlier in the campaign.
In a historic day for the club this weekend Perth will play host to Melbourne Heart. In an unusual turn of events, this season the Glory has prevailed over its opposition on two occasions at AAMI Park, but let its guard slip on home turf.
With momentum cultivating at the Glory, it will be difficult to see an out-of-form Heart side succeed, in what is regarded as perhaps the most gruelling away trip in the competition.
For Heart to have any hope of thriving in the west, it must contain Perth striker Shane Smeltz. The Kiwi is in a rich vein of form, booting four past Victory last weekend, and looks primed to have an enormous impact at the business end of the year.
Brisbane Roar: Second
It’s amazing how, in the space of two years, a club can transform its status from the competition’s under-achievers, to the new benchmark of Australian domestic football.
Manager Ange Postecoglou has enhanced the technicality of the league, through his sophisticated football ethos and astute player development techniques.
Many people fail to remember Postecoglou’s accomplishments prior to the commencement of his A-League tenure.
In the NSL, the 46-year-old guided South Melbourne to two national championships, while also steering the same club to the 2000 Club World Championship, where it faced English powerhouse Manchester United.
Accordingly, while football is a team game, Postecoglou must take an immense amount of credit for the manner in which the club is conducting itself in the national arena.
Only a few months back, in November, Brisbane set a new Australian record for the most consecutive games unbeaten by a professional sports team, surpassing Eastern suburbs’ 35-game undefeated run held from 1935-1938 in the New South Wales rugby league competition.
It was an awe-inspiring feat for the club, and also for the A-League as a whole. It identified the Roar’s unbelievable resilience, willpower and the ability to forge a cohesive game-style unforseen on Australian soil.
While the Roar has won many accolades from the media, in association with the football community, not everything went to plan throughout the 2011-12 campaign.
After soaring to unprecedented heights early in the season, things certainly went pear shaped for the reining champions, who tasted defeat on five successive occasions.
After a monumental 36-match unbeaten run, the most cynical of sporting pundits wouldn’t have predicted such a plunge in form. However, to Brisbane’s credit, it overcame its demons to revive their season in fruitful fashion.
Despite coming within a whisker of claiming a second premiers title – negated by Central Coast’s victory over Wellington on the final day of the regular season – it will renew its rivalry with the Mariners over a two-leg semi final.
The Roar know that the Gosford team still has mental scarring from last season’s dramatic grand final comeback.
Besart Besisha has been a revelation for the Roar this term, easily accounting for the Golden Boot award, bagging 19 goals in the process.
The Albanian-born striker has been a key component to Brisbane’s success this campaign, while other new additions including defender Sayed Mohamed Adnan and midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran have also played critical roles in the team’s development throughout the season.
Undoubtedly, the juggling acts of A-League finals and Asian Champions League duties will be a difficult impediment for both the Roar and Mariners to conquer. It could very well play a leading role in the outcome of the play-offs.
As evidenced in last year’s grand final, little separates two of the competition’s heavyweights and an exciting two-leg affair awaits.
Central Coast Mariners: First
Following a traumatic finale to last season’s grand final – yielding a two-goal advantage in the final minutes, yet ultimately losing on penalties against Brisbane – the Mariners have, in inspirational fashion, fought against adversity to win the first piece of silverware on offer this season, the Premiers Plate.
Under no illusions of the daunting task that confronted them, the Gosford-based outfit demonstrated immense character, a fighting spirit and camaraderie to top the table after a 27-round campaign.
It would be naive to believe that the heartache of the grand final loss is not fresh in the players’ memories. It’s only human nature to feel sorrow and anger after such an event.
However, under the guidance of former Olyroos and Socceroos boss Graham Arnold this community club has once again defied its critics to be at the forefront of Australian football.
While Arnold received a barrage of criticism during his helm with the national teams, his stature at club level appears to be having an inverse affect.
After the disappointment of last season, it is truly a testament to his prowess as a coach on what he has achieved with the Mariners.
Interestingly, Arnold recently confessed that the success of Brisbane has been utilised as a motivational tool for his side to continually prosper on the pitch, in an attempt to set new benchmarks for the team.
This is the attitude that separates the elite from the chasing pack. The continual need for improvement, in every capacity is the approach which must be adopted.
It can be argued that this philosophy is being implemented, with technical standards and the standard of player recruitment on an upward spiral.
In 2011-12 there has been a raft of stand-out contributions from the Mariners’ players. Their fluid style of play and unity within its playing ranks makes for a successful team.
Youngsters, in the vein of Matthew Ryan, Mustafa Amini and Bernie Ibini continue to develop and improve with every game.
Rogic, 19, an exciting young talent, has burst onto the A-League scene in pristine style.
A three-time participant in the A-League finale, Central Coast will be seeking to put right its past failings on the centre stage.
While luck was not manifestly on its side last time around this season could very well be the year of the Mariners.
A modern day rivalry with the Roar continues. May the best team prevail.
Courtesy of Goal Weekly
Follow Robbie on Twitter @RobertDiFabio
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