Sophistication on show in ever-improving A-League
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Mark Milligan celebrates scoring the Victory's second goal during Saturday's Melbourne derby. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
If Ange Postecoglou is the master, Tony Popovic is the apprentice. Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers play the most attractive football in the A-League.
Postecoglou hailed the atmosphere created by more than 41,000 vociferous fans in Victory’s gripping 2-1 derby day win over Melbourne Heart at Etihad Stadium.
Not for the first time this season, the atmosphere inside the ground seemed to spur both teams on, in what was an utterly compelling 90 minutes of football.
When eagle-eyed referee Strebre Delovski spotted Jonathan Germano manhandling Marcos Flores inside the penalty area – how many fouls is Germano permitted to make per game, by the way? – it was left to another pet Postecoglou project in Mark Milligan to tuck away the penalty.
And while converting spot-kicks is hardly tantamount to ‘sexy football’, it was no less than Victory deserved for their free-flowing, fluid passing game.
That David Williams pulled a fabulous goal back for the Heart says that for all their attractive football, Victory didn’t have it all their own way against their fired-up city rivals.
Indeed, had Heart substitute Golgol Mebrahtu not rattled the crossbar from a stunning free-kick, the outcome might have been different – but then you could say the same of Victory midfielder Billy Celeski rattling the woodwork from distance.
At the very least, what was noticeable from a neutral perspective was just how much time and thought Postecoglou has put into getting his side to play possession football.
Victory were at times mesmerising, as they patiently carved their way through the Heart defence and except for some heroics from Heart goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne late on, they’d have won by a wider margin.
There was no such issue at Hindmarsh Stadium yesterday, as Western Sydney Wanderers thumped an Adelaide United in disarray 4-2.
In what was Michael Valkanis’ debut on the Adelaide touchline following the shock resignation of John Kosmina, it was the visitors who grabbed a somewhat flattering 2-0 half-time lead.
But having established their lead, the Wanderers simply got better in the second half as Aaron Mooy and Shinji Ono dictated play, before the Japanese star limped off with what appeared to be a hip injury.
Wanderers coach Popovic has worked wonders with a squad which many critics claimed was littered with nothing more than journeymen at the start of the season.
The likes of Ante Covic, Michael Beauchamp, Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Mark Bridge might have been around the block but Popovic has got several of his veterans playing the best football of their A-League careers.
And in Jerome Polenz, the impressive Mateo Poljak, workhorse Dino Kresinger and the pacy Youssouf Hersi, Popovic has also coaxed some superb performances out of a group of foreign players most Australian fans had never heard of before.
However it’s Ono and his splendid vision and range of passing which have made the Wanderers the most dangerous dark horse in the race for a top-four position.
Popovic will hope the much-travelled midfielder hasn’t suffered a serious injury because Ono remains a major key in unlocking opposition defences.
It’s the same across town at Sydney FC, where Alessandro Del Piero once again proved his worth to the Sky Blues in their 2-2 draw away at Newcastle.
Not only did the Italian open the scoring with a typically astute piece of finishing, he also set up Blake Powell’s goal with a stupendous no-look pass.
In fact, Del Piero’s passing is second to none and his excellent form – despite an obvious lack of pace – highlights just how valuable a signing he has been for the Sky Blues on the pitch.
There’s a growing sophistication on display in the A-League, so perhaps it’s no surprise to see problem clubs Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix are the sides struggling to keep up.
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