A-League business end is fast approaching
The Central Coast Mariners' Daniel McBreen celebrates his goal against the Newcastle Jets in their 2-0 win at Hunter Stadium. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
While the top four may seem assured of play-off action, the battle to earn an A-League finals berth for the remaining six clubs looks likely to reach the final weekend of the regular campaign.
Competition front-runners Central Coast Mariners have had their lead at the league’s summit expurgated to three points – following a come from behind 2-2 stalemate against Brisbane Roar – with two-time champions Melbourne Victory chasing their tails.
The navy blues once again announced their title aspirations, claiming a hard-fought win in last week’s heated Melbourne derby, in front of 41,000 fervent fans at Etihad Stadium.
While the Victory is in ominous form, expansion outfit Western Sydney Wanderers continue rise to the challenge under boss Tony Popovic, triumphing over an Adelaide United outfit in turmoil on and off the pitch.
Despite the Reds’ fourth spot on the table, it’s difficult to see them overcoming their latest turn of events, following a calamitous period for the club.
John Kosmina departed the club last week in bizarre circumstances, citing “a lack of trust” with certain people within the organisation.
“There is no vision. Decision-making at management level is reactive and impulsive at best, and there is no consistency in managerial procedure,” Kosmina revealed.
“There is far too much whispering in corridors and around corners. I feel sorry for Rob Gerrard, and I also feel for directors Richard Noble and Phil Lounder – people I trust. But I simply cannot, and will not, work in an environment which otherwise lacks trust.”
Adelaide still has a flurry of talented players at their disposal – Dario Vidosic, Marcelo Carrusca, Fábio Ferreira to name a few – although it will need to make a swift transition under interim coach Michael Valkanis.
Having lost three fixtures on the trot, the Reds will need all the inspiration they can find to restrain a rampant Victory, who have won six of their last eight matches.
While Friday night’s encounter between the South Australian and Victorian divide is tipped to be another close affair, it brings us to the tussle for the final two finals spots.
From Newcastle Jets, in fifth position on 23 points, to Perth Glory, who are currently anchored at the foot of the table, there is miraculously only four points separating the pair. This is why the A-League, in terms of sheer unpredictability and entertainment, is one of the more unique football competitions around the globe.
The salary cap, in conjunction with limited squad sizes means there’s a much more of an even playing field, in contrast to the majority of leagues abroad. History has shown that results can go either way on any given day – particularly outside the top four this season.
Any one of those six clubs could realistically edge their way into the finals series, and quite possibly make a reasonable tilt for the championship prize.
The finals series this season is more like a three-week cup competition, where every team is practically on an even playing field. The reward for finishing in the top-two is the first week off, although unlike previous campaigns, there is no double chance. After a gruelling 27-game season, is it fair? Probably not.
Unlike other football codes like the AFL, having a week off isn’t so much a competitive advantage in the round ball code. Yes, the top-two outfits will have a week’s rest, although it could arguably work in the opposite direction – quelling its good run of form and momentum leading into the play-offs.
The other issue which has polarised opinion is whether the A-League should have a top-six finals series. If we’re attempting to promote mediocrity by allowing a team who finishes in the bottom half of the table a genuine opportunity to be crowned champions of Australia, then clearly the formula is flawed.
If the sixth placed team was to win this year’s title, it would put the competition’s integrity in serious doubt. Undoubtedly, Football Federation Australia would be scrutinised, and likely be tempted to alter the finals back to a top four or five series.
On the contrary, one of the positives with a top-six system is it gives practically every club something to play for during the campaign, even if their season sees them near the bottom of the ladder.
Nonetheless, the concluding eight weeks of the regular season are sure to give fans much to look forward to. Going by form, it looks to be a three-horse race between the Mariners, Victory and the Wanderers. However, don’t be surprised if the unexpected materialises.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @RobertDiFabio