Roar and Victory to meet under a torpid cloud

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    With six championships and five premierships between them, two A-League giants, wading through a thick, foggy campaign, will attempt to rouse themselves against one another this Sunday.

    These teams also have just two wins each this season, the underwhelming reward for an underwhelming limp through the opening ten matches.

    Both managers are under considerable pressure, and have tiredly batted away rumours of dismissal or departure like a lazing basset hound might a clique of summer flies.

    The deepening sense of torpor, however, only attracts more buzzing hearsay, and as the season has rolled on past the one-third mark, the need for at least one of these teams to snap out of their malaise is growing.

    Bad starts happen every season, but the season’s start has come and gone now, and we’re entering the gut of 2017-18.

    John Aloisi and the Roar, it must be said, are battling an injury crisis at the moment. The recruitment – specifically the ages of the recruits – has been questioned this season.

    It is cheap and easy to point to Massimo Maccarone’s 38 silvery years when the Roar labour and heave, but age and experience have always gone hand-in-hand with success in the A-League.

    Last season Sydney and the Victory had two of the oldest squads in the competition, and were clearly the two best teams that year. 

    So when Fahid Ben Khalfallah said it’s “bull****” to link the age of the Roar squad to its current injured state, he is largely right to do so. Eric Bautheac is the latest Roar asset to crumple, and he joins other key pieces Luke DeVere, Brett Holman and Michael Theo in the infirmary.

    “If you take out of Sydney the best six or seven players in every game, they’re not the same team.” Ben Khalfallah said, again correctly.

    The Roar – perhaps slightly more than all the other teams in the league – are not being flattered cast as they are under the broad shadow of Sydney FC; for a club as successful as Brisbane have been, who not too long ago had an iron grip on the competition in the same way Sydney has now, the comparisons they are subjected to are especially harsh.

    No one expects Central Coast or Wellington to make deep runs through the finals every season, but they do expect Brisbane to. 

    And that’s how it should be, of course. Big teams must be held to a high mark, and it’s not unreasonable to judge them if they flounder beneath it. The Roar, though, are floundering at the moment with their limbs in traction.

    Melbourne, on the other hand, are not as hamstrung by injury, and have – on paper – one of the league’s strongest teams, with established foreign and domestic stars dotting the starting line-up. A team as talented and experienced as Kevin Muscat’s should not be sitting outside the top six, with a negative goal difference, and twice as many losses as they have wins.

    The Victory have suffered through a dearth of attacking invention this season – it seemed, over the first handful of rounds, that Muscat’s entire attacking scheme revolved around giving the ball to Leroy George, prodding him, and saying “go on, do something…”

    Muscat’s ability to refresh a stagnant attack over the course of a match also seems limited, with like-for-like substitutions and a reluctance to alter the system a problematic hallmark. 

    Naturally, these issues at the pointy end are only exacerbated by a startling shakiness at the back. The Victory haven’t been blown out this season – save for the thrashing doled out by Newcastle – but they only have one clean sheet over the first ten games.

    They seem guaranteed to stumble into conceding a goal in nearly every game, solitary moments of weakness that have too often been harshly decisive – three of their four losses have been by a single goal. 

    It seems letting Alan Baro stroll freely into the Mariners team over the off-season has taken a further layer of varnish off a cracked and peeling defence that has degenerated since the departure of Matthieu Delpierre.

    Daniel Georgievski’s departure, and James Donachie’s injury has also not helped things, but a defensive arrangement that includes Rhys Williams, Mark Milligan, Carl Valeri and Leigh Broxham shouldn’t be conceding so routinely. 

    The Victory have an Asian Champions League campaign to negotiate this season, which will strain the situation further. James Troisi, whose re-signing this off-season was supposed to be a sign of last season’s success continuing on into this season, has been flighty and ineffective so far.

    James Troisi(Melbourne Victory) Aarom Mooy go for the ball (Sydney Wanderers) go for the ball (AAP Image / Joe Sabljak)

    James Troisi has struggled this season. (AAP Image / Joe Sabljak)

    Besart Berisha and the returning Kosta Barbarouses have also shimmered in and out of matches, only occasionally looking like the potent players we’ve become accustomed to seeing. 

    The team looks stale, and is offering up something well below the sum of its parts. The blame for this – at least a hefty portion of it – must be directed at Muscat.

    Muscat teams over the last few seasons have been known for their intensity, their ravenousness, their slavering desire to – if not dominate – leave a stark impression on an A-League season. This season’s iteration has not impressed, to be sure.

    Melbourne’s lowest home turnout this season sits at a touch over 16,500. They are still the best-supported team in the league, and it will take more than one ho-hum season to affect the appetite of their membership.

    Brisbane’s lowest home crowd, though, was 5192, which is the second-worst low mark out of any team this season. Only three teams pull in fewer people than the Roar on average and, although Aloisi seems secure at the club, a longer, more barren run of results will hurt them.

    The Roar have feasted for so long, and will find it harder to survive a famine. 

    There is a sense that, once the injury cloud has cleared, both of these teams have the talent and ability to snap suddenly into life, and race up the table. Their current malaise may well be a faded memory once finals arrive.

    A win for either team on Sunday might be the spark they need. 

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • December 15th 2017 @ 7:04am
      Nemesis said | December 15th 2017 @ 7:04am | ! Report

      Agree with the overall theme of this piece – i.e. Victory are rubbish this season. A combination of players who are exhibiting technical ineptitude and mental fragility, and being instructed by a coach who is tactically vacuous, one-dimensional & stubborn.

      However, I do not agree that the blame should focus on the 4 in defence; nor the 3 in attack.

      Having watched every minute of every MV match this ALeague season, plus the FFA Cup matches, the focus of MV’s disastrous season should focus on 3 players – 2 current AUS National Team players & 1 ex AUS NT player.

      Milligan, Troisi, Valeri are the engine room of MV. When these 3 are doing their job well, MV is a cohesive unit that plays football that is entertaining. It may not always win, but it always provides a good contest for the viewing public.

      But, when these 3 are not doing their job, MV is the rabble & probably the most unwatchable team in the competition.

      There are no excuses for Milligan & Troisi. Just from observation in the stands, they look like their minds are not in Australia. They’re focused on Russia in June. And, for them this is ridiculous, because they way they’re playing they’ll be drinking beers in bars of Kazan with other Aussie fans in the hours leading up to the match against France. Neither will be going to Russia to represent the Australian National Team on this form.

      Valeri? Well he’s just a footballer who hasn’t figured out his body is incapable of playing the game at ALeague level in 2017.

      The 2nd half against NIX a few weeks ago, show that, when MV’s midfield click into gear, the team can perform. But, 45 minutes of performance over 10 matches is unacceptable for any team. For MVFC it should be an immediate sackable offence.

    • December 15th 2017 @ 8:35am
      Nico said | December 15th 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      In fairness to Roar crowds, the lowest attendance you cite was a home game moved to the Gold Coast (against Wellington), plus another two played at the unpopular time of 6:50 on a Friday to fit in with southern daylight savings pay TV audiences

      • December 15th 2017 @ 9:05am
        j,binnie said | December 15th 2017 @ 9:05am | ! Report

        Nico – You are right. Roar have had to play games (because of FFA scheduling) before at the Gold Coast and never have attracted anything near their “normal ” crowds.
        However it also has to be said that this season so far their crowd “average” is on the way down ,quite drastically, dropping from last year’s 13,900 to 11,000 (before the GC game.).If that trend continued ,season’s end could see them fall below the magical 10,000. jb

      • December 15th 2017 @ 3:32pm
        Waz said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:32pm | ! Report

        Brisbane butchered last seasons “recovery” in membership/crowds and the goodwill generated by last seasons performances by again allowing off field events to overshadow their preseason.

        However, this season we don’t get the big sides visiting twice and the corresponding average of 2 years ago for the same fixtures was 12,850, this also included a home game in Cairns with a 5k crowd. So that’s the benchmark although average crowds across the comp could be down 20% this year so they may struggle for a five figure average.

        Aloisi is secure on a three year course and fans know that, the natural response – if the team keeps playing ugly – will be to stay away and it will become a game of chicken between Bakries and fans to the point where the owners will have to decide whether the financial cost of keeping an unpopular coach on is worth it.

      • December 15th 2017 @ 5:44pm
        Kangajets said | December 15th 2017 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

        The author cites a poor roar home crowd at the Gold Coast F f s . No one expected a lot of Gold Coast people to get behind Brisbane

        If Newcastle played there home game at Gosford
        Or wanderes play their home game at Bondi
        Etc for the other teams

        U get the same result

        • December 15th 2017 @ 6:47pm
          Waz said | December 15th 2017 @ 6:47pm | ! Report

          Agreed. Just over 3,500 club members travelled down for that GC game so at best the support from the Coast was about 1,500 …. my bet is it was actually a lot less than that

    • December 15th 2017 @ 11:17am
      Lionheart said | December 15th 2017 @ 11:17am | ! Report

      Roar has a really rough road ahead, with ACL playoffs starting in January. The normal, lets pretend we’re a real league round in early January, gives them four games in 13 days, but ten days following they have a midweek ACL playoff and if they win that, another playoff in China one week later, so possibly another 4 games in 11 days. All being equal, from 5 Jan to 4 Feb they’ll play 8 games. Let’s hope they get some of those six players back by then.
      Last season was similarly harsh on a squad hit with injuries and limited in size by regulation. Crowds will suffer, no doubt. When it should be a highlight of the season, our potential boom time turns into a drag.

    • December 15th 2017 @ 3:42pm
      Waz said | December 15th 2017 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

      Aloisi is in a tough spot. seemingly unloved by a majority of fans he has to turn things around, play much (much!!) better, and start winning. Queenslanders don’t turn out for also-rans

      The worry for him has to be that a lot of the big names he has out (Theo, FBK, Holman, DeVere) were out of form and their possible return is no guarantee of an improvement in team performance.

      First cab returning off the rank is TK on Sunday – let’s see if he helps?

    • December 15th 2017 @ 5:46pm
      Kangajets said | December 15th 2017 @ 5:46pm | ! Report

      Victory v roar games are always hard fought .
      2 all draw I’m tipping

      • December 15th 2017 @ 6:48pm
        Waz said | December 15th 2017 @ 6:48pm | ! Report

        They are, and I wouldn’t argue with a draw being the most likely outcome along with a red card or two.

        • December 15th 2017 @ 7:46pm
          Lionheart said | December 15th 2017 @ 7:46pm | ! Report

          not Bes? no.

          • December 15th 2017 @ 8:11pm
            Waz said | December 15th 2017 @ 8:11pm | ! Report

            Good chance, him and Bowles always seem to have a run in

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