The quality of the A-League continues to rise

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By Mike Tuckerman, Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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    Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton in the A-League

    Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton dice for the ball in the A-League (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    “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
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (131)

    • October 10th 2011 @ 9:27am
      Al said | October 10th 2011 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      Brisbane look quite ominous again this season, although other teams are now starting to play in the mould of Brisbane which will only further improve the quality on show from game to game. Can’t wait for round 2!

    • October 10th 2011 @ 9:42am
      Roger said | October 10th 2011 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      I have to say that I was blown away by the pace and intensity of the game.

      Amazing stuff.

    • October 10th 2011 @ 9:43am
      Matt F said | October 10th 2011 @ 9:43am | ! Report

      It was a brilliant weekend. The standard continues to improve and it would have been a goal-fest if not for some outstanding keeping (Covic, Reddy, Ryan and Paston in particular.)

      The Heart and Jets played out the perfect season opener. It not only had plenty of goals but lots of good, attacking, end to end football and a last minute winner. You always had a sense that there was a winner coming. The Heart, like their Melbourne rivals, have some great attacking weapons whilst Ryan Griffiths could be the buy of the season. If they can get their coach/marquee player situations sorted they could do some damage.

      MV vs SFC lived up to all the hype. If not for brilliant keeping the match could have mirrored the scoreline from the previous game. Kewell looked damaging, Rojas will be a star whilst for Sydney, Carle and Antonis looked very good. I still have doubts if Carle is a “marquee player” but at his best he is certainly one of the better players. Emerton played ok though the missed penalty will mean that he will cop more criticism then he deserves. With Kisel back next week and Coyne looking woeful at RB his versatility will be key for the Sky Blues this season. Sydney will be pleased to have matched the Victory up until the red card.

      The Roar picked up where they left off. They’ve lost some great players but they were so far in front last season that they were always going to be a true contender again. The new recruits looked good. The Mariners were very organised, though outclassed on the night, andI expect that they will be there abouts come the end of the season.

      Gold Coast will be kicking themselves for not taking all 3 points. Paston was outstanding in goal for the Phoenix and they equipped themselves well on the road. Injuries will hurt their thin squad but they’ll be strong at home as usual. Gold Coast looked very good and will challenge many teams if they can improve their finishing.

      Adelaide will be dissapointed. After all the pre-season hype they were outplayed by a good looking Glory outfit albeit on the road. Vidosic will make a big difference and has tweeted that he will return next week while the Glory could have scored one or two more. Smeltz probably cost them one or two good chances, very ironic given his A-League record. If the Glory can make Perth a fortress, which given the travel required for most teams they really should, finals are not beyond them.

      Apologies to all for the length of the post. After a long off-season my excitement is hard to contain!

      • October 10th 2011 @ 6:08pm
        Midfielder said | October 10th 2011 @ 6:08pm | ! Report

        Matt F

        No worries just write more post like you did..

    • October 10th 2011 @ 9:52am
      Bondy said | October 10th 2011 @ 9:52am | ! Report

      In watching The Roar go through us one more time it felt like i was slowly sipping on battery acid for an hour and a half , but i’ll book a finals birth already for the Mariners from what i’ve seen so far.

      I’ve no doubt Solzarno should start for the Victory when injected into the game he started to take his time on the ball he’s a patient player .

      The Jets fluked their win but the points are in the bag, and isn’t Fred a great footballer for the Heart .

      Adelaide were dissapointing for mine .

      After the first week of football this is one of the toughest physical leagues in the world if you think about it,possibly the English Championship also .
      It’s Australian Football and it’s all our’s .

      • October 10th 2011 @ 10:58am
        Futbanous said | October 10th 2011 @ 10:58am | ! Report

        Some of the tackles by CCM were not tough they were crude,dirty,amateurish. Matt Smith shows how to tackle fair but tough.

        • October 10th 2011 @ 12:41pm
          Bondy said | October 10th 2011 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

          Didn’t see them ,Futbanous .

          • October 10th 2011 @ 1:19pm
            Futbanous said | October 10th 2011 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

            Of course not.

        • October 10th 2011 @ 2:01pm
          BES said | October 10th 2011 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

          Well said Futbanous – on both counts. I was also very impressed (by the end of the game) with Jurmans tackling. Clean, incisive but strong. His distribution still worries me a little, but he has allayed my fears from a defensive point of view. I thought keeping Adnan on the bench was a big call – but it obviously paid off.

          Cant wait to get Heinrique back on the field!

    • Roar Guru

      October 10th 2011 @ 10:11am
      Griffo said | October 10th 2011 @ 10:11am | ! Report

      A draw would have been good for both Jets and Hearts. Sometimes though, luck isn’t given to you. You have to earn it off the back of someone else 😉

      Heart will be dangerous team to face this year. Jets pressed them early and as long as they could which was good to see and made it difficult for Heart to play out.

      Ryan Griffiths is the obvious quality standout before his two goals. Thought the Heart ‘keeper might have made an attempt to save Griffiths’ free kick although it did curl in more late in flight.

      We isolate ourselves in the lines at times and will need to address that a bit. On that point wasn’t impressed with Zadkovich that much: regularly stood on the line, received the ball and passed it on then watched the game. That was in the first 10 to 15 minutes.

      Interesting also that we didn’t conceed a goal in pre-season but looked ordinary in defence for the two goals. Won’t take NTS and Tiago long to gel in defence I don’t think. Tiago is a good find. Had to laugh a bit at the end: Tiago’s runs up the field were good, but his slow jog back to defence on dead legs was very reminiscent of Ljubo 😉

    • October 10th 2011 @ 10:31am
      M1tch said | October 10th 2011 @ 10:31am | ! Report

      I really enjoyed the Melb v Syd game and to be honest I didn’t even notice it was 0-0 the goal keepers were superb and attack from both sides was great.

      • October 10th 2011 @ 10:36am
        Bondy said | October 10th 2011 @ 10:36am | ! Report

        M1tch ,
        I think we’ll have to chalk that game down to both keepers having blinders, their will be howlers through the season also .

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