Not fancied by many to make any impression this season, the three local ‘newcomer’ managers to the A-League all made a flying start in the opening round.
While there are only four managers starting this campaign that weren’t in the A-League dugout at the beginning of last season, one, in Guillermo Amor, comes with no connection to Australian football apart from his brief technical role at Adelaide last season.
The other three, while some might hail from or have spent time overseas, are all considered local coaches in that they have done much of their coaching and education here.
I refer of course to John Aloisi, Tony Walmsley and Scott Miller. While Walmsley hails from Manchester and is a dual citizen, he’s been in Australia since the age of 21 and developed as a coach here.
Among the players that came through when he was youth coach at the Mariners were Bernie Ibini, Nick Fitzgerald, Anthony Caceres, Mat Ryan, Michael Neill, Kwabena Appiah, Mitch Duke and Mitch Mallia.
Even Mustafa Amini and Trent Sainsbury, contracted first-team players at the time, spent a bit of time developing in the youth side under his tutelage.
It’s some list, and you can clearly see his angle towards youth in the way he has constructed his Mariners squad.
Miller, meanwhile, has gone in the opposite direction, born and educated here, but spending much of the past decade in England under the likes of Martin Jol and Roy Hodgson at Fulham.
Among that, he spent some time in and around the Socceroos set-up of Ange Postecoglou, who you imagine wouldn’t have recommended him for the Jets job if he didn’t think he was ready.
Aloisi, meanwhile, had gone away after his first A-League stint at the then Melbourne Heart and enhanced his learning.
It was insightful to hear from Thomas Broich this week about how prepared Aloisi is for every scenario. Perhaps here he is leveraging off his experience under Guus Hiddink, who had a similar ethos to situation preparation.
Many had written-off the Roar, Mariners and Jets before a ball was even kicked. But my sense, based on the reading of the pre-season tea leaves, was that they were ready to make an impression.
So what exactly did we see from the three ‘newcomer’ managers in the opening weekend?
In a nutshell, Aloisi and Miller, both on the road, used a conservative gameplan to frustrate and react off their opponents, while Walmsley used a far more expansive approach at home to overrun the Perth Glory.
It might not be the way they conduct affairs for the entire season, but it was certainly clever from both Aloisi and Miller on the road, and brave from Walmsley for a season opener.
Here I delve into each gameplan to give you some insight into their thinking.
John Aloisi, Brisbane Roar win 3-1 away to Western Sydney Wanderers
Luke Brattan might be gone, but Aloisi looks to have picked up a gem in experienced Spanish holding midfielder Corona.
Corona was asked to sit in front of a deep-sitting Roar back four and protect them, but did so in a cultured way, reading and intercepting, and keeping his distribution simple, swift and short.
Steve Lustica was slightly advanced of him to the left when the Roar were in possession, but more often he tucked in and helped provide a twin-shield.
This was a conservative Roar built to press and react, and we didn’t see a great deal of Thomas Broich, Dimi Petratos and Brandon Borello in attack.
Instead it seemed that Jamie Maclaren had been charged with the responsibility of chasing on his own up front for large periods. He put in massive effort.
Part of Maclaren’s remit was to press hard on the two Wanderers central defenders, Brendan Hamill and Nikolai Topor-Stanley, neither comfortable ball-players.
It was this hard pressing that forced the Hamill mistake that gifted Maclaren his first.
Soon enough they had another two goals from corners superbly delivered by Corona. The tower that is Daniel Bowles was a regular target here, and while he’s hitherto played much of his football as a right back, it was interesting to see him used in central defence.
Perhaps the presence of big Federico Piovaccari played a part in Aloisi’s thinking.
Certainly, the use of the speedy Jack Hingert on the even quicker Jaushua Sotirio was a battle of the fliers and while Sotirio had his measure in the first half, Hingert stuck to him in the second.
Aloisi’s Roar didn’t over-possess and dominate on the ball, as we have grown accustomed to the past few years. With the lead they were happy to drop off and protect, and they made it very tough for the Wanderers to penetrate in behind in the second half.
Even when Devante Clut come on at No.10, it was Maclaren who made way, with Petratos moving to No.9.
At home on the much larger Suncorp on the weekend, it will be fascinating to see if and how Aloisi adjusts.
Tony Walmsley, Central Coast Mariners win 3-2 at home to Perth Glory
Walmsley had spoken much in the build-up about playing entertaining football and taking a risk at the back, and he was true to his word.
When the Mariners opened their account through Roy O’Donovan, there were six men in the Glory box.
It left a few holes at the back in the first half hour and when they copped an equaliser from Richard Garcia you wondered whether the Mariners might go into their shell a bit.
But they responded with even more attacking intent. Pressing high to win the ball they started to suffocate the Glory.
One of the features in attack was the use of width, particularly down the left. Whereas Graham Arnold had often used Michael McGlinchey as an inside left attacker, tucking in so that the fullback Josh Rose could get around him, Walmsley had Mitch Austin getting high and wide, like a good old-fashioned winger.
His job was to whip balls in to O’Donovan and the guys flooding forward from behind him, including Fitzgerald and Fabio Ferreira. There was some super service.
All the while, on the other side, Ferreira was trying to drive in on an angle in behind the Glory left, opening up room for Storm Roux to bomb-on down the right.
With Nick Montgomery pressing up to win the ball high and Caceres floating around in the space being created by the stretch, it was eye-catching work all round.
The Glory couldn’t keep up.
It remains fascinating to see whether Walmsley will be as expansive in Brisbane on Sunday in a match that already whets the appetite.
Scott Miller, Newcastle Jets win 2-1 away to Wellington Phoenix
I wrote last week that Miller had been clever in picking up the trio of experienced defensive minded players in Nigel Boogaard, Mateo Poljak and Cameron Watson.
If you’re rebuilding, which Miller is doing, then these types of players are ideal. They all started in Wellington, Boogaard at the back alongside Daniel Mullen, with Watson and Poljak ahead of them, anchoring a 4-2-3-1.
Like Aloisi, the gameplan was pretty simple from Miller.
You could see that he’s worked extremely hard in the off-season on organisation and shape, and there was little to no space here across a tight back four and what was ostensibly a midfield six.
The tactics in Wellington were to absorb and hit swiftly on the counter. By sitting deep, the likes of Blake Powell and Roy Krishna never got to stretch their legs as there was no room in behind.
Like the Roar front four, there was a lot of work without the ball for David Carney, Leonardo, Enver Alivodic and Milos Trifunovic.
Trifunovic barely got a touch in the second half, but was sharp and ready when needed, while Leonardo was always looking to trigger a counter.
They might have had to rely somewhat on a Mark Birighitti penalty save, but the Jets were good value for their win, looking far more functional in one game than they had the entire season under Phil Stubbins.
Like the Roar, the Jets are also at home this weekend, hosting Sydney FC on Saturday.
The Sky Blues showed a bit of vulnerability at the back on Saturday against Melbourne City, so it will be interesting to see if Miller comes out a bit more at Hunter Stadium and tries to exploit this.