As Round 8 approached, fans were looking forward to the return of the regularly scheduled five matches per round. With it, we would see the Wanderers and Brisbane resume their rivalry in what many hoped would provide as many talking points as their previous meeting.
On that occasion, the Wanderers defeated Brisbane 5 – 4, in last season’s preliminary final, in one of the most spectacular matches ever seen in the A-League.
Melbourne Victory returned to their usual home of AAMI Park and as did potential Johnny Warren medal favourite, Marco Rojas.
Sydney FC looked to continue their undefeated streak, while Adelaide United looked to notch their first win of the season.
The Mariners were playing only their second home match at Central Coast Stadium in eight rounds and Melbourne City were hoping to continue their good run of form at home despite keeping one eye on the FFA Cup final.
The A-League was also, for the first time this season, in direct viewing audience competition with the Australian cricket team.
So with all that to look forward to, we take a look back at the weekend’s action and the top five A-League talking points for Round 8.
1. Improvement in A-League TV ratings up against Australian national cricket team
For the first time this season, the A-League was in direct competition with cricket.
With viewing audiences split across multiple sports, owing to the fact that Football, the National Basketball League, and the men’s Australian international cricket team were all in action.
Plenty would have hoped that the A-League had enough of a following to ensure viewing numbers remained strong.
The following ratings were achieved for Round 8 of the 2016/17 A-League season while in direct competition against day/night Test cricket between Australia and South Africa:
|CCM vs PER (Thursday)
||AUS vs SAF Day 1 (Thursday)
|WSW vs BRI (Friday)
||49k SBS Viceland & 65k Foxsports
||AUS vs SAF Day 2 (Friday)
|MVC vs NEW (Saturday)
||AUS vs SAF Day 3 (Saturday)
|SYD vs ADL (Saturday)
|MCY vs WEL (Sunday)
||AUS vs SAF Day 4 (Sunday)
Some within the football community have labelled these ratings as abysmal or pathetic – and gone as far as to question the value of our product.
In my opinion, these comments are unjust and unwarranted. For despite the criticism the A-League receives, I would like to make it fairly clear that we are in direct competition with one of the strongest sports in the country, in the form of International cricket and soon, the Big Bash.
We are not the number one sport in the country and like many other domestic competitions in Australia, we struggle to compete with such viewing audiences.
The Australian cricket team is one of the best cricketing sides in the world and is competing on an international level, so comparisons between the two are not fair.
To add further fuel to this discussion, for season 2015/16, the following ratings were achieved in Round eight for the A-League while in direct competition against day/night test cricket between Australia and New Zealand:
|SYD vs WEL (Thursday)
|MCY vs PER (Friday)
||50k Foxsports (SBS2 not recorded)
||AUS vs NZ Day 1 (Friday)
|NEW vs BRI (Saturday)
||AUS vs NZ Day 2 (Saturday)
|MVC vs ADL (Saturday)
|CCM vs WSW (Sunday)
||AUS vs NZ Day 3 (Sunday)
What this data doesn’t tell you is the following:
• Last year, the match between Australia and New Zealand was the first ever day/night Test cricket match to take place – something many clearly did not want to miss out on watching.
• The ratings for Australia and New Zealand took into account not only metro ratings but regional ratings as well, which significantly inflated the numbers when comparing last year’s test match to this year’s between Australia and South Africa.
• A-League regional ratings are not accounted for by Fox Sports or SBS2/Viceland for either of the ratings provided above and therefore discounting regional ratings would provide a slightly fairer like
for like comparison.
• The Cricket was broadcast on a big name free-to-air channel in Nine, while the A-League was on the secondary channel for the relatively smaller and less followed SBS.
Statistical comparisons such as these are needed to dispel some of the views held by some both within and away from the football community, that football in this country is never going to grow.
All in all, the evidence shows there has been an improvement in TV ratings. As we move forward to securing a new and hopefully more lucrative TV contract for the up and coming season, it needs to be made clear to any interested TV network; that no matter what content they broadcast, being in direct competition with the Australian cricket team will prove a difficult challenge.
This doesn’t devalue the product, nor does it mean that things are dire, but what it does mean is that we have an opportunity to nurture it and find ways of improving ratings.
Most of this will occur naturally thanks to the perks of being shown on a free-to-air network, the ever improving quality of football and the impending expansion of the competition.
It will prove interesting to assess the same ratings when and if the A-League is broadcast on a main free-to-air channel and is once again in direct competition with the Aussie cricket team or the Big Bash.
I am a lover of both Test cricket and the A-League, but I feel the need to defend the A-League in times like these. I believe it will remain forever difficult to topple the Australian cricket team for ratings.
One of the reasons being that they’re playing on an international level, however when people continue to degrade the A-League based on ratings, I will look to provide comparisons and evidence that breaks down these opinions.
The competition will always have its detractors, but as long as it can continue to improve, it is information like this that will provide comfort in the knowledge that things aren’t as doom and gloom as some suggest.
2. Have the Central Coast Mariners turned over a new leaf?
It is amazing what can happen in the space of seven weeks.
To start the season, the Central Coast Mariners travelled west to face Perth Glory in their opening round clash and after 45 minutes, the Mariners were trailing three nil and staring down the barrel of another horrendous A-League campaign.
Come full time they had pulled off the unlikeliest of comebacks, somehow managing to score three unanswered goals in the second half to draw three all at the final whistle.
Since their round one clash, they have managed to accrue a further eight points, taking their season total to nine points and for the meantime cementing their place in the top six.
Despite the Glory holding a shocking away record against the Mariners, they headed into the match as favourites to secure three points. Just minutes before the match began, Josh Risdon was ruled out with a quad injury and to make matters worse, in the 18th minute, marquee man Diego Castro was substituted with a hamstring injury.
Luck comes in many forms and in this instance, injury wreaked havoc on the Perth Glory, but what the Mariners produced, despite Perth still possessing great quality on the park, was amazing.
The Mariners were able to dominate the match and manage not only their first home win since New Years Eve 2015 but also keep their first clean sheet in 36 matches. In the process, they showed that they have turned over a new leaf under coach Paul Okon.
A further positive for the Mariners is that that are now scheduled to play four out of their next six matches at home.
If they can continue this turnaround in fortunes, the Mariners could mount a serious challenge to feature in finals football.
Many had thought the top six would be well and truly out of the equation this season, with improvement the main focus for the Mariners. But after eight rounds and their football continuing to improve, anything is a possibility.
3. Wanderers looked to have hit their straps against Brisbane Roar
Brisbane Roar have now managed three draws in their past three matches and in the process have let slip the opportunity to catch ladder leaders Sydney FC. Meanwhile, the Wanderers were unlucky not to have won the match against Brisbane despite going behind early. They dominated the majority of the match and could have won had Brendon Santalab scored in front of an open goal – easier said than done though and that’s football.
In what has become a familiar trend in recent weeks, Brisbane Roar’s defence has seemingly dropped off the pace and it’s evident in the fact Michael Theo has been arguably Brisbane Roar’s best player the past two rounds.
The Roar custodian was forced to make ten saves throughout the course of the match against the Wanderers, although some were regulation saves – a concern given he was only forced to make five saves the week prior against Sydney FC.
It is a concerning trend that needs to stop immediately, with their attack proving just as much a concern.
Having only scored eight goals in eight rounds of football, the Roar have scored the third least goals of any side this season, only just pipping Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United.
For the Wanderers, this match against the Roar showed that the team Tony Popovic has assembled appears to be coming together.
In what should have been the Wanderers’ first win at Spotless Stadium, the 11,201 in attendance were at least treated to some wonderful football and even further promising were the signs that a win at home appears to be just around the corner.
The Wanderers have been known for their slow starts, but if history is anything to go by, it is the middle part of the season where they do most of their damage.
It’ll be some time until the Wanderers return to Spotless Stadium as they now take their matches to ANZ and one to Campbelltown – with a return not to occur until Round 19. But a home match is still a home match and for Wanderers fans, hopefully, ANZ Stadium results in a change in fortunes as they will look to secure their first home win of the season against the Victory in Round 10.
4. Ernie Merrick wants a video referee – Now!
The cries for a video referee are almost a weekly occurrence from Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick. He was at it again at the conclusion of his side’s 2 – 1 loss to Melbourne City.
Ernie Merrick took issue with the fact Bruno Fornaroli was awarded a penalty despite what he believed was an unfair contest between Fornaroli and Phoenix defender Marco Rossi.
As the ball went up, both players had a hold of one another’s jersey and as Fornaroli attempted an overhead kick, he held onto Rossi, dragging him down and thus earning himself a penalty.
I am personally on the fence regarding this penalty decision, but I can somewhat understand Merrick’s cries. My issue though is with the fact he is constantly resorting to calls for the video referee to be introduced immediately, and it is getting rather tiresome.
Rather than constantly complain, his troops could just learn to deal with the decisions the referees are making at the time and not let it affect the result of the match.
From all accounts, the contest was fairly even from an attacking perspective and it reflected in the statistics provided by A-League match centre. With Wellington having had 14 shots to City’s 13, shots on target six to five and shooting accuracy above 40 per cent, Wellington essentially has no one to blame but themselves.
The use of the video referee is set to take place upon the commencement of the A-League finals series, so in the meantime, could Ernie Merrick please find something else to complain about rather than constantly harping on about the fact he feels video referees are needed now.
5. Melbourne City and Sydney FC prepare for the FFA Cup Final
With the Round 8 not the only thing on Melbourne City and Sydney FC’s minds, both sides still needed to ensure they headed into the FFA Cup final with good form and ideal preparations.
Melbourne City coach John van’t Schip kept regulars Tim Cahill, Bruce Kamau and Manny Muscat on the bench, only affording each minimal game time – Kamau played ten minutes, Cahill a cameo of 24 minutes and a returning Nicolas Colazo 14 minutes.
In my view, it effectively signalled van’t Schip’s intended starting line-up for Wednesday night. It appears likely Cahill, Kamau and Muscat will all return to the starting line-up for the FFA Cup Final, while Colazo will most likely be one of three used substitutes given his quality.
The other two likely to be used will be Nick Fitzgerald and Anthony Caceres, both of whom played a full 90 minutes against Wellington.
For Sydney FC though, I don’t think the makeup of their squad will change too much – why fix what’s not broken? As Sydney continued their undefeated start to the season against Adelaide United, Grame Arnold did at least make some early substitutions for both Filip Holosko and Bobo, who came off in the 57th and 67th minutes respectively.
Although Sydney FC may benefit from an additional day of rest after having played Saturday, they will have to travel to Melbourne to face a City outfit who are undefeated in their past three home matches and are hot on their heels in the race for the Premiership.
The benefit for viewers is that these two sides are yet to go face to face this season and it is unknown how the makeup of each side will affect the opposition’s tactics.
Regardless of teams selected and tactics implemented, one will be crowned champions. With both clubs having signalled their intentions early in the season, both stating silverware is a must. Come the final whistle, one’s title aspirations will have been significantly dented as the other continues to live up to their own set expectations.
Sydney FC were not long ago in the A-League Grand Final facing Melbourne Victory, and having lost that three nil and at the same venue, they will hope a change in opponent will result in silverware for the first time since the 09/10 season.
They have both the form and the undefeated streak to add to their claims to the title of favourites for the match. Having not conceded a single goal during the FFA Cup coupled with an undefeated streak of eight games in the A-League, they have both the defence and attack required to lift the FFA Cup for the first time.
Melbourne City on the other hand, are chasing their first title and will hope that home ground advantage, along with the A-League’s leading goal scorer in Bruno Fornaroli as well as Socceroo Tim Cahill will be enough to get them over the line. Further, a victory would showcase to the rest of the league just how serious they are about their title aspirations and their hopes of becoming a successful football club.
Will it be Melbourne City’s first title or will Sydney FC continue their ‘Invincibles’ run of form and add the first of what could be many this season to their trophy cabinet? On Wednesday night we will find out as the final of the third edition of the FFA Cup takes centre stage.