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Perth’s kamikaze football will not work in the finals

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

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

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    Perth are the only A-League team to have scored and conceded 40 or more goals so far this season. It’s a novel statistical oddity, and one that broadcasts mixed messages to the rest of the league.

    The Perth attack is one of the competition’s most potent, that Diego Castro, Adam Taggart, Andy Keogh stroll out in every match confident of their ability to pierce and puncture any opposing defence.

    Kenny Lowe’s team have failed to score in just two games this season – curiously, in twin 2-0 losses to Central Coast, of all teams – and have seven times scored three or more goals in a match.

    This should strike fear into the hearts of the teams that may face the Glory in the finals, but the impact is softened by the goals-conceded column, which is somehow the worst in the division. Yes, even bottom-placed Adelaide have conceded fewer goals than Perth, and as much as the Glory’s opponents must tremble slightly at the sight of Castro et al, they are also becalmed by the knowledge that they too will almost certainly score.

    This kamikaze impression has a tactical explanation, naturally, and the conclusions to be drawn from it do not bode well for Perth in the finals.

    Against the Victory last Saturday, Perth’s flaws and virtues were on full display; there are few teams that seem so unashamed when revealing the extent to which they skirt the defensive side of the game.

    After two minutes, Perth allowed the ball to bounce twice in box, following Jason Geria’s long throw. An odd sight, to be sure, and one that struck a foreboding chord. After five minutes, Castro – perhaps the best tight-angle shooter in the league – put Perth in front, predating on a chance fashioned entirely against the run of play.

    Perth had, in the opening throes, seen almost nothing of the ball, with the Victory attempting and completing passes at a rate of supremacy of almost four-to-one over the Glory. They had been defending in numbers, had now scored, and returned to a deep-set position. It’s no wonder that, from then on, the match unravelled for Perth.

    Besart Berisha’s equaliser was a free header at the near post. From a free kick on the left, Berisha was allowed essentially an untouched run toward a prime heading spot, with Aaron Williams jogging belatedly in his wake. It was a mixture of positional indiscipline and a lack of effort from Williams, and a fine delivery from Marco Rojas. This, though, was far from Perth’s worst defensive miscarriage of the evening.

    Besart Berisha of Victory celebrates after scoring a goal

    Two minutes after the equaliser, Melbourne broke with speed following a Perth corner. Marc Warren made the odd decision to sprint into the centre of the pitch, towards two other Perth defenders, instead of staying close to Fahid Ben Khalfallah on the right, of whom he had been aware, having looked over his shoulder before making his move.

    The extra space and time granted to the Tunisian allowed him to cross with venom for Rojas, who only barely missed making contact. Warren’s was a fretful tendency, retreating toward the goal when panicking while back-tracking.

    In the 39th minute, again, Warren was drawn into a central defensive area, drifting towards the ball as Rojas tussled with another Glory defender under an awkwardly bouncing ball. He eventually was responsible for the clearance, but Khalfallah was again totally free on the right – in fact, the Tunisian ends up in the box by the time the sequence ends – so much so that Aaron Williams was seen lurching toward him suddenly just as the move broke down.

    Just before halftime, with Berisha juggling the ball, pinned down on the right side of the byline, the Albanian looped a blind cross into, as it were, the mixer. Josh Risdon and Fahid Ben Khalfallah were waiting in the middle, and as the ball dropped at speed toward them, Ben Khalfallah seized physical control of the skirmish, leaped and headed the ball past Liam Reddy and into the corner.

    Risdon is listed as 3cm shorter than Ben Khalfallah, a negligible difference. He also had goal-side position on the Victory attacker, and should not have been beaten in the air like that. A simple levering of the Tunisian away from the flight path of the ball would have kept the Glory level going into halftime.

    Lowe was given the chance to rally his troops, to reassert to them how important a game this was for them – Perth had a chance to go outright third – not to mention how meaningless this fixture was for the Victory, who have sewn up second place.


    But within seconds of the second half starting, Rostyn Griffiths was robbed of the ball by James Troisi, only for the referee to save Griffiths, wrongly awarding a foul in favour of the Glory. This was the most visible example of the Glory midfielders – namely Griffiths and Rhys Williams – not being able to compete athletically with the Victory attackers.

    So much of the Victory’s threatening build-up play involves swift give-and-go passing between Rojas, Troisi and Ben Khalfallah and Berisha, who is perhaps the best back-to-goal pivot in the league. Such play seeks to expose the twitchiness of the central defenders pinned behind Berisha, as well as testing the mobility of the defensive midfielders, asking them to cover and track the wild flurry of surging Victory attackers.

    The angles at which Troisi and the others pierce the defensive line, and the subtlety of Berisha’s lay-offs means the more statuesque defensive midfielders – like Griffiths – begin to resemble traffic cones in a training exercise. According to the A-League’s game stats, R. Williams and Griffiths won one solitary tackle between them all evening.

    Victory’s third goal was a counter-attack much like the unsuccessful manoeuvre attempted in the 39th minute, except this time it was capped beautifully by Rojas’ curling right-footed shot.

    Again, it seemed as though there were too many Perth lingerers on the edge of the Victory box, largely loitering during a Glory free kick, pinged in from their left. The Victory cleared, and had only to complete the relatively pedestrian task of passing through the Glory players rooted in no man’s land, as a gaggle of loose defenders tore back to try and foil the impending break.

    Troisi clipped the ball past Rhys Williams, then Ben Khalfallah did the same past Aaron Williams, releasing Rojas on the left. Warren was his marker, once again having traipsed all the way across from his flank, leaving Berisha unmarked in the middle. Rojas might have squared it to the Albanian, but instead took on Warren – who must have looked like barbecued chicken to the tricky New Zealander – leaving him sprawling with a simple cut inside. His shot was perfectly placed just inside the post.

    Marco Rojas in action for Melbourne Victory.

    Again, this concession exposed how a team without a secure anti-counter-attack system in place can be torn to shreds by three simple passes.

    Lowe, having tasked his centre backs with going forward to contest the free kick, appeared unconcerned with putting in place a contingency plan to protect against the Victory, who are, of course, one of the best counter-attacking teams in the league.

    A few minutes after the third goal, the Glory nearly scored themselves, with Lawrence Thomas saving well with his feet to deny Chris Harold. Marc Warren had capitalised on a deathly hesitancy by Jason Geria, skipping through the heart of the Victory line, playing in Harold. But then, the threat nullified by Thomas, a three-on-two break sprung up for the Victory on the counter.

    The Glory were saved by the offside flag, a decision Kevin Muscat and Ben Khalfallah visibly raged over – Ben Khalfallah to the point of earning a booking – and we were unable to see a replay of the incident. Regardless, a better run or an earlier pass would have again ripped open the Glory defence, with Warren over-committed, and no one mitigating for his absence.

    The lack of positional awareness from the Perth fullbacks, Warren in particular, continued to put them in dangerous situations. Around the hour mark, with a neat move between Castro, Taggart and Keogh breaking down, Warren was suddenly made aware that he was nowhere near Rojas, again, by Troisi’s lofted ball. Warren was seen plodding back, and only Troisi’s heavy foot – not for the first time, strangely, in the match – allowed Reddy to scamper out and sweep clear, foiling a promising two-on-two.

    Melbourne’s fourth goal, a Troisi screamer, applied an emphatic exclamation point. Warren – the poor victim of a Bruce Kamau dribbling exhibition at this ground in the raucous 3-3 draw against Melbourne City in December – was scorched repeatedly by Rojas in the latter stages.

    The above examples, that flowed liberally throughout the entirety of the contest, illustrate how Perth seem to be doing very little to mitigate for their defensive ineptitude, apart from trying simply to out-score their opponents. The thing is, the finals are populated with teams, like Sydney FC, who are very good at defending. Even teams like City, who are a little more vulnerable, may well be pushed up into a higher level of intensity by the finals atmosphere.

    Perth cannot hope to approach a knockout tie with the plan that saw the Victory pick them off with such ease. Last week, in the Big Blue, we saw what a defensively-capable manager like Graham Arnold did when he saw Rojas and the other Victory attackers trying to exploit his full backs, like they did Warren and Risdon here; he sent in Brandon O’Neill to fill the space, to mitigate the potential damage.

    We even saw Muscat deploy Leigh Broxham in a similarly defensive-minded midfield role against the Glory, attracting very little attention, but offering vital support to Geria and Daniel Georgievski when they pushed forward.

    Lowe didn’t do the same, and it was part of the reason why his team were put to the slaughter.

    As an aside, this match also confirmed how valuable Ben Khalfallah is to the Victory, with his passing especially vital on the counter. Jai Ingham, who was a substitute, cannot offer the same passing range.

    It’s easy to be seduced by Castro and Keogh, and by the heady allure of scoring goals. But if it is pursued, tongues wagging and eyes bulging, at the expense of defensive discipline, then the higher standard and heightened intensity of the finals will expose how foolish that pursuit is.

    We had a scarcely believable 5-4 result in last year’s finals, but that was not, it must be asserted, really an example of mature, considered football, more a gaudy display of what happens when two teams allow themselves to lose control and adopt a mutual ‘no defending allowed’ policy.

    Perth have rollicked through the 2016-17 season with a similar policy in place, and the mind boggles at what might happen to them in April.

    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 (45)

    • March 14th 2017 @ 5:10am
      Fadida said | March 14th 2017 @ 5:10am | ! Report

      Had he been playing all season the answer to every question would have been “Mark Warren”.

      Unfortunately for Glory Risdon had also had an average season, Rhys Williams has been flaky defensively, more keen to stride forward than be disciplined defensively. Djulbic is fairly immobile, Aaryn Williams well short of A-league quality. Collectively they have been poor.

      They are also left fairly open by the failure of the midfield to shield.

      • March 14th 2017 @ 1:15pm
        nevyn said | March 14th 2017 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

        Kenny seems to have given Castro freedom to roam where he wants with other players adjusting around him. For this reason we seem to get this roller coaster ride of being simultaneously exciting to watch and completely porous at the back.

        He hasn’t been able to choose both Grant and Lowry at the same time which hasn’t helped. But the continued selection of Warren boggles the mind, as does the average season Risdon and Harold are having.

        But I think you’re spot on, Griffiths and Williams in midfield provide no screen for the defence and seem intent on playing without any thought for the space they leave behind or the danger of teams counter attacking against them.

        Still, I’ve enjoyed this season immensely, sure beats previous seasons where the highlight of attending the match was trying to keep count of which out of Shroj and J.Coyne would misplace the most passes.

        • March 14th 2017 @ 2:36pm
          Fadida said | March 14th 2017 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

          Coyne by a mile 🙂

    • March 14th 2017 @ 5:50am
      Swanny said | March 14th 2017 @ 5:50am | ! Report

      But Perth glory are fun to watch , even if they don’t win finals .

      In The current season of complete dominance by Sydney where u know they will win , in
      contrast Perth glory give u the edge of your seat ride thru the game with the result unpredictable . A couple of 3-3 draws with , mariners . city and pheinix and a 2all with the jets , beating Adelaide 5-0 away but losing to the mariners twice at gosford are the games I’m
      remembering this year .

      • March 14th 2017 @ 6:25am
        Fadida said | March 14th 2017 @ 6:25am | ! Report

        Agree Swanny, a must watch for
        a) the brilliantly sublime Castro
        b) the re-emergence of Taggart
        c)the wild hacking of Warren
        d)goals and chances galore
        e) old skool central defenders who crunch tackles but can’t pass
        f) the dinosaur commentary of Harnwell, for whom if a leg isn’t snapped clean off it’s play-on

        • March 14th 2017 @ 6:46am
          j binnie said | March 14th 2017 @ 6:46am | ! Report

          Fadida – and a rather strange “byproduct’ coming out of Perth’s adventurous attitude towards the modern game,they are the only team in the HAL that have increased their average gate spread over the season.
          Is there a “hidden ” message in that stat??? jb

          • Roar Rookie

            March 14th 2017 @ 8:25am
            Stevo said | March 14th 2017 @ 8:25am | ! Report

            The crowd love nothing more than a rollicking roller coaster ride:) Value for money entertainment.

        • March 14th 2017 @ 9:46am
          Ian said | March 14th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

          Good summary Fadida – especially c) and f)

    • March 14th 2017 @ 7:03am
      j binnie said | March 14th 2017 @ 7:03am | ! Report

      Evan,in his usual manner, dissects move after move in Perth’s overall game, hinting at,but never actually pointing out a facet of our game at the top level, the apparent inability of locally born and raised players to head a ball with any sort of success either in accurately defending with high clearing headers, or attacking with powerful attempts at goal after out jumping tall defenders.
      This inability is reflected right through to our top teams where we have an icon in Tim Cahill retaining his presence in our top football simply because of that skill factor.The last local who demonstrated a better than average gift in this skill factor was the long departed Josh Kennedy, who with his height, and ability to win ball in the air, was regarded as a threat in any penalty box.
      This of course has a much deeper connotation inasmuch that in recent times we have read of medical reasons as to why our players should not head a ball due to potential ,long term injury to the brain.
      Could this factor now have found it’s way down into the grassroots level of our game where “heading” was once regarded as a basic skill in becoming a successful footballer???
      Will leave that to the experts. Cheers jb.

      • March 14th 2017 @ 7:49am
        Nemesis said | March 14th 2017 @ 7:49am | ! Report

        Given the medical concerns with head trauma, I wouldn’t be surprised to see heading the ball banned in football. It’s already banned at junior levels in some countries.

        • March 14th 2017 @ 9:44am
          j binnie said | March 14th 2017 @ 9:44am | ! Report

          Nemesis – There is, as you say, much investigation going into “head trauma”, but what a lot of the pundits (you get them in the medical world too) cannot come to terms with is that, most of the cases used in citing supposed actual damage, is from a time when balls were “antiquated” objects compared to today’s mass, and mechanically produced balls, made in such a way that the outer substance is waterproof and have no ridge of “lace” projecting out of an otherwise smooth surface. These improvements mean the ball does not gain weight in wet weather ,and by removing the” lace”, a “cutting” factor has been removed.
          The disturbing factor about the skill is that one has only to observe a junior or schools football match to form an opinion as to whether a youngster has been taught the correct way to head a ball. That is where the real problem lies.I see players in the HAL who are not over endowed with the finer points of that skill. Cheers jb.

    • March 14th 2017 @ 7:46am
      Nemesis said | March 14th 2017 @ 7:46am | ! Report

      Rather watch Perth Glory than Sydney FC. Perth plays football with the intention of trying to win. Sydney plays football with the intention of waiting for an opponent to make a mistake.

      Saturday’s game was thoroughly entertaining and hugely competitive. Even at 3-1 down, Perth were still in the match to grab a point.

      Goal conceded in football are, most often, due to a defensive errors so no surprise that Perth made 4 errors to concede 4 goals.

      Every team – in every league all over the world – makes defensive errors. When Victory played Sydney, the Sydney defence made lots of errors. The only difference being Vukovic pulled off great saves and Victory didn’t take their chances.

      • March 14th 2017 @ 7:58am
        Fadida said | March 14th 2017 @ 7:58am | ! Report

        Victory were a goal down, needing a win to keep the title race alive and yet were for the last half an hour held at arm’s length by a Sydney team with one hand behind their back.

        I have been à big critic of their style in recent years but enjoy watching them this year. The reason their games aren’t as good to watch as those involving Perth is that they are very good at scoring first and holding off opponents is they have a competent defence, and/or their opponents lack the quality to take their chances (see Ingham)

        • March 14th 2017 @ 8:13am
          punter said | March 14th 2017 @ 8:13am | ! Report

          Thanks Fadida, I must admit I still enjoy the knockers despite the fact we are 11 pts clear.

          I was there against MV, they had 2 gilt edge chances 1 for Ingham & another for Berisha (who has done nothing against Sydney this year), but if all the gilt edge chances were taken Sydney would’ve won 6-2, we had huge chances with Bobo, Holosko, Grant, Brosque, with a couple of chances & their goalkeeper were far busier.
          I was with Sydney FC mates on Sat night & naturally they were alll going for Perth Glory, so we could win the Premier’s plate. I said do not worry, if Victory can do that to Perth & we easily had Victory’s measure, despite the flattering 1-0 result, that is another of our contenders out the way.

          the one thing people don’t see is the amount of chances Sydney does create. We played poorly against CCM, they never looked like scoring, we hit the cross bar, missed a penalty & missed a few one on ones, we could’ve won 4-5 nil, if we think like MV supporters, the could’ve & should’ves.

          • March 14th 2017 @ 11:09am
            Swanny said | March 14th 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

            I’m not knocking Sydney Fc punter . They r too good and that lack of a contest takes away the spectacle for the neutral. I

            guess with Perth glory the roller coaster of there attack and no defend policy makes it an unknown who will win , excepting against Sydney of course .

        • March 14th 2017 @ 8:49am
          Nemesis said | March 14th 2017 @ 8:49am | ! Report

          If you enjoy watching Syd this year, you’ve got low expectations from football. The only thing I admire about Sydney is their ability to exploit the opposition’s mistakes.

          In 15/16 I could marvel at the way Adelaide won the trophies.
          In 13/14, Brisbane under Mulvey were very good to watch.
          In 12/13, Popovic’s WSW were a breath of fresh air.

          The last time a team at the top bored me into a deep sleep was in 2009/10.

          A team playing in the biggest city in Australia, with a huge football community, lost only 1 match all year.
          Can’t pull a crowd.

          You don’t need focus groups, or market research to understand why this is so.

          You just need to watch 90 mins of their football.

          • March 14th 2017 @ 9:05am
            Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 14th 2017 @ 9:05am | ! Report

            I laughed and I laughed…

            • March 14th 2017 @ 10:27am
              Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 14th 2017 @ 10:27am | ! Report

              “Can’t pull a crowd.”

              SFC have to get back to the Bling days and sign a world class marquee player. This is what SFC supporters now expect. We play in a ‘World Class Football Stadium’ and it’s all part of Sydney’s brand—our supporters now expect another ADP type marquee to come to the club. We are Sydney! We are the face of Australian Football. SFC supporters will only come back in numbers when we get back to the Bling days.

              • March 14th 2017 @ 10:34am
                Nemesis said | March 14th 2017 @ 10:34am | ! Report

                “We play in a ‘World Class Football Stadium”

                That’s the funniest thing you’re ever going to read on The Roar. SydneyFC’s home stadium is a glorified cow paddock. Probably the worst playing surface in the ALeague.

                And, if SFC fans need a celebrity to get them to watch football, it shows how little they understand the game.

              • March 14th 2017 @ 11:47am
                Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 14th 2017 @ 11:47am | ! Report

                The SFS is fine; the surface is not; just like the time the rugger boys churned up the turf at your MRS.

                We are the only club who can appreciate WC footballers, heck we have signed quite a few in our time—can’t say much for MV who only have signed imported dead beats—thinking they are world class.

              • March 14th 2017 @ 12:05pm
                Nemesis said | March 14th 2017 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

                Don’t need World Cup footballers at Victory. The fans go to watch football, not celebrities.

                More Victory fans turned up to watch every match this season – even a match 80kms away in Geelong – than Sydney fans turned up to watch their team in a Top of Table clash.

                If CCM or NIX were winning like SydFC is winning, they’d pull bigger crowds than Sydney FC is currently pulling. A real worry as the competition expands.

              • March 14th 2017 @ 12:09pm
                j binnie said | March 14th 2017 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

                Nemesis and Caltex. There are a series of games being played in a stadium in Vancouver, on television just now ,it being the rugby sevens world cup and I have been watching it for the last 3 days,typical rugby sevens,run,pass run pass and the occasional tackle.After 3 days there is not a mark on the playing surface.?????? jb.

              • March 14th 2017 @ 1:57pm
                Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 14th 2017 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

                “After 3 days there is not a mark on the playing surface?”

                JB, no scrummaging in 7s, I think there is your answer—that’s why the surface is still good.


              • March 14th 2017 @ 2:22pm
                Nemesis said | March 14th 2017 @ 2:22pm | ! Report


                Are they playing at BC Place? I don’t know the stadium but it appears to have an artificial pitch. Hence it will never show signs of disrepair.

              • March 14th 2017 @ 5:38pm
                j binnie said | March 14th 2017 @ 5:38pm | ! Report

                Nemesis and Caltex – Spot on. The pitch is artificial but passed by Fifa standards as being ok for football. It was laid in 2015 at a cost of $1.3 million dollars just in time for the women’s World Cup held there in that year. The only reason I mentioned it was the “attitude ” of a government that recognises the need for all customers to be looked after..
                The curtains used to cut off higher sections of the stadium were also on show meaning the crowd was “condensed” down on the pitch side seats.
                Caltex- the whole tournament was being played there and if you are suggesting that approx, a hundred huge rugby players can gallop around for over a week and not leave a mark then —-so be it. Cheers jb.

          • March 14th 2017 @ 10:06am
            mattq said | March 14th 2017 @ 10:06am | ! Report

            Nem, off topic but I found this little quote on the ABC website today. Thought you might like it as it’s quite pertinent to the weird non-football supporting individuals who seem frequent the football tab.

            “I’ve discussed how internet trolls in general are more likely to be male, and are more likely to have higher levels of “darker” personality traits, including nonclinical psychopathy and sadism.”


            • March 14th 2017 @ 2:29pm
              Nemesis said | March 14th 2017 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

              Thanks. I saw that article. It’s exactly what I’ve read in the past about these types of people.

              I’m not a psychiatrist but, it’s pretty obvious to me, if a person’s sole intention in life each day is to enter discussions with the sole purpose of upsetting & annoying people they are pretty lonely & disturbed.

              I notice the poser with the tight pants has departed.

          • March 14th 2017 @ 2:09pm
            Realfootball said | March 14th 2017 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

            We often disagree, but I agree completely on this one, and have opined similarly on another thread. Needless to say, Punter disagreed.

            But really, you would have to be a hardcore Sydney FC fan to think this team played exciting football.

            • March 14th 2017 @ 7:05pm
              punter said | March 14th 2017 @ 7:05pm | ! Report

              Nemisis & Realfootball, we all have opinions.

              11 pts 23 pts clear, enjoy mediocre in SFC wake.

              • March 14th 2017 @ 7:36pm
                AZ_RBB said | March 14th 2017 @ 7:36pm | ! Report

                Losers talk about winners. Winners talk about history

    • March 14th 2017 @ 8:08am
      Franko said | March 14th 2017 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      Their biggest weak link is the coach.

      That back 4 are talented, so are the screeners, it’s the person organising them that lets them down.

    • March 14th 2017 @ 8:58am
      Waz said | March 14th 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

      Personally I’d say Perths style can and might work in the finals, against anyone ….. except SFC.

    , ,