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And so we complete the penultimate round of football before the finals, with the table all but complete, but everything still to play for next weekend, all of this and more, and just in time, for the Round 26 A-League talking points.
Merrick has a lot of work to do
April 27 is the next time the Jets play a game where the result will matter.
The Jets have not played a game where the result mattered since the Adelaide game, back on March 23, so that means it will have been over a month between competitive drinks for Newcastle.
In football, that is a long time.
Now since that dreadful performance and result against Adelaide, the Jets are now on the end of a 3-game losing streak, and having scored in their first 24 games of the year, they have not scored in their last two.
So Newcastle as the matter stands are on the wrong side of an aggregate 10-2 score line in their last three.
Poor stats not even matched by the bottom side Phoenix.
Ernie Merrick has said that overall, his team is running below par, and they will lift in time for that finals match they have waited so long for.
But here’s the thing.
They say form is temporary and class is permanent, and that’s fine, but form is like a butterfly: if you don’t look after it, someone will crush it, and destroy it, and now the butterfly is gone, and there’s no coming back.
So if the Jets can’t get this ship right for a season-ending derby game with the Mariners, they will then have a long two weeks for a home final to reverse a very worrying trend.
It would be a waste of an otherwise great season if that were to happen for Newcastle.
RBB send a message, but who is hearing it?
And so the RBB is boycotting the final rounds of the A-League this season, and will reconvene next season, if they get a positive response from all stakeholders during the off-season.
It’s a shame that the rest of the Wanderers supporters had boycotted the season in general, since approximately Round 1. Perhaps if anyone else was showing up, the actions by the RBB might actually resonate.
If you want my opinion, and if you’re reading this I’m assuming you do, the RBB boycotting two, maybe three, games this season does them, the Wanderers, and the game no favours.
It simply plays into the hands of those with an axe to grind about football in Australia.
I have no doubt you’d be hard-pressed to find a commentator or even casual observer who right now would say: Football administrators in Australia, they go all right.
But by not attending every game, you damage the game, at a time when empty stadiums are a blight on the product, and the product is being watched by less viewers that online subscribers to state league games.
Of course, maybe by boycotting two, perhaps three, games, in the grand scheme of things won’t have that big a negative impact, and once they’ve had their say, they can get back to actively supporting their team next season.
However, therein lies my point. If your actions in the long-term aren’t really going to do much, however in the short term only make things harder on the game itself, then what’s the point of your boycott anyway?
Keep your eye on Melbourne City
After Saturday night’s largely less than convincing 1-nil win over Central Coast, Luke Brattan boldly proclaimed that Melbourne City can win the title.
It may not be as far-fetched as that might sound.
If City can lock in third sport next weekend, hosting the team that finishes sixth is certainly the better of the finals games to host.
Playing your last game of the season to the team that has been handed the wood spoon certainly helps.
Now, I’m not entirely sure how the machinations of the A-League finals series works, but I’m pretty sure that if Melbourne finish third, and win their final, they then travel to Newcastle for the semi-final, a venue where Melbourne City have 2 wins already this season, and comprehensively beat a flagging Newcastle unit just last round.
By gum, that would get City into a grand final, and as last season showed, on that one day in April, anything can happen.
The result will be more important than the performance itself.
But if City can come out of that match relatively unscathed, with a win and third place, and win a winnable game against a Wanderers, Brisbane or Perth, well then, watch this space.
And keep the other eye on Melbourne Victory
With Adelaide in the form they’re in, avoiding fourth spot is crucial in this finals race.
Yes, you want to host a final, but no, you do not want to be hosting Adelaide.
In fact, had Victory imploded significantly over the last two rounds, forget hosting, they would have been traveling to Adelaide.
And at 1-nil down to Wellington, the Victory looked like they could lock in that fourth place and start planning for Adelaide.
Unfortunately Victory do not have any favours in the final round, with a hard-up last round game against a rampaging Sydney FC, and the always electric Big Blue.
But Victory are in it to win it, and have done everything they can to put themselves in a place to shake up this competition. And should their cross-town rivals slip up in Wellington, then a big win over Sydney to take third will give Victory all the momentum they would need to take a real charge at the finals.
Given the form of Kenny Athiu and that man Leroy George, why can’t they make it to the A-League’s last game day?
Sydney vs Adelaide
First half, nil-all, into the 4th minute of stoppage time.
The away side has played well, the home side have the ball.
A sublime turn in the middle by the playmaker, the break is on. He dribbles the ball, and lays it off perfectly for their star striker, but instead of blasting it at goal, he sees another striker tracking in from the right, and the cross comes in.
The second striker nails the header, and the runaway A-League ladder leaders have taken a 1-nil lead on the stroke of half-time.
Now, anyone can score. Wellington, worst team in the comp, even they have managed to land a goal at a rate of one per game, including own goals.
But do you want to know what separates Sydney apart from everyone else, aside from the winning?
Few teams could have scored that goal – maybe Newcastle, and Sydney’s defeated foe Adelaide – but only Sydney could score that good a goal, at the most perfect of times.
Adelaide, worth a nil-all half-time score line, instead went to the sheds with a deficit, and Marco Kurz’s half-time talk was suddenly very, very different.
Timing. In sport, it is everything.
And do you want to know way timing is everything? Because in a game when you have to time your run perfectly to win the ultimate prize for just one game that matters, timing is as important as having the best players you can find.
And it’s timing, as much as ability, that is the reason Sydney will likely win the grand final for the A-League season 2017/18.
I understand that finals and grand finals are as part of Australian culture as prime ministerial poll failures, so the likelihood of Australian football doing away with finals is as likely as the RBB not ripping a flare mid-match.
Australia prides itself on having an inherently Australian domestic game, notwithstanding that they rely upon an inherently global ladder leading into those finals.
My point is that for all the argument that the world game has to be entirely Australian for people to want to follow the game is rubbish.
So if Australia is going to embrace the world game, then why do they not embrace the European tradition of all last round matches being played at the same time?
And given that the product is entirely shown on payTV content, with so many channels for content they literally don’t know what to do with them all, broadcasting five matches at once would not be the issue.
And I’m not even factoring in a digital TV age, where you can pick what you watch with five matches on one screen at the same time.
Sunday evening, 3pm, five matches, the race for the finals. It is so easy to sell that even the FFA could not stuff that up. Or if not 3pm, then 5:00 pm, the actual time is not the point.
Now I know what you’re saying, especially if you’re David Gallop.
If you play all five games at once, it reduces advertising dollars, because you have less viewers spread out over the weekend.
Well guess what David? Look at your current ratings: nobody’s watching the games anyway mate.
But five matches at once, with the race to the finals, with three teams in contention for sixth, and the two Melbourne teams fighting for third, and then there’s the F3 Derby, culminating on Sunday after a week and entire weekend of build-up?
If you can’t get every football fan in the country attending a game, and watching at homes and filling pubs watching those matches all at once, then this country has bigger football problems than I thought.
Please, it is actually a no-brainer.