And just like that, there are only ten rounds left of the regular season, and the race for A-League finals positions is starting to paint a picture. Let’s have a look at some of the talking points from Round 17.
The product is there, but the crowds still are not
Friday and Saturday night delivered almost everything on the playing field you could expect.
Goals, red and yellow cards, comebacks and all the action that you would come to expect from the greatest game in the world.
It’s a shame nobody was watching.
Across the first four games of the round, a total of 29,036 people attended four games that delivered 21 goals, 3 red cards, and two amazing comebacks, one of which was historic in its nature.
29,000 is the type of audience you should be expecting for just one game, perhaps two, but four games?
Where’s all this passion for the game everyone has been crying out for years about the “sleeping giant” that is Australian football?
Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow in all of this is that the AFLW, where the Adelaide Crows were also playing in Adelaide, at the suburban Norwood Oval, garnered a crowd of a tick over 19,000, granted, with free entry.
Now comparing A-League to other sports is a hugely popular topic on The Roar, so that isn’t going to serve the ultimate purpose of this particular talking point, however the idea of free entry did rustle up some thought.
How many spectators do you genuinely think would attend a round of A-League matches, if attendance were free?
It’s a genuine question, and perhaps, it’s something worth considering.
Whether fans of the A-League like to admit it or not, the coverage of the A-League is dying.
It’s easy to bring up a whole raft of perspectives, ratings, metrics, history and context, but the harsh reality is that to the average punter on the street, they are barely aware the A-League season is currently going.
The bigger concern is the hardcore football fan, the unfairly labelled “eurosnobs” know full-well when the A-League games are on, and they seem to be choosing not to go.
So what if for one round, five home sides were told to open the gates to anyone that would attend, would they get crowds in to match the likes of the roll out to Norwood Oval for an AFLW fixture?
I would truly hope so, because the A-League, its players, and yes, its dyed in the wool spectators and fans, deserve it.
The five-goal mauling by the Jets deserved more than the water-logged 7,500 spectators on hand.
Melbourne Victory deserved more than the 5,000 on hand to witness their stunning second-half fightback from two-nil down, and Andrew Hoole deserved a full house to witness his world-class free kicks.
The game in Adelaide? That should have been in front of 40,000 at the Adelaide Oval, and the parties going long into the night, instead of occurring in front of the 7,000 who attended.
And for the love of all that is good and pure, the table-topping Perth Glory, on the cusp of returning to their actual glory days, deserved double their attendance last night, to witness the three-goal win over fellow top-six rivals Wellington.
The quality is there to witness.
For crying out loud, can somebody please start getting more people to witness it?
If round 17 had free entry, it is curious as to whether there would have been more eyes on the matches, more mouths talking about the game, and as is the hope with AFLW, if you enjoyed it that much for free, then perhaps next time, you might even be willing to pay for it.
When it rains it pours
No pun intended, but it made sense that as the heavens opened up and the downpour fell from the skies, the Jets decided to break their seeming season long drought in front of goal.
Up three-nil at halftime and five to the good early in the second half, you almost imagined that the Jets had been saving themselves for one match to score all their goals this season.
Said one friend to me, as I fist pumped the fifth goal to Roy O’Donovan, there was no use in celebrating too hard, whether they scored one or five, they still only get three points, and the Jets might have been smarter to save some of their goals for the rest of the season.
But there must have been a hint of satisfaction in the Jets dressing sheds, even the openly expressive Ernie Merrick broke a smile after the game, in putting away five goals given this side that has been lambasted all season for misfiring on a weekly basis.
Is this the start of the push into the finals that Merrick remains confident the Jets will achieve?
Perhaps, but for now, on Friday night, the Jets reminded everybody that there is still life in the Hunter boys yet, and whether they make the finals or not, their attack have made a statement that they might be ready to, finally, leave their mark on the 2018-19 season.
The difficult life of a social media operator
I take absolutely no credit for this observation but felt it required to be shared.
You have to feel sorry not just for the Mariners, but for their social media operators.
How many times this season has a social media post about the Mariners celebrating a half-time lead, or performance, only to have to post an end of game salutation commiserating another loss?
Saturday night, again, was no different.
Full credit to Andrew Hoole, who cops a fair amount of criticism for failing to deliver on the huge potential that he has shown from day one in Newcastle.
His two free kicks were of the highest quality, and make no mistake, they were scored against the best goalkeeper in the competition, Lawrence Thomas, who can put in a David De Gea-like performance when the mood catches him right.
At two-nil up at halftime, the Mariners were beginning to believe that finally, finally, they were going to make it count.
And to be fair, Melbourne pulled their finger out after the half-time break, and earned their win, but gee, Central Coast, to waste Hoole’s goals in a loss like that, it’s why Mike Mulvey has aged a solid 58 years in the last 17 rounds.
So this goes out to the people on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for the Central Coast Mariners, who have to celebrate at halftime, only to commence the online funeral procession come fulltime.
Perhaps Saturday night’s effort by the Mariners was the worst of the bunch.
If Western Sydney Wanderers were throwing out the statement on Friday night to say that they had put in the best effort of hitting rock bottom this season, truly for the Mariners, was it a case of: hold my beer.
History in the making
And if it was a case of the Mariners telling all to hold their beer, then for Brisbane Roar, it was, well, something much worse.
Dear oh dear, boy oh boy and wowee, what a rollercoaster night it was in Adelaide.
This writer was a late substitute in live blogging the game, and I would like to thank colleague Stuart Thomas for allowing me the opportunity to provide the live updates.
In the quintessential game of two halves, the first and second 45 minutes could not have been any more diametrically opposed to one another.
In the first 45 minutes, as Adelaide lost the plot with an early send-off, Brisbane capitalised with three pretty good goals, to set up what should have been a famous, and for interim coach Darren Davies, drought-breaking, win.
The turning point though was Isaias’ free kick goal on half-time, and questionable though the circumstances may be under which that free kick was awarded, you could not question the quality of the strike.
From there, the Reds never looked back.
But full credit to the Roar, for suffering the type of second half implosion that you might only expect to witness in a pub league Sunday game, but two send offs and a last minute winner is the kind of loss that can leave long-lasting damage.
I genuinely like Darren Davies, Brisbane’s interim coach, he seems like a truly nice guy.
But judging on his players performances at the moment, and failure to win, epitomized by Saturday’s effort, you have to question whether they in fact like him.
Glory, glory to Perth Glory
In many a way, Saturday was a potential banana peel waiting for Perth to slip on.
Their four point lead at the top of the table cut to one point, at least momentarily, and coming up against the form side in the competition, in Wellington Phoenix, in the distance derby at Perth, Perth might have felt the pressure.
And with Brisbane and Mariners squandering amazing first half performances with two goal leads at halftime, even taking an early lead was no guarantee of success on Saturday.
It appears that Perth are made of sterner stuff than the teams running last and second-last (I know, who would’ve thought), and perhaps in a warning to the whole competition, Perth looked largely untroubled against Wellington.
Now, as I mentioned, the distance derby was the setting for Perth’s dominant performance, and I have often said that the travel in that derby does neither team any good.
Also, Wellington by their own body clocks, were playing at midnight, Wellington time, so perhaps that might have been a second or two off their game.
But to point out Wellington’s failings amidst the brilliance of Perth would, in fact, do Perth a disservice, and truly, absolutely nothing should be taken away from Perth on Saturday night.
They are looking imperious, and with ten rounds to go to finals time, they are setting the benchmark.
At the moment, with a four-point gap on Melbourne Victory, they continue to state the case for “catch us if you can.”
At the moment, it appears that nobody can.
Mitch Austin, the journeyman
Newcastle were doing some curious business to mark the end of the January transfer window.
While they were trumpeting the announcement of the form Australian player in the A-League, Matt Millar, for next season, they were also quietly severing ties with Mitch Austin, who had been signed to much fanfare before season 2018/19 commenced.
Austin’s time in Newcastle hardly set high standards of performance, and undoubtedly, his time in Newcastle will almost be forgotten as quickly as the amount of time he was actually there.
So when Sydney announced his arrival to much fanfare themselves, given how little Mitch had done in the Hunter, you had to wonder who has been duped, Sydney or Newcastle?
To see him running out as a second half sub for Sydney against Melbourne City, as Sydney were one-nil up, in some ways, was a little moment in time captured of the state of Sydney at the moment.
They continue to be a work in progress built on hope, as much as anything else, and in Mitch Austin, you can only hope that his move to the big smoke works out for both him and the sky blues.
So, come the 64th minute, as Le Fondre took a shot that goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic brilliantly saved, Mitch Austin found himself with an easy volley and an open goal.
And he hit the post.
Watch this space.