After Melbourne City and the Central Coast Mariners made successful entries into the FFA Cup seven days ago, a swathe of A-League clubs had the opportunity to do the same last night.
While both City and Central Coast enjoyed the luxury of non A-League opponents in their 3-1 and 2-0 victories over Campbelltown City and Maitland respectively, Wednesday’s five matches were less straightforward.
Adelaide United had a manageable match-up with the Melbourne Knights and the Phoenix were strong favourites against the Brisbane Strikers, yet six A-League clubs faced off in the other three clashes.
The Reds managed to navigate their way into the final 16 with a convincing 5-2 win against the Knights in Melbourne, yet the Phoenix stumbled and the Strikers pulled off the first major upset of the competition, toppling Wellington in a penalty shoot-out after the teams were locked at 2-2 at the completion of extra time.
Many eyes were drawn to Leichhardt Oval and the managerial debut of Robbie Fowler. With a hastily assembled band of brothers pulling on the orange in the hope of invigorating the Brisbane Roar, the night loomed as an early identifier as to how the Liverpool legend would approach his career on the pine.
From what we witnessed, he looks like he might do quite well.
Bluntly, the Roar outplayed Sydney with relative comfort. Late in a first half that lacked vigour at both ends and pointed to improved intensity in the Brisbane defence, Stefan Mauk found the net in the 41st minute to give Brisbane a lead they refused to relinquish.
Mauk’s goal was far from a pure strike, but his deflected shot gave the visitors a deserved advantage and put the champions well and truly on notice.
Soon after the break, the lead was doubled. Jay O’Shea scored in the 47th minute and the local support struggled to find significant voice for the remainder of the contest, as the Roar stifled numerous Sydney attacking raids.
When the injured Milos Ninkovic left the pitch in the 60th minute, Sydney’s chances appeared shot. As the Roar kept the pressure on and hammered home their advantage over the final 20 minutes, another goal seemed likely.
No goal materialised but Robbie Fowler left the stadium with a debut win. He took on the best in the land and won comprehensively.
Elsewhere, a new-look Melbourne Victory debuted under new manager Marco Kurz against the Jets at AAMI Park.
Victory fans have embraced the emotional return of Andrew Nabbout. His two goals within 62 minutes sent them into a fervour and appeared to have the home side locked into a Round of 16 spot.
However, John Koutroumbis and Dimi Petratos scored second-half goals to draw the Jets level after 81 minutes. From there, the match entered extra time and a 113th-minute goal from Pat Langlois secured the win for the Jets and their place in the next round.
Bruno Fornaroli’s Perth Glory debut was the big-ticket item at Dorrien Gardens in Perth, where the home side took on a fresh Wanderers outfit.
Sadly, the contest never really lived up to the billing. After 90 minutes, the scoreless stalemate entered extra-time. That period was to prove the difference and it were the Wanderers who took the initiative with two goals that sent them through to the next phase of cup action.
As usual, FFA Cup goals were aplenty, with a total of 21 across the five Wednesday night matches.
With most squads still developing and the trickle of player acquisitions continuing on a daily basis, every team on display last night will be far more efficient and effective in a few months’ time.
However, that never kills the excitement of the Cup nor devalues its unique identity.
For the Victory, Phoenix, Sydney and Perth, it is practice match time, with two months of preparation still ahead and layers of polish to be put on their play before the A-League begins.
In contrast, Brisbane, Newcastle, Adelaide and Western Sydney march on and take their place in the last 16 with eyes firmly fixed on FFA Cup silverware.