Just the four games for this round, but still more than enough action on the park to find five talking points from Round 6.
Handball is now a shambles
I am going to take a timeout from accentuating the positive to focus on my new found nature of becoming a grumpy old man and bemoaning the shambles that has become the new legislation of the handball rule.
It has become an absolute shamble.
The handball rule used to be perfectly fine, where if you used your hand to control or interact with the ball, it was a free kick, and if it happened in the penalty area, it was a penalty.
Why was that so hard to get right or accept?
I will tell you why, because cameras started slowing down the play where every single instance of the ball touching the hand, commentators lost their mind if it was not a penalty, and the cart started directing the horse.
So, what have we been left with now?
This silly situation where the arms have to be in a natural position (I will get to that later) or you run the risk of giving away a free kick or conceding an unfairly awarded penalty and likely goal.
Let me re-state two fundamental principles about the game of football as I see them. What separates football from most other sports is essentially two things.
Firstly, the game is played almost entirely with the feet, unlikely every other sport known to humankind, making it the most skilful and pure form of sport to watch.
And secondly, relevantly to this talking point, scoring is hard.
Goals are not easy to come by in football, hence why they are so ravenously celebrated.
It is why draws can still be thrilling, because the build-up and hope of a goal in anticipation of what might or can be the difference in the result may ultimately never come.
The point is that goals are hard to come by, and should not be given away, especially on the basis of a technicality in the penalty area.
Which brings me to the issue of keeping your arms in a “natural position.”
What on earth does that actually mean anyway?
Have you ever seen someone trying to hold their position, but naturally going: “I better shove both my arms behind my back”?
Or when you leap into the air, is the natural position for arms to be: “I will jump as high as I can, but keep the arms by my side.”
The whole concept of keeping your arms in a natural position is nonsense, it instead means keep the arms out of the way of where you think the ball might be, or where it might go.
Which is fine, but it fundamentally changes the way the game is played, just like the introduction of VAR did.
It changes methodology and physical mechanics, and it is a big deal.
But the other problem is that when players actually do have their arms in a natural position like, oh I don’t know, putting their hand in front of their face so that they aren’t concussed, a penalty is awarded against them.
To prove how silly that is, I went to Twitter for the perfect argument:
So if a player covers his nuts at a free kick and it hits the hands to avoid hitting the jewels it’s also a penalty? #brivmcy
— Gavin Flanagan (@gavflano) November 17, 2019
Take nothing away from Brisbane’s victory against Melbourne, but that they got the winning goal because a player took health and safety concern for his face as being considered an unnatural way to hold his arms, and in the long-term that is just unworkable.
The original handball rule was there for instances where players actively and determinedly used their arms and hands to control the ball or intervene in play.
There was no problem with the rule the way it was.
Mariners make it hard to be positive for them
Last season, probably moments before he was already in the gun to get sacked, I talked up the progress of the Mariners under Mike Mulvey, only for them to put in an all-time bad season.
And here we are again, early in the season, as I went back over last week’s talking points to say the following:
“Again, the pieces are all there for the Central Coast outfit, and the Jordan Murray finish with seconds to go in regulation time showed that the class is there if Central Coast want to make something of it.”
I even doubled-down on the half-full nature of the Central Coast glass:
“The Mariners were very unfortunate to find themselves up against an opponent in good form, celebrating an anniversary, on a Friday night after a Perth win.
“Here is hoping that they can shake off Friday night’s result, head home next Saturday, and get the job done against Adelaide to kick-start their season again.”
And what did the Mariners produce on Saturday?
That’s right, a comprehensive 3-1 loss to Adelaide, in a game that was essentially over by half-time.
What do you do with a team like the Mariners?
They just can’t seem to win a trick, and perhaps more pointedly, and deeply concerningly, last week I had this rider on the positivity:
“Alen Stajcic is for all intents and purposes a good coach, and a solid if not spectacular start to this season suggests just that, but as the Arnold example shows, he is working for a club that is running on a shoe-string budget, so what rewards he is going to be able to reap on the limitations that he is operating, only time will tell.”
Based on this round’s performance, time may well tell that the Mariners are in big trouble, and are mercilessly looking down the barrel of yet another wooden spoon.
Maybe in a severe anti-jinx, perhaps the Mariners can use this week’s negativity about them to put in a performance that their coaching staff deserve and grab another win.
Merrick is sitting much more comfortably
Write off a champion at your own expense, right?
If there is anything in football that Ernie Merrick has not seen, then by all accounts it is probably not worth knowing, so much has he encountered in his many years on the field and on the sideline.
Ernie is an historically tough egg to crack, and as he has spent a lot of time saying, with his pragmatism: sometimes things are good, sometimes things are bad, so best not to get too worked up over either situation.
For what it’s worth, I have had the opportunity to listen to Merrick talk in person, and he is a genuinely charming, light-hearted, funny and approachable man.
But more so than anything else, perhaps what his players’ game on Saturday night showed, is that he has them caring about him, because after a start to the season where they had zero wins after five rounds, they stepped up big time against the strong new Western United club, and got the result the embattled coach so desperately needed.
Make no mistake, the Jets’ win at Geelong was the win of the round, and that takes nothing away from the Roar breaking their own duck for the season.
But having misfired all season, and then to not only take the lead but keep a clean sheet against a rampant United at their own new fortress, that is a fantastic result not only for the Jets, but for their hardworking coach.
Ernie must’ve known going to United’s turf, against a top-three side, with a bare minimum 16 player fit squad to pick from, that his chances of grabbing that first win of the season were slim, and it was his neck on the line.
Sure, the Jets rode their luck in the second half, ironically for that club having the VAR to thank for (correctly) maintaining that clean sheet.
Of course, the Jets owned the first half, and had they hit the target more regularly and with confidence, might have taken two or three goals on the board into the break.
Instead, the Jets go back to the Hunter with a win, three points, and a clean sheet.
That they did so shows the players care, and still care about their coach, and for that, if nothing else, Ernie is to be highly commended.
Roar dared, Roar won
Somewhat strangely for the A-League, given our propensity for complaining about refereeing decisions and bemoaning their decisions that turn games, little was ultimately said about the game-changing, and game-deciding, VAR intervention post-match, but more was said about the lift in effort and intensity by Brisbane that won them the game.
Scoring four second-half goals against the table-topping Melbourne City, having only managed just one goal all season, is remarkable by anybody’s standards.
And post-match, both Roy O’Donovan and Jamie Maclaren, said the same thing, that it was the lift to approach by Brisbane that ultimately got them the win.
I will say what I like about the Frankenstein of a handball rule that ultimately decided the game, but you know what, Brisbane still needed to be pressing in attack to get off the shot that drew the handball, so that is not luck, sometimes in these matters, you make your own luck.
Besides, it was not like Brisbane were not due a break their way, having played and not won yet this season, and finding very little going their way.
Good luck to them.
Perhaps more poignantly that things were going their way was the sight of O’Donovan managing to convert penalties, something fans in Newcastle will wonder why he failed to do with any regularity at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Two-nil down going into the final stages before half-time, Robbie Fowler knew there needed to be changes, but to his credit he backed himself, so out went Jake McGing, in came Jordan Courtney-Perkins, a re-shuffle of the deck, and the Roar screamed with four second-half goals and the win.
Brisbane dared, and Brisbane won.
The teams that will do well this season are the ones that will take hold of the game and go for it, and no match this season more profoundly exhibited that ideal than this.
Big Blue on two-toned green
Hey, remember when the Big Blue was a big deal?
And, from my own recollections, the clash still very much is big, played between the biggest clubs in the competition, the rivalry is real, as both teams perennially fight for seniority and superiority.
A grand old clash that has filled stadia, decided grand finals, and brought out the best in both players and coaches, as well as the crowds.
Jubilee Stadium is a fantastic ground, one that has its fair share of tradition in the city of Sydney, as well as in the game of football.
It is a fitting venue for Melbourne Victory to visit in Sydney to take on the Sky Blues.
But suburban ground or not, the state of the pitch was poor.
And what was worse was that the appearance of the turf was atrocious.
People will say that it doesn’t matter, well actually, it does matter, because as always, the A-League simply does not have the credit in the bank to be playing a marquee game, already under the spotlight of scrutiny given the game was moved because Sydney lost players only to result in Melbourne losing players on the same basis.
The patchwork dead grass appearance is fine if you are Barcelona and Real Madrid playing at the Bernabeu where every other element is of such high quality that the turf isn’t an issue.
Of course, that would not happen in el Classico, because La Liga would not allow it to happen.
Call it nitpicking, call it being miserable, call it what you will, but for a league that is under pressure every single week from other interests, you can be sure that if a passionate football fan is noticing the state of the pitch with concern, then somebody who has an axe to grind about football no matter what certainly will.