Back to five games for this round, and with the action all over the park across every game, there are plenty of talking points from Round 7.
The potential is there for the best A-League season ever
Melbourne City and Sydney FC have just the point between them at the top, there is a log jam of three teams jostling for spots third, fourth, and fifth, while just two points separate sixth spot and last place.
The closeness of this competition this season speaks for itself on the table, and across the games not just this round but all season.
The dual 3-1 score lines for the wins by Adelaide and Sydney over Melbourne Victory and Perth respectively look deceptively convincing, but make no mistake those games were in the balance all the way.
And those score lines were after Friday nights blockbuster and drama-filled events at Bankwest Stadium in a top of the table clash between the well-performing Wanderers and the steamrolling Melbourne City, finishing 3-2 to the visitors.
The best component of this season has been that while there are a couple of clear-cut teams on top early this season, in respect of every individual game, each team is going into every contest thinking they are a chance.
No game perhaps highlighted this season so far more perfectly than the Phoenix’s win over Brisbane.
Hot off a dramatic come from behind win over the leading City, Brisbane went to Wellington full of confidence, taking on a team that was winless.
However, in true A-League style, the script was well and truly flipped, as it was the Phoenix who managed to do what Brisbane had done the week before, and nab their first win of the campaign.
This took place after last round saw the Western United outfit beaten surprisingly by the stuttering Newcastle Jets.
Saturday was a highlight for the round in general – three games, eleven goals, excitement across 270 minutes plus stoppage time, none of the games were well and truly decided until the final whistle.
The round also saw the weekend finish with Sydney firmly entrenched in the top two, and they will like their chances of being atop the ladder once parity is seen in games played with Melbourne.
This column was critical at times of the A-League last season failing to ever really hit the heights of excitement you would like to be able to advertise in a domestic league, however little fault can be found in the closeness of this season’s competition.
And while the A-League may ultimately always fall foul of the ‘quality’ side of the argument compared with some leagues, it does help that every supporter of every team every round (barring the team on the bye) can go into each game with an expectation of a chance of a win.
That is a scenario that some leagues would give all the riches in the world to be able to ensure.
Maclaren you’ve done it again
As long as Jamie Maclaren is keeping alive this amazing run of goalscoring while fit, then I am going to continue to talk him up, and this is one of those occasions.
His run at present is simply remarkable.
Another double, another winner, and what’s more is that this time he has managed it in Western Sydney, in stoppage time, in a game that ebbed and flowed all the way.
Now, to be sure, his first goal on Friday night was as a result of an unfortunate penalty, and I cannot do better justice to that penalty than has already been done by Markus Babbel’s post‑match comments, but there was no doubting the class of the finish for the winner.
When Kwame Yeboah completed his double to draw the Wanderers level, you might have got the sense that a draw was a fair result.
However up stepped J-Mac, in stoppage time, to put away a finish that only a potent striker in form could have finished.
Jamie Maclaren: watch winner, and being able to shake off last week’s disappointing second half capitulation to Brisbane to instead mount a second-half comeback of their own showed the type of mettle that continues to suggest City are true contenders for this season’s crown.
Jamie Maclaren of Melbourne City. (Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images)
The Phoenix season is up and running
And with that, every team is now on the board with at least one W on the ladder, and the Phoenix enjoyed dragging themselves off the foot of the ladder for the night.
One player not having too many difficulties with the Phoenix this season is Ulises Davila, who if not for a metre or so, would have had a double and five goals to his name for the season.
But in a season of such fine margins, where all teams are scoring, and defence can sometimes be the difference, for Wellington, the ability to hold out the opposition until the very end will be the most pleasing aspect for Ufuk Talay.
Talay will be hoping that unlike Brisbane, with the win‑monkey off their back, they can do the reverse of Brisbane next game and get a win streak happening.
However, for now, Wellington are off and running, and can carry some confidence into their next game.
As for Robbie Fowler and the Roar, it is a shame they could not back up their last-start miracle with a comfortable back-to-back win, however trips across the ditch are always fraught with some anxiety.
Fowler will be hoping that this round’s result is the blip on the radar, rather than the second‑half comeback against City turning out to be the outlier.
Adelaide the victors in the old battle over a fallen rival
There is a fair bit to unpack from the 3-1 result in Adelaide, and while we would love to devote this point to the goalscoring feats of Ola Toivonen, and even the double for under-fire Riley McGree, alas, the main talking point to come out of this the worst start to a season after seven rounds by the Melbourne Victory powerhouse.
Seven games played, one game won, ninth place on the ladder: ouch.
Is Victory’s season health terminal? Unfortunately, the answer is likely yes, of course, Marco Kurz can look at the quality of his players and say to himself perhaps they be the latest version of the Adelaide miracle that won the competition after being bottom after 10 rounds.
But is this squad deep enough to create that type of history?
The only reason you might say they are is the mere presence of Ola Toivonen, who no doubt has the unwanted record of having been involved in essentially ever single goal scored by Melbourne this season, whether having scored directly or provided the assist.
Melbourne looked ragged on Saturday, and what will disappoint Kurz the most, surely, is not so much the loss, but the manner in which they lost when, having equalised, they allowed the go‑ahead goal to be scored almost immediately, and again instead of mounting a fightback in reply, they rolled over mere minutes later again to be carved up for McGree to score the decisive goal.
The problem for Melbourne is that they lack identity, and to be sure, it is no coincidence that their worst ever start is during the first ever season that Kevin Muscat is no longer involved with the club.
Did the board anticipate that things might be this bad?
Does the board have the patience to see the Kurz experiment through if results continue to disappoint?
Will the fans allow things to continue for much longer?
They are in a very fickle situation at the moment, and with one of the worst defences in the league, the problem for the Victory appears more what are they going to do if they don’t tighten up at the back and Toivonen goes through his almost unavoidable dry spell?
Adelaide are no easy feat in Adelaide, so it is not yet emergency stations for the Victory simply because they lost to the Reds.
No, the concern is that after seven rounds, their season looks cooked, and for the biggest club in the comp, that is a lot of dead season to be looking down the barrel of.
(Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)
Sydney are on fire and still only warming up
A 4-1 win against a poor Newcastle at home is one thing, but a 3-1 win over Perth in Perth in a grand final re-match?
Now that is confirmation that Sydney FC are continuing on their upward trajectory of improvement from when Steve Corica took over last season.
Make no mistake, this win over Perth was utterly emphatic, and the third goal by Milos Ninkovic was the perfect encapsulation of this game which was simple: Perth could not keep up with Sydney FC, and had no answers.
Alarm bells should be ringing around the competition about Sydney, because remember even in that loss in the derby, Sydney were unrelenting on goal, and how they went scoreless that night still beggar’s belief.
What the result in Perth shows is that when Sydney are on song, you either bring your best in reply, or get out of the way.
Meanwhile, Bruno Fornaroli wrote himself into the record books to become the fastest player to 50 goals in the A-League, and there are very real questions around whether Perth can recapture last season’s magic, but for the time being, everything is about Sydney, and the battle in the sky with Melbourne on December 29 can’t come fast enough.
Perth at the moment just do not seem to be clicking, almost misfiring, as if the spark plugs in the engine need a clean, but while their season is nowhere near as terminal as say that of Melbourne Victory, the purple Perthians will want to fix the problem quick.
Against a class outfit like Sydney on Saturday, Perth were made to look second rate.
Of course, the way Sydney are playing at the moment, Perth aren’t the only team to look second rate by comparison.
If looks could kill
If there was one place in Australia that I wanted to be a touch after 8pm, it was the away dressing shed at Gosford Stadium.
In the 61st minute, Mark Rudan took stock of the game, needed to bring on Scott MacDonald, and made a call that was almost as significant as the goal by Giancarlo Gallifuoco that was separating the two sides.
The fourth official’s board went up, MacDonald’s number was in green, but the player whose number was in read belonged to one B Berisha.
Now, if scientists ever find a way to weaponise the look that Besart shot at Rudan when he saw that he was coming off, you could hold the balance of power in global warfare.
My goodness, big Besart was unhappy, and on the look alone, he was apparently ready to kill someone.
Rudan did not take a backwards step, holding firm, and then, rather than placate his big frontman, he hurried him from the field, saying that the elder statesman of the league needed to hurry up off the field.
Besart marched steadfastly, past MacDonald, past the fourth official, and briskly to the bench, without once interacting with his coach.
The well-travelled striker is nothing if not passionate, and Rudan will know that you don’t want any of your players wanting to come from the field.
But the displeasure that was visibly apparent from his player would have made for fascinating post-match analysis, if you could have indeed been a fly on the away dressing room wall.