While Brisbane Roar may have fooled tipsters in Round 13 with a much needed win against the Wanderers on Western Sydney’s home patch, they are far from out of the woods just yet.
The same could have been said of the Wanderers a week earlier, after they triumphed in a controversial encounter at Coopers Stadium, where the on-field referee and VAR featured far too prominently for most people’s liking.
Both wins were vitally important, yet potentially just momentary flashes of elation considering some of the ponderous and poor performances dished up by the teams in recent weeks.
After a spritely start to the season, the Wanderers were clinging to the top six when they took on the Reds and Brisbane needed points urgently against Western Sydney themselves last Wednesday in order to recover from three weeks that produced just a solitary point.
Bankwest was in typically sparkling form and the contest was played out with a sense of desperation that bubbled away both on the pitch and in the stands. In the end, the Wanderers jettisoned an early lead, Scott Neville produced a rare goal and Brad Inman’s winner secured the three points that lifted Brisbane within three of the top six.
Both teams are significant A-League talking points. The Wanderers, thanks to three consecutive wins to start the season and a homecoming to Parramatta, looked a better version of their 2018-19 selves. Markus Babbel possessed a team far closer to the one he desired after taking the reins in 2018 and realising the shortfalls in the playing group.
The idea of pressure building on the coach seemed absurd after those three wins and a draw against Brisbane in Round 4. Their loudest statement of all had been the derby win against Sydney FC, where despite some luck and Sydney’s many chances, the red and black delivered the win in a match-up that has rarely gone their way in recent times.
Soon after, the lug nuts on the Wanderers’ wheels loosened and by Round 11 the club had slipped from the top rung all the way to eighth. Many felt the Round 12 win against Adelaide kept Babbel in his job. Who knows whether the Wanderers board would have been prepared to act had that trip to Adelaide panned out differently?
Despite the relieving three points and the importance of backing up against Brisbane last Wednesday, Western Sydney stumbled once more. The men in red and black are making it increasingly difficult to gauge whether they are merely a club assuming their rightful lowly spot on the ladder, or an improved squad still finding their feet and a little out of luck.
Similarly, Brisbane have many pundits befuddled. Some have serious doubts over the squad coach Robbie Fowler has assembled and others are more assured that the Roar will be a substantially better team late in the season.
There is no doubt that Fowler misjudged the potential effectiveness of his cold-climate recruits. His seasoned pros from the lower leagues in the northern hemisphere have struggled against some of the class and quality possessed by other A-League teams and the manager has conceded that fact openly.
The likely acquisition of Scott McDonald in the January transfer window could be an empowering step for both Fowler and the club, as would a solution to the striking issue that has seen the Roar manage just 12 goals in 11 matches, four of which came in a stunning Round 6 win against Melbourne City.
It seems clear now that Fowler believes the solution lies elsewhere than his 34-year-old Irishman Roy O’Donovan, while Aaron Amadi-Holloway looks more like a stop gap than a lasting remedy.
The chasm between that stirring second half comeback against City and a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Sydney in Round 9 is vast, making it mighty tough to form a confident view on exactly who the Brisbane Roar are in 2019-20.
Such is the case with Western Sydney. Rampant early and floundering since, their identity is similarly ill-defined. Bankwest Stadium has a clear and identifiable face, however the team playing there still appears somewhat unformed and incomplete.
The beautiful thing about football is that both clubs have around 15 or so weeks to find themselves. If they are able to do so, they can begin introducing themselves to their opponents with more confidence and certainty – perhaps even in an elimination final.