Teams without a backbone do not win a Premier’s Plate or an A-League title. Only a fool would disagree with the obvious simplicity of that statement.
However, finding the formula to create such substance is a difficult task for those charged with building, developing and overseeing a team capable of making a run at Australian football silverware.
The longer an A-League season runs, the more a team’s backbone and fortitude, or lack of, becomes apparent. Round 22 told us a great deal about the fibre and hard wiring of a number of teams in contention for the finals.
Those who continue to earn the tick of approval will prove tough to beat in knockout play. Others who flayed away aimlessly seem unlikely to make a realistic impact, should they even manage to make the grade.
There are no such issues for Sydney FC. After the disappointing slippage of two points to Jeonbuk in Asian Champions League play last Wednesday and a second loss to the Wanderers in the now interesting again Sydney Derby just days earlier, the Sky Blues flexed their muscles on Saturday night against Melbourne Victory.
Despite an early goal and a sense of softness within a few decisions that went the way of the visitors, Sydney found a gear that had escaped them in recent times and demolished Victory with four goals in the final 50 minutes.
In the midst of the busiest of schedules and with many predicting the beginnings of a slightly wobbling apple-cart, the men from the Harbour City looked deep inside and found the substance required to condemn the Victory to their tenth loss of the season.
That Sydney fortitude was built in the Graham Arnold era and the belief and resilience has been continued during Steve Corica’s reign. Love them or hate them, Sydney have a backbone the envy of the league.
While Melbourne Victory’s greatest weakness in 2019-20 may well be a lack of resilience and consistent application across the entire 90 minutes of matches, there is no doubt that they will be back, and soon.
This season has been nothing short of a disaster for such a proud club yet don’t be surprised to see the men in darker blue back sooner rather than later.
Sadly for Adelaide United and as I predicted in my column last week, they now look the most likely to slip from the top six. The harrowing capitulation that occurred at Coopers Stadium on Saturday afternoon said a great deal about the intestinal fortitude of the men in red.
They have little and could well fold with nothing more than a whimper by season’s end.
Their conquerors Western United, responded to an extended period of mediocrity with their second consecutive win and eleven goals in a week.
It all looked to be going a little pear shaped for Mark Rudan’s men just a few short weeks ago, yet all of a sudden the United train has rediscovered the rails and moved back inside the top six.
Up north, and despite some questioning the tactics of former Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler, the most firm of substances has been found. Brisbane Roar have accumulated 20 points in 2020, more than any club including runaway leader Sydney FC, and they now look to be a serious player in the A-League finals.
The men in orange are galvanised, tough and getting better with each passing week.
The Wanderers had travelled north, hopeful of another step forward after recent positive signs under Jean-Paul de Marigny.
Whilst too early to completely jettison their hopes, question marks over their substance will resurface after a poor performance against the Roar, where they were clearly the second best team on the pitch.
Nobody questions the credentials of the Wellington Phoenix in what is continuing to loom as a ground-breaking season for the men from the shaky isles. Ufuk Talay has them humming, consistent and capable of confronting Sydney FC, Melbourne City and Perth Glory face to face, well-armed to claim victory.
After dishing out another loss to the spine-less Mariners, Wellington continue to do nothing other than rise in people’s opinions, the longer the season runs.
The round was completed with a match that promised to be the most competitive and critical of the weekend. Both Perth Glory and Melbourne City no doubt talked about that hard edge and substance required to pinch the three points and continue their runs towards second spot on the A-League ladder.
Despite the toughness of Tony Popovic being generally evident in the way his troops attack the task at hand, Perth stumbled, went to water and allowed a trio of first half goals. It was un-Perth like.
However, as Melbourne City played the second half without the intensity they displayed in the opening 45 minutes, a revival of sorts took place. The comeback could well have earned a point or perhaps even more if not for some fortune and quality goal keeping.
In the end, City lacked the discipline and determination to finish the job when given the chance and Perth failed to grasp the moment when the game was on the line early. In essence, both teams displayed weakness and frailties.
The final seven rounds will require contenders like Adelaide, Western Sydney, Perth and Melbourne City to iron out such weaknesses, else Sydney FC and Wellington will continue to firm in the betting as the two most likely.