Some 116 days ago, Brisbane Roar’s Scott McDonald scored in the 16th minute against the Newcastle Jets. That goal secured a 1-0 victory for the team then coached by Robbie Fowler and would be the last successful A-League strike for some time.
It was the last thing the Roar needed as arguably the form team in the competition; slowly but surely inching their way towards the top two on the A-League ladder.
COVID-19 was to put pay to that progression, with the men in orange stuck in fourth spot during the enforced break and desperate to get back on the pitch in order to continue their development.
Now, the competition is about to resume. Yet things will look somewhat different when the players take to the pitch for the final flurry of matches that FFA are referring to as “27 in 28”.
All reference to rounds has been dropped with the governing body determined to roll out the fixtures on a daily basis and ensure the A-League does indeed have a 2019-20 champion in as brisk a time frame as possible.
True to the entertainment value offered by the A-League throughout its history, the hiatus has seen the stunning, shocking and sometimes comical play out.
Brisbane fans, after witnessing the masterful touch of Robbie Fowler turn itself to the coaching caper, will be furious that they have now lost their man.
After a slow start, the Liverpool legend had the Roar humming yet he will remain in the United Kingdom; destined to take the reins at a lower league club in the near future.
Thanks to the pesky pandemic, it is surely the first time in A-League history that a winning coach, with a side destined for finals and on a tremendous tear, has disembarked ship with just a few short weeks remaining until the business end of the season.
As disappointing and odd as Fowler’s departure may be, Martin Lee’s refusal/inability to adequately finance the Jets since last October has placed immense and concerning pressure on Newcastle’s proud A-League team.
It appears Mr Lee’s personal wealth and future earnings have come under serious threat from both a weakened global economy and international tariff changes.
After investing near A$15 million into the club and with the Jets dealing with around A$2 million in operational debt, Lee’s commitment to A-League football has waned considerably.
The bare-boned Jets squad that manager Carl Robinson inherited looked unlikely to seriously threaten for a finals position early in the season, yet with the attitudinal application he has encouraged, the Welshman has the men in red and blue sitting in ninth position and just three points outside the top six.
With CEO Lawrie McKinna hoping to announce a new owner in coming weeks, Jets fans will hopefully breathe a sigh of relief; knowing they have a good man in charge, a more assured cash flow and the chance to add much needed talent and depth to their squad.
Sadly, in addition to Fowler and somewhat expectantly, a host of international playing and coaching talent will not be returning to Australian A-League pitches for the remainder of the season.
Perth Glory will be without Gregory Wuthrich and Korean Kim Soo-Beom, Victory lose manager Carlos Salvachua and talisman Ola Toivonen, while Adelaide move forward without Michael Maria and continue their campaign with Carl Veart at the helm, after the departure of Gertjan Verbeek.
Alen Stajcic loses the services of Korean Eun-Sun Kim and Chris Harold on the Central Coast and with a number of other players departing the league and after such an extended break, the resumption will potentially throw up some unpredictability in early results.
Sydney FC, Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City look the class of the field, with the Sky Blues a lock for the Premier’s Plate and the other two certain for a top-four position heading into the finals.
Brisbane should be able to hang on to fourth barring a minor collapse and below them, a mad-capped scrambled for positions five through six will take place. Perth, Western United, Adelaide, Western Sydney and Newcastle fans will remain interested for much of the next month, knowing that finals play is still within their reach.
As people’s attentions began to refocus on football and all seemed in readiness for the resumption of the season, a calamitous spike in infection rates in Victoria necessitated an urgent exodus of Western United, Melbourne City and the struggling Victory.
As if all the mayhem and chaos of early 2020 had not been enough, the comical scenes of footballers stranded on airport runways in a last minute attempt to make their way into the FFA created hubs further north, perhaps captured all the drama and controversy within which Australian football has an uncanny ability of finding itself.
Thankfully, exemptions were made, the players are almost all ready to play and with any luck, the 2019-20 A-League season may finally come to an end some ten months after it began. I’m hopeful yet apprehensive, knowing that the A-League has rarely been on the right side of luck.
Hold onto you hats everyone, the weirdness may be about to get even weirder.