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Opinion

What the A-League needs more than anything is some unity

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Expert
2nd May, 2021
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Saturday night’s Sydney derby was the same sort of thrill-a-minute intracity slugfest we’re used to watching week in and week out in the biggest leagues across Europe.

Western Sydney Wanderers may not have won a trophy since 2014, but they’ve certainly dominated the Sydney derby of late.

The Wanderers were deserving 3-2 winners over Sydney FC in front of a raucous atmosphere at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday, with the hosts stunning Sydney FC with a couple of goals on the counter barely a quarter of an hour in.

The Sky Blues had bossed proceedings up until that point, but the defending champions had a mountain to climb once they fell two goals behind.

They still should have finished with at least a point, only for Brazilian veteran Bobo to blaze a late penalty high over the crossbar.

He still had time to become the fastest player to score 50 goals in A-League history when he hooked home in stoppage time, but the Brazilian’s spot-kick miss proved costly – particularly when Sydney FC substitute Anthony Caceres almost snapped the crossbar in half at the death.

Instead of Bobo it was another veteran in Scott McDonald who conjured the winner, with the recent arrival from Brisbane Roar heading home from a corner despite being the most vertically challenged player on the pitch.

You have to go back to December 2018 to find Sydney FC’s last win in the derby, and there’s a growing feeling that the Wanderers are starting to find their mojo once more against their crosstown rivals.

But the best thing about the derby wasn’t Bruce Kamau or Mitch Duke’s smart finishes, or Milos Ninkovic and Luke Brattan flying in to defend their team-mates in what was a typically heated affair.

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It wasn’t even the TV broadcast on the night, which for all the recent criticism of Fox Sports, once again made the game feel like a big-time showdown.

It was the atmosphere in the stands.

With the Red and Black Bloc back behind the goal at one end and the Sydney FC fans turning out in their usual big numbers for the derby, the two sets of supporters produced a fervent atmosphere that simply blows other codes out of the water.

Anyone who has ever attended a big A-League game knows the atmosphere produced inside the ground is second to none. Trouble is those games are too few and far between.

We had one a week ago when the Central Coast Mariners held Sydney FC to a 2-2 draw in front of a big crowd in Gosford, only for much of the media focus to revolve around the minuscule crowd that turned out for a Western United game on a Monday two nights later.

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Here’s the thing about that sort of scrutiny. It would disappear overnight if those who are passionate about football in Australia decided to unify and start pulling in the same direction.

It’s ironic, then, that just about the only thing that has produced a united front in the A-League in recent memory is a widespread and visceral dislike of Video Assistant Refereeing.

The use of video assistance has been dreadful these past few weeks. Maybe Bobo wouldn’t have skied his spot-kick had he not been forced to wait minutes for referee Shaun Evans to confirm a decision he had already confidently made.

It robbed us of a glorious winner from Dylan Pierias in Western United’s 0-0 draw with Adelaide on Friday, then had no role to play when Jonathan Barreiro chalked off Rudy Gestede’s perfectly good goal in Melbourne Victory’s 1-1 draw with the Mariners yesterday.

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The clubs who say they want VAR would do well to start listening to their fans, because it’s precisely by ignoring them that the A-League has been brought to its knees.

And the fair-weather fans who only show up for derbies had better wise up as well.

The A-League is what we make of it, so why not make every game a big game on a much more regular basis?