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Opinion

The A-League desperately needs to bridge the gap between its best games and its worst

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9th April, 2023
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There was a moment on Good Friday when, if you squinted hard enough, you could almost swear you were watching promotion-chasing Stockport County score at a heaving Edgeley Park.

The Hatters are having an excellent campaign back in League Two after an 11-year absence, and the last couple of games at their compact Edgeley Park home have been played in front of sell-out crowds.

But how much could the club from Greater Manchester have done with a genuine hometown hero up front? Adam Le Fondre was born in Stockport, came through the club’s academy, and kicked off his professional career in County colours.

But while the Hatters have drawn their last four home games – including a couple of scoreless stalemates – Le Fondre is half a world away trying to chase down Alex Brosque’s all-time goalscoring record for Sydney FC.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that on a good day, the A-League can more than hold its own against other well-run leagues around the world.

Then you watch Melbourne Victory play out a scoreless draw with Perth Glory on a rutted AAMI Park scarred by NRL markings and a backdrop of 25,000 empty seats, and you remember that just about every good game in the A-League this season has been book-ended by five forgettable ones.

Friday’s gripping 1-1 draw between second-placed Adelaide United and finals hopefuls Sydney FC was the A-League at its best.

It may not have been the most free-flowing encounter, but it was the fact that both teams had so much to play for in front of a capacity crowd at Coopers Stadium that made it a must-watch affair.

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Adelaide were in the box seat when the competition’s most influential player Craig Goodwin drilled home a Javi Lopez cross just after the half-time break – despite Jack Rodwell’s desperate efforts to clear the ball off the line.

It was no less than the Reds deserved after dominating proceedings up to that point, but they paid the price for failing to put the Sky Blues away when Le Fondre’s late strike took a deflection off Lachie Barr that saw it flash past Joe Gauci in the Adelaide goal.

And there was similar drama – and a reasonable attendance – in Saturday night’s clash between Macarthur and Western Sydney Wanderers in Campbelltown.

The Bulls thought they had nicked a crazy encounter when substitute Al Hassan Toure drilled home a skidding low strike in the first minute of stoppage time.

But with 11th-placed Macarthur desperate for a win that would move them within striking distance of the top six, in-form Socceroos attacker Brandon Borrello severely dented those ambitions when he steered home an unerring header – and his second goal of the night – with the last action of an enthralling 2-2 draw.

(Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

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It was another timely reminder, on the back of Friday night’s clash, that the best A-League games remain those that involve a genuine fight for league position.

Yet there are only a handful of clubs – led by Adelaide United – who are pulling their weight when it comes to generating headlines and getting fans through the gates.

You’d hope a decent crowd turns out for today’s Easter Monday showdown between Melbourne City and Wellington Phoenix at an overused AAMI Park. But given the fact that City have failed to crack the 5000 mark in each of their last two home games – excluding Wednesday night’s surreal 69-minute Melbourne Derby replay – that seems unlikely.

And with only three rounds remaining before what looms as the most controversial finals series in A-League history, the Australian Professional Leagues would surely be wise to acknowledge the lingering fan anger around their cataclysmic decision to sell grand final hosting rights to Sydney.

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They need to find a way to bridge the gap between the A-League’s most entertaining games and its least appealing ones in the meantime.

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Because games like that thrilling Good Friday showdown in Adelaide should be the rule, not the exception.

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