And just like that, that’s a wrap on the regular season. Six teams are out of contention for silverware, while the other six will fight it out for the toilet seat over the next few weeks.
Here are your A-League Round 26 talking points.
Knowing that it would take an unlikely Wanderers win in Melbourne for Western Sydney to have a say on second place, it was basically a shootout for that all-important top-two finish at Coopers Stadium between Central Coast and Adelaide.
It wasn’t much of a contest in the end, with Nick Montgomery’s side blowing the Reds away on their home patch to earn a rest next week. Defence has been the issue all season long for Adelaide, who conceded 46 goals for the campaign, and Friday night certainly was no exception.
Now having to play in week 1 of the finals, Carl Veart doesn’t have too much time on the training park to fix his leaky backline before Wellington come to the City of Churches. The Nix have stumbled into the playoffs and it should be an easy path into the two-legged semi-finals for Adelaide, as I can’t see Ufuk Talay’s men putting up much resistance.
But it seems that to get past their next opponent United will need to score three or four goals just to remain in the contest.
At AAMI Park Wanderers’ loss to the premiers basically set the first Sydney Derby clash in the finals in stone. There are plenty of storylines for this one, and all eyes will be on what’s hopefully a sold-out CommBank Stadium on Saturday evening.
But let’s give credit where it’s due: Marko Rudan has taken one of the league’s biggest clubs from a laughing stock to a championship contender in 16 months’ time. It wasn’t a simple task, and involved instilling a culture of discipline and pride in the jersey – something that managers like Carl Robinson and Josep Gombau failed tremendously at.
As cringe as some of the “favela” comments regarding Marcelo were, and some of the more bizarre pressers he gave, Rudan’s proved his words weren’t just talk but in fact the foundation for the success of a club that had been on the outside of the top six looking in for way too long.
Of course, Brandon Borrello’s sensational return to form definitely hasn’t hurt, and the acquisitions of Sydney rejects Milos Ninkovic and Calem Nieuewenof have proven to be very valuable.
A lot can happen between now and Grand Final day, and make no mistake – he’ll be assessed on that, too.
Time will tell how long Marko lasts in the top job at Wanderland, as he’s overstayed his welcome at both other A-League managerial roles he’s held in relatively short periods, but for now I’ve got nothing but praise for the former centre-half.
As the curtain draws on six sides’ campaigns, those in charge have a long off-season ahead of them. Do you sack the coach? Release a string of players in the hope you’ll be able to adequately replace them?
In Perth’s case, you’ve got a young manager who’s overachieved with a pretty poor squad. Do you back him? Is it simply a matter of improving the playing squad, and then returning to the promised land? Front office administration is a tough job at the best of times, let alone when you’re reeling from a season that’s left you out in the cold.
If you’re Western United, and your response to a miserable finals-less campaign 12 months removed from a championship is to re-sign John Aloisi, how much rope does the Socceroos penalty shootout hero get?
Melbourne Victory, the biggest club in the land, have plenty very serious questions of their own to answer. Does Tony Popovic survive, and how about the squad? I’m not sure that’s a roster that can be overhauled in one winter, although if there’s one man in the A-League who could get it done, it’s Poppa.
Each bottom-six club will have some variation of these decisions to make as they seek a return to contention in 2023-24. If your team is one of these, what are you expecting from the off-season?
I wrote last week about how the heat needs to be turned up on Jets boss Arthur Papas. I mentioned how I’m not advocating for him to lose his job necessarily, simply that he needs to be accountable for his side’s results. He’s got a mortgage and bills to pay just like everyone else. I’m not one to call for anyone’s head unless it’s truly justified.
In Danny Townsend’s case, his cowardly self-exile from the public sphere is the last straw.
The monumentally awful call to award the next three A-League Men and A-League Women Grand Finals to Sydney has aged like milk. It was so disastrous that the face of the APL has been cowering under his desk for months.
Enough is enough, Danny. Your callous pursuit of the almighty dollar has sunk this league to the extent that it’ll be years before diehards regain faith in the administration. Have some dignity and fall on your sword before it gets really ugly.