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The Roar



A-League finals talking points: Bitter ending for Wanderers, Ninko's trip to Sydney sheds, Cove boycott a success

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7th May, 2023

The elimination finals are over and done with, and it’s the end of the line for Wellington Phoenix and Western Sydney Wanderers. There’s quite a bit to discuss, so let’s get into it.

Here are your A-League finals talking points.

Wanderers crash out after timid performance on the big stage

I’ve written plenty about Western Sydney’s return to relevance this season. Qualifying for the finals for the first time since 2017 was a huge step and gave the fans results and performances they could be proud of.

Unfortunately for those supporters, however, Marko Rudan’s side folded like a $5 tent from Anaconda in their biggest game of the season. Wanderers got themselves ahead late in the first half thanks to Morgan Schneiderlin’s penalty, but found it difficult to create chances from open play for most of the night.

When the two sides came out for the second half, Western Sydney looked flat and timid. Sydney, on the other hand, got their press right, piling even more pressure on their cross-town rivals. Once Robert Mak capitalised on Adama Traore’s dreadful attempt at a clearance, there seemed to be an air of inevitability about the Sky Blues’ comeback, and just 11 minutes later Marcelo was inexplicably beaten to a header by the significantly shorter Adam Le Fondre.

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

This one will hurt for a while, there’s no doubt about that. The first-ever meeting between the sides in the finals. Sydney ostensibly in crisis with the axe constantly hanging over Steve Corica’s head, and a badly ageing squad that only sealed their finals spot in the final week of the season. The “bang average” quote.


Ultimately, it’s been a season of progression, and Rudan deserves the credit for reviving the culture at the club. I wouldn’t exactly call his methods conventional – some are quite preposterous, in fact – but they were effective enough to lift Wanderers back into the top four.

The next challenge? To get the job done when everything is on the line. Let’s see if they can rise to the occasion next season.

Can Mariners stop Goodwin and Irankunda show?

As far as I’m concerned, anyone giving Sydney a chance against the premiers over two legs is smoking some pretty whacky stuff, but the Central Coast-Adelaide tie is looming as a very exciting and close affair. The Mariners are a very good side, disciplined under Nick Montgomery and every chance of appearing in their first Grand Final in a decade.

In front of a shameful crowd at Coopers Stadium on Friday night, Craig Goodwin and Nestory Irankunda put an unconvincing Nix side to the sword, eliminating Wellington from contention. Despite a clean sheet, the Reds are, of course, still quite suspect defensively but with how effective their free-flowing style can be it may not matter.

If the Reds’ weapons can continue to find ways to get themselves on the scoresheet, Nick Montgomery’s men are going to have a very difficult time of it. Let’s just hope, for Adelaide’s sake, that the fans who managed to sell out Coopers in the regular season turn out for their team.


What is Ninkovic doing in the Sydney sheds?

Now on to the strangest storyline of the weekend: Milos Ninkovic’s utterly bizarre sojurn in the Sydney FC dressing room. By now you’ve undoubtedly seen the footage of the former Sky Blues hero awkwardly shaking hands with some ex-teammates before something happens off-camera and Ninko is forcibly removed.

Here’s my question: how often does any player, let alone one who left the club in such acrimonious circumstances as the Serbian did, head into the opposition dressing room five minutes after full-time to “wish the team well”?

Whether Rudan’s claim that Corica had some less than pleasant words for Ninkovic is true or not, I just can’t understand what the attacking midfielder was trying to achieve. If Corica is the one hidden from view when the real action goes down that would give credence to Rudan’s theory, and perhaps it’s as simple as Milos looking for a scrap – verbal or otherwise – and knowing his former manager would be more than up for it.

But regardless, it’s moronic and unbecoming behaviour from one of the most talented players to ever grace the A-League.

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Cove boycott already bearing fruit


A tip of the cap to The Cove, who stuck to their guns and went through with their planned boycott over the APL’s soulless pursuit of the almighty dollar, as well as the administration’s failure to meet fan consultation targets. It’s every fan’s prerogative to boycott, just as it is to conversely refuse to participate, which is why I won’t pass judgement on the RBB’s decision to attend the Sydney Derby.

But for anyone thinking the boycott is meaningless, have a look at the timing of various clubs announcing the introduction of new fan engagement groups.

Sure, the APL’s bottom line still got a nice boost from the 27,288-strong crowd at CommBank Stadium, but what’s left of the football media in this country were asking all the right questions of players and coaches this week, creating enough fear in the plush offices of the APL that they rushed a few tweets and Facebook posts to at least create the illusion they’ve got any appetite to engage with the fans.

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