Finally A-League action returned after the pesky international break (hat tip to the national side for two professional performances). Plenty of thrills and spills over the weekend, so let’s get stuck in.
Here are your A-League Round 5 talking points.
In a league struggling for metrics, the Sydney Derby – the competition’s biggest rivalry by a country mile – always provides a much-needed sugar hit. As much as Marko Rudan tried to stoke the flames of perceived class warfare, there is genuine dislike between Sydney FC and Western Sydney that doesn’t actually need to be exaggerated.
Marcus Antonsson thought he’d opened the scoring in the latest edition with his first derby goal for his new side, only for the VAR to correctly assess the Swede was in an offside position. Before the video referee’s intervention Sky Blues fans might’ve been having flashbacks to last season’s 4-0 humiliation at the same venue.
A tense battle followed, with Brandon Borrello forced off the field with an injury after just 17 minutes, before ex-Sky Blue Zac Sapsford came back to haunt his former employers.
The atmosphere inside the ground as well as the TV pictures remind us that there is, indeed, still life left in the A-League. Of course this is a derby, but it’s the APL’s job to help foster these kinds of scenes at grounds across Australia and New Zealand.
The start to City’s 2023-24 campaign has been quite atypical, but not entirely unexpected. Well, perhaps few would’ve foreseen a 6-0 loss so early in the season, a defeat that was the final straw for the club, proving to be Rado Vidosic’s last match in charge.
But after losing so much quality in the off-season it was always going to be a challenge for City to keep up their success of recent times. Jamie Maclaren stayed in Victoria but the hugely promising trio of Marco Tilio, Aiden O’Neill and Jordan Bos, vital in City’s third straight premiership, all jetted off to new clubs in Europe.
Classy midfielders Richard van der Venne and Florin Berenguer also departed, as did goalkeeper Tom Glover. Vidosic’s recruitment simply didn’t go anywhere near replacing who he’d lost, though the acquisitions of Aziz Behich and Tolgay Arslan would’ve given supporters hope.
Competing in the Asian Champions League is never easy for an A-League club with their restraints compared to continental opponents, and the dual campaigns are certainly testing the depth of City.
I’ve written before about how after Australia’s capital city, there were better options for expansion on our own shores than a second team across the Tasman.
Nevertheless, Auckland’s expansion bid was ratified by the powers that be – and news this week that American billionaire Bill Foley has been handed the licence makes the decision more palatable.
I’m still far from bullish about the expansion club’s prospects – we’ve got enough problems with Macarthur and Western United as it is – but after seeing what Foley has done with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, Auckland are getting an owner who knows what winning looks like. The Knights progressed to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season, and in June claimed their first championship.
Even if Auckland aren’t able to replicate that kind of silverware in the early days, Foley’s deep pockets will ensure they field a competitive side – quite possibly bolstered by a genuine overseas marquee player or two. We’ll see how competent their off-field operations will be, as it’s vital the league doesn’t add another basket-case like the Bulls and Western United.
FA announces ‘National’ Second Tier
I think every football fan understands why the eight foundation NST clubs all come from Australia’s two most populous states: money. It’s what makes the world – and certainly the world of sport – turn. But can you really claim a competition is ‘national’, when it ignores four states and two territories?
Football Australia CEO James Johnson made it clear there’s scope to expand the second tier in the near future – let’s hope more clubs from outside NSW and Victoria can rustle up the necessary funds soon.
Champions off the mark
After a disastrous start to their championship defence with four straight losses, Mark Jackson’s Central Coast Mariners finally notched their first points of the campaign in a hard-fought F3 Derby, 3-1 over Newcastle. Jackson’s got a big job on his hands to keep this depleted Mariners outfit competitive in not just the league campaign, but also the AFC Cup.
They’ll stay in Gosford this week for Terengganu’s visit on Wednesday, before an important clash with Melbourne Victory on Sunday afternoon.
How much lower can Bulls go?
What a shame that so few fans turned out on Friday night for the tense arm-wrestle between Macarthur and Melbourne Victory. The Bulls side are playing good football, and should be even higher on the ladder after throwing away two points.
There’s simply not much further for the Bulls to sink, but I can’t see how the situation is going to improve, either.