The Week Down Under: A-League Week One
Melbourne Victory 1-2 Melbourne Heart
Despite only having been in the league for two seasons, Melbourne Heart have had the edge over the Victory in that time, losing only once to their illustrious rivals. That trend continued in the first game of the new season on Friday night, with John Aloisi picking up a 2-1 win in his first game in charge.
It was a cracking start to the season, thanks to some shambolic defending from both sides that led to a plethora of chances. David Williams scored first but could easily have had a hat-trick on the night, and while Archie Thompson did well to set Marco Rojas up for the leveller, he was also guilty of missing his fair share, including a great chance to level the game again in the final minute. It was fitting that the winner came from the best player on the pitch, Dylan McAllister.
It is of course far too early to judge Ange Postecoglu’s new team, but there are signs that it will take time for him to implement the sort of style his Brisbane Roar team was famous for in Melbourne, mainly because there just aren’t as many players with the touch and skill required to make it work at the moment. Still, they crated enough and Marcos Flores was predictably dangerous, but the gaping holes in defence that the Heart penetrated constantly will be a major source of concern.
Wellington Phoenix 2-0 Sydney FC
Travelling to the Cake Tin in Wellington is arguably the hardest away trip in the league, and so it proved for Sydney FC and their star import. With all the hype around Del Piero, not many people outside Wellington were mentioning Stein Huysegems, a fairly renowned player in Belgium, and he proved to be the difference, scoring the first goal just before the half-time whistle and generally causing havoc whenever he touched the ball. The Nix would also have been encouraged by the performance of Solomon Islander Ben Totori, who displayed electric pace and was unlucky not to score when he hit the crossbar.
Despite the loss, there were still some flashes of class from Del Piero, and it was only some uncharacteristically wayward finishing that stopped him from scoring. He did drift out of the game at times due to a lack of support, and that will be concerning for the Sky Blues. Not a great start, but the games should get easier from here on in.
Western Sydney Wanderers 0-0 Central Coast Mariners
The Western Sydney Wanderers played their first ever A-League game at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night, and would have been encouraged by their performance in a game they dominated, although a draw was still a fair result. The biggest plus for the hosts was the 30 minute cameo by Shinji Ono, who was instantly a class above anyone else on the pitch. Scoring goals will be a problem for the Wanderers though, as Mark Bridge and Labinot Haliti proved by wasting decent chances, a trait they are both renowned for.
The Mariners wouldn’t have got much out of this game, as it was a dour performance without any real highlights or glaring flaws. Ultimately, the main outcome of the night was confirmation that the Wanderers will be competitive in the league, although it would be optimistic to expect a finals appearance at this stage.
The Heskey Show
Newcastle Jets 0-2 Adelaide United
All eyes were on Emile Heskey in Newcastle, as the last of the “big three” imports got his chance to show his calibre. It was a forgettable performance, with the hosts perpetuating plenty of stereotypes by lumping the ball up in his general direction constantly. The writing was on the wall when Adelaide took the lead with their first attack of the game through Dario Vidosic. Heskey was eventually replaced with about 20 minutes to go, and Newcastle immediately looked more threatening as they no longer felt obliged to play route one football and actually discovered that they are quite capable with the ball at their feet. They were, however, down to ten men after goalkeeper Mark Birighitti was unfortunate to get sent off for handling the ball (off his chest) outside the box, and Adelaide eventually killed the game off with a counter at the death.
It would be harsh to write Heskey off so soon, especially as he has only been in the country for a few days, but Newcastle should learn from this performance and focus more on playing decent football, which they are perfectly capable of. Adelaide meanwhile will be delighted, with the performance of new signing Jeronimo Neumann especially encouraging. They passed the ball around superbly and are showing signs of being a tough team to beat already.
Perth Glory 1-0 Brisbane Roar
All the talk before this game in Perth was about revenge, as the Glory looked to get one over their conquerors in last year’s grand final. The hero/villain (depending on whom you support) of that occasion, Besart Berisha, was the target of much disdain from the home fans, who even went through the trouble of hiring a plane to fly the message “For diving lessons, call 1-300-Brisbane” over the stadium. Hilarious.
This was an excellent game with plenty of chances being created, and Berisha did his best to wind up the hosts even more with a theatric tumble outside the box in the first half before putting in some sneaky nudges at a corner. Despite all the chances, it seemed as though the game would end goalless, before Ian Ferguson made an inspired substitution, replacing Shane Smeltz with Billy Mehmet. The substitute duly headed in a cross with minutes left to send the home fans absolutely mental, as flares were set off at Patersons Stadium. The Roar could still have silenced them as they went up the pitch straight from kick off and fashioned a chance, but Ben Halloran’s shot came off the crossbar, leaving the home fans jubilant.