Thursday 22 February 2018 / 07:34 AM

Brisbane Roar remain resolute

So used to breaking records in a positive way, the Brisbane Roar recently became the first Hyundai A-League side to follow up a title win with three straight losses to start the following season.

Though there are few signs of panic around the club at this stage, talk of a crisis, or at least a mini-crisis, cannot be ignored when the side has no points after three rounds.

Mike Mulvey’s side have a week off due to the Wanderers’ Champions League commitments, and whether that break has come at a good or bad time depends on your point of view.

It either allows the manager to work on deficiencies and perfect the balance of his starting XI, or it gives everyone involved with the time to stew on their poor start to the season and perhaps for a little alarm to set in.

The early-season problems at the Roar are real, but at the same time, such is the confidence and self-belief surrounding a club that has won three championships in four seasons, there is certainly still time for the issues to be overcome.

Brisbane are dearly missing the departed striker Besart Berisha and, just as importantly, right-back/winger Ivan Franjic.

The famously fluid passing game of the Roar always looks good, but sometimes you just need someone in the box who can throw himself at the ball and hustle it over the line. Berisha’s replacement, Mensur Kurtishi, may eventually prove adept at that role, but he has thus far simply been an able-looking, but not lethal striker. Berisha’s immediate success at the Victory highlights what an effective poacher he is.

Franjic, meanwhile, was critical for the perfect balance the side enjoyed last season. Firstly because of his tactical nous, and secondly because of his flexibility; he was just as competent at right wing or right-back.

His natural sense of when to advance and when to retreat helped the entire team to retain its formation. Mulvey’s preferred option at right-back this season, James Donachie, is a natural centre-back, and still only learning the role. He has been hesitant to get forward as much as Franjic did, and has been caught out of position defensively on several occasions as well.

The injured Michael Theo is also sorely missed. His backup, Jamie Young, fine shot-stopper though he is, has already been exposed for his tendency to wander off his line.

The three-game suspension for Matt McKay also diminished the team’s energy and skill in midfield.

Elsewhere, some of the heroes of the last campaign have not yet hit their straps in 2014-15. Neither Luke Brattan nor Thomas Broich have produced their best on a consistent basis yet, though the signs are there that if the rest of the team lifts, they are still capable of being match-winners.

Both Mulvey and his senior players continue to insist there is nothing to worry about. The reason for this, they say, is that the club is about more than individuals.

So deeply ingrained is the style of play, they maintain, that a shuffling of personnel only causes the most minor of blips in the side’s progress.

Shane Stefanutto expressed as much following Brisbane’s second-round loss to Perth.

“Looking at our squad, I think it’s as strong as it has ever been,” he said.

“And we have never relied on individuals and we can’t rely on individuals because we know in the A-League, every season since I’ve been here, there are players that have come and gone.

“And that will continue to happen because of the A-League’s salary cap.

“I’ve always been a big believer, and I’m very proud of the fact that as a club we’ve got a system and a structure that we stick to year in, year out.

“And you talk to the players, and that system is what makes individuals successful, and that’s what will continue to make individuals successful.

“So when we’re pulling in the same direction, when we’re believing in our system and our structure, then the rest takes care of itself.”

Stefanutto’s opinions contain a large element of truth.

The Roar are still a well-drilled unit who have dominated possession in each of the three games they have played this season.

In such a tightly contested A-League, however, the differences between the best team and the worst are minimal.

So far, all those little elements have conspired in a way that has left Brisbane with three losses on the trot.

They won’t remain in the nether regions of the table for the whole season, but whether they are still better than the other heavy hitters in the league, who have all improved since last time, is the burning question.

Roar fans will likely forgive Mulvey if the side does not win back-to-back titles in 2014-15, especially if a degree of success in Asia is achieved.

They will undoubtedly want to see an improvement on current form, though. Even the most understanding of supporters don’t want to watch their side getting beaten every week.

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Dan Colasimone

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