Week 1 of the A-League finals series is in the books and while the season ended for Adelaide and Perth, we saw the Victory and the Roar move onto the next round of the finals. The weekend was high on drama as two cracking matches played out, punctuated with some great football, great goals, and refereeing controversies. It was a breathless weekend’s action and it’s only 4 days until the Roar and Wanderers fight it out for a spot in the Grand!
Melbourne Victory 2 Perth Glory 1
23,000 packed in Etihad Stadium on Friday to see the Glory put an almighty scare through the Victory. Despite coming into the match with scratchy form, most people, including yours truly, thought that the Victory would improve significantly for a home finals match. This did not prove to be the case as the Glory were extremely effective in implementing their game and stifling the Victory’s. They will still be wondering how they lost this match.
After an early goal from Ryo Nagai to put them ahead, the Glory had the better of the match and the chances. It seemed over in the 88th minute when Milligan gave away a penalty however, Shane Smeltz, one of the best strikers in the league, missed the chance that would have iced the match. This provided an opportunity for the Victory, and also for the referee, to change the outcome of the game. That they duly did through a dubious 90th minute penalty with Milligan going from villain to hero. Centre back Steve Pantelidis conceded the penalty and was also given a second yellow for his protests after the penalty was awarded. The Victory penalty has been talked about ad nauseam and I won’t go any further into it except to say that;
1) It was a horrible decision, from a referee who far too often seeks to make himself the centrepiece of matches. The standard of officiating this weekend, for both matches, did not befit the occasion. Speaking after the game, Socceroos captain Lucas Neill put it best when he said “every now and then you wish (A-League referees) would take an extra second or two to control themselves and … realise how much (a decision) influences the game”
2) In his career, Steve Pantelidis has time and time again put himself into a position that gives the referee the opportunity to penalise him through his poor technique and positioning. He also antagonises referees through constantly complaining which doesn’t help his case. This cost the Glory big time on Friday.
The red had a big influence on the remainder of the match as a tiring Glory were undone by the Victory’s trio of aces as Flores put Rojas away down the right to cross for Archie Thompson to net the winner in extra time.
The talking points after the match centred around referee Jared Gillet and his performance; with Glory owner Tony Sage suggesting that Gillet should never referee a match in Perth again for his own safety. Gillet, as some of you may recall, is the same referee who took charge of last year’s grand final between Perth and Brisbane and sent off the Glory’s Dean Heffernan before awarding a controversial late penalty which sent the title back to Brisbane. A horrible case of déjà vu for Glory fans (1). I would just suggest that he never referees again. Full stop. The FFA cannot possibly justify using him again.
As bad as he was, ultimately Gillet did not decide this match with the 90th minute penalty decision. The truth is that when you dominate a match like the Glory did; you have to put it away. At the risk of dropping a cheesy Clint Eastwood line – Deserve has got nothin’ to do with it (2). The Glory had multiple chances to do so and did not take them. They left themselves open to be sucker punched and ultimately were. The Victory lives to fight another day but cannot really take a lot into the match away at the Mariners next Sunday. They were dominated for long stretches at home and one suspects that the Mariners will not be so forgiving. That being said, Postecoglou is starting to develop a Fergie like aura with all of these late game heroics and his record is now 7 wins from 7 in the finals so it’s not a foregone conclusion just yet.?
Adelaide United 1 Brisbane Roar 2
This match was never as close as what the score line suggests. The Roar looked a cut above an Adelaide side that came in struggling for form and that continued into the clash at Hindmarsh Stadium.
Certainly to my eye, and this was backed up by coach Mike Mulvey and Mark Bosnich after the match, the first 45 minutes was the best and most dominant that the Roar have been this season. At their prime during the 2 championship seasons, the Roar were unbeatable (I mean, they did have 36 game unbeaten streak!). It was the triumph of a system and, crucially, all of the players had such unshakable faith in the system. It was this faith which meant that even though the Roar were denied five, six, seven, eight times during a match they would always get there in the end. Sunday was the first day that I saw that since Postecoglou left. The first half was outstanding and they had Adelaide chasing shadows for most of the first half as Brattan, Nichols and Broich threaded passes and linked play. The movement from all players was exceptional and the man on the ball always had several options. The pressure without the ball was also fantastic with Berisha leading from the front and Brattan showing an impressive ability to read the play, cutting off multiple attacks as Adelaide attempted to transition into attack. The Reds did not really threaten although Carrusca missed a glaring opportunity to put them 1-0 up. The Roar handled them fairly easily for the most part and this meant that Brisbane went in at the half with somewhere in the region of 65% of the possession and a comfortable 2-0 lead. The Roar sat back a little further in the second and absorbed the inevitable Adelaide onslaught but in truth, they did not create much. I was really impressed with the Roar centre backs Jade North and Jack Donachie. They both handled the physicality of Adelaide’s big striker Bruce Djite and were positionally excellent. Another real feature of both was their passing out of the back which was accurate and incisive, particularly when they looked to release the fullbacks. In the second half this really helped to stifle Adelaide’s forward momentum. The Roar looked the more threatening of the two teams in the second half and Ben Halloran and Stef Nijland were guilty of missing multiple chances to seal the game on the counterattack as the Reds committed men forward. Dario Vidosic scored a cracking goal to set up a grandstand finish in the 90th minute and I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous for the last five minutes (3)!
The real issue coming out of the game was the injuries for the Roar. Thomas Broich took a bad cork to Achilles and Luke Brattan, who was probably Brisbane’s best on the day, was lucky to escape with only a bruised knee from an absolutely disgraceful tackle from Tomi Juric. Both look likely to take their place on Friday. Jack Hingert’s season has sadly ended the same way as last season, with an ankle injury. One thing that I haven’t seen people talking about yet is the impact that the Hingert injury will have on the revitalised attacking structure of the team. As mentioned in the Week 1 preview column, one of the catalysts for the Roars late season charge was the move of Ivan Franjic into a more forward role. This figures to have to change as Franjic is pushed back to cover for the injury to Hingert. More on this in Fridays preview column but I would love to see Mulvey explore the option of finding someone else to fill Hingert’s spot and preserve Franjic’s forward role, but looking at the squad it doesn’t seem that there is anyone suitable to be thrown into the Cauldron that will greet the Roar at Parramatta Stadium.
For Adelaide, it was a disappointing end to a disappointing season. It started really well for the Reds but ultimately it seems that the boardroom issues have really cost the club and this seems to be backed up by captain Eugene Galekovic’s refreshingly frank statements post match. They will need to address issues defensively but appear to have little flexibility to make moves will all but three roster spots finalised for next season. It’s not all doom and gloom as they have several great players led by Dario Vidosic and Eugene Galekovic. Sorting out the issues at the top and the next managerial appointment will be crucial. Mike Valkanis does not figure to be the right man for the job following a dismal spell as caretaker manager that only delivered 2 wins in 11 matches.
All in all, it was a dramatic weekend in the A-League. There are certainly a lot of storylines coming out of the matches including how the Victory rediscover their mojo, the Roar injuries, how the Wanderers cope with the pressure of their first finals match and whether perennial bridesmaid Mariners can make their fourth grand final. Lets hope that the great football continues!
 Did someone from Perth sleep with his wife or something?
 From the movie Unforgiven, great movie:
 Summed up perfectly by Kent Brockman: