Five things we learned from A-League elimination finals

A flawed format, thrilling finish and utter mismatch rounded off an intriguing elimination finals weekend of A-League football.

Arzani Berisha Aloisi

(Left to right) Daniel Arzani, Besart Berisha and John Aloisi Source: Getty Images / AAP

Rewarding mediocrity

With six out of 10 teams qualifying for the finals, the A-League is known for rewarding mediocrity and that was all too evident on Friday night. 

Melbourne City's 2-0 victory over Brisbane Roar was a compliment to the latter, with City boasting 60 per cent possession and spurning several chances to put the game beyond doubt before half-time. 

John Aloisi's men had everything go their way on the final day of the regular season, to qualify for the finals, but it mattered for nothing as his sixth-placed side struggled to keep pace with their opponents. 

Four shots, zero on target - that's all City goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis faced on the night, and it would have been less had the Roar's late-game revival not seen three chances surface inside nine minutes. 

The A-League finals system reaches towards the second half of the league ladder largely for the sake of a greater bottom line and prolonged interest in the competition and, if that shares any correlation with gate receipts and home viewers, the 7,757 in attendance at AAMI Park didn't get the memo. 

But, after watching the Roar lose 12 out of 27 games and enter the post-season with a negative goal difference, can you blame them? 

Expanding the finals series made sense when the A-League introduced Gold Coast and North Queensland, with an eye on a second Melbourne team, some nine years ago. 

But after taking two steps back and delaying expansion since, perhaps a format change should have followed. 

When it matters most

Besart Berisha has long been referred to as a figure unfazed by the big occasion and on Sunday night, he proved just why. 

After Nikola Mileusnic handed Adelaide United a vital advantage early in the second half, Leroy George's header sprung Melbourne Victory – and their supporters – back to life. 

The subsequent atmosphere only fuelled Berisha's cause and in the 89th minute, his moment finally came and boy did he deliver. 

A pressure-packed bicycle kick at the back post required a level of strength only the Kosovo international could muster, and seemed a fitting gift to the large section of supporters who have grown frustrated with his production this season. 

It was Berisha's eighth straight A-League finals game with a goal, and one he will no doubt savour long after his career comes to its conclusion. 

"I want to make sure I score the goals, especially in the tough moments like this," Berisha told Fox Sports

"This is why I play this game. If I get the chance to play a final, I do everything to win it."

And with a semi-final clash with defending champions Sydney FC next in line for Victory's apex predator, who's to say he won't come up clutch once again?  

The finishing touch

City secured a 2-0 victory over the Roar on Friday night but don't let the scoreline fool you, this one wasn't even close. 

Warren Joyce's men created numerous chances on the night – notably through Bruno Fornaroli and Daniel Arzani – but struggled to make them count. 

The Roar had major difficulty trying to defend in transition and perhaps on another night, would have been made to pay for it. 

It's these "small margins" City will need to rectify if they are to progress past Newcastle Jets in next week's semi-final, and coach Joyce is all too aware.

"With that much possession, you've got to score goals," Joyce said. 

"You've got to make opportunities from clear-cut chances so you can put the game to bed and be two or three up and make it a lot easier for yourself.” 

While it remains to be seen whether Joyce's men can meet this expectation, one thing remains clear: they won't have it that easy against the Jets. 

We meet again

After a rather disappointing regular season according to their high standards, the Victory are back within 90 minutes of an A-League grand final.

And while Sydney FC broke their hearts at the big dance last season, Victory's chance at revenge will instead come in the semi-final next Saturday. 

With the Premiers enjoying a week off in anticipation for the impending clash at Allianz Stadium, the Victory needed a last-gasp Besart Berisha bicycle kick to secure a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Adelaide United. 

"It was a battle, it was a fight,” coach Kevin Muscat said.

"We were up for that challenge and we knew it was coming. 

"The way we stuck at it right to the death, kept asking questions, is a really positive sign for the group."

Despite the triumph over Adelaide, Muscat's men will need to produce their most polished performance yet if they are to knock Sydney off their perch.  

And while the club are without a win against the Sky Blues since January 2016, Muscat's message could not have been any clearer: "we're ready". 

Bogey team blues?

Newcastle Jets members have purchased approximately 11,000 tickets ahead of next week's semi-final fixture at McDonald Jones Stadium, with the sale yet to extend to the general public. 

It leaves opponents Melbourne City set for one tricky away trip and the Hunter faithful poised to lift their side back into the A-League grand final for the first time since 2008. 

The Jets have had an incredible campaign under Ernie Merrick, finishing second behind back-to-back Premiers Sydney FC - rendering last season’s wooden spoon a distant memory. 

But, for all their success on the pitch this season, there was one team they failed to beat through all three attempts: Melbourne City. 

Joyce's men were victorious in two of their three meetings this season, the most recent being a resounding 3-0 win away on April 1. 

It leaves some doubts surrounding the Jets' chances leading into Friday's match, and would do well to test their determination to buck the trend.

Their 8-2 victory over Central Coast Mariners in the final round of the regular season would have gone some way to rebuilding lost confidence, but time will tell if it was only a brief reprieve.

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6 min read
Published 23 April 2018 at 10:25am
By Jonathan Bernard