Five things we learned from A-League Round 14

Mid-season mind games, newfound form and youthful injections capped off another telling round of A-League action.

Merrick, Gombau, Arzani

Ernie Merrick (L), Josep Gombau (C) and Daniel Arzani Source: AAP, Getty Images

Does Ernie have Arnie’s number?

If you thought Sydney FC had the Premiership-Championship double wrapped up for a second consecutive season, think again.

Despite Daniel Georgievski’s return, the Newcastle Jets were without captain Nigel Boogaard, Ivan Vujica, Ben Kantarovski, and new signings Patricio Rodriguez and Riley McGree for the top of the table encounter.

But, to Ernie Merrick’s credit, it didn’t matter; as the under-strength Jets hustled and harried the hosts in an entertaining 2-2 draw in front of 18,055 supporters.

While Bobo’s 87th-minute header, his 14th goal of the season, salvaged a point and saw Sydney set a new unbeaten home record (24 games), the match left the Newcastle faithful – and even Merrick himself – feeling very confident.

“We struggled the last 15 minutes but I’m really glad that the Sydney players wrote the score up on the whiteboard before the game,” Merrick said with a smile.

“They wrote up the score, two-all. I’ve been in there – that’s what the boys wrote up there.”

The Scot’s cheeky dig comes after Arnold revealed he had predicted Sydney FC’s 6-0 drubbing of Perth Glory last weekend, just weeks after “expecting” their 5-0 thumping of rivals Western Sydney Wanderers.

Though the Sydney faithful will still claim superiority – eight points clear, having already beaten their newfound foes earlier this season – the fact that Newcastle are yet to field a full-strength side since Round 3 will undoubtedly have the champions worried come finals time.

Oh, so that’s who we sing for

The Western Sydney Wanderers honoured their New Year’s transformation on Friday night, defeating Brisbane 2-0 at Suncorp Stadium.

Despite the Roar’s dominance, Josep Gombau’s men managed to make the most of their chances as both Oriol Riera and Mark Bridge found the back of the net for the second time this week.

Debuting a new 4-4-2 formation, with Brendon Santalab partnering Riera up front, the Wanderers conjured up a performance reminiscent of the Popovic era – relying on resolute defence to ensure all three points.

Though the system, a result of unavailable personnel, bares no resemblance to the possession-based philosophy Gombau had hoped to implement upon arrival, it worked.

And with back-to-back wins for the first time since March last year, a clean sheet and the club now sixth on the ladder with a game in hand on the rest of the competition, it seems their passionate fans finally have something to cheer about.

Sacked in the morning

Perth Glory were comprehensively beaten for the second consecutive week after collapsing 3-0 at home to Adelaide United on Friday night.

The Glory struggled to create chances throughout the contest against a United side missing three key players – goalkeeper Paul Izzo, fullback Ben Garuccio and striker George Blackwood – due to Olyroos duty.

Goals to Daniel Adlung, Nathan Konstandopoulos and a gift for Johan Absalonsen sealed all three points for the Reds, and lifted them up to fourth on the ladder as a result of what coach Marco Kurz labelled an “important”, “serious and controlled” performance.

Meanwhile for Glory coach Kenny Lowe, things are only getting worse, as “sacked in the morning” chants rung around nib Stadium in the shadows of full-time.

“Everybody has to look at themselves, me included,” Lowe said after the game. “We are all in it together, it’s not about individuals.”

While the 56-year-old’s comments may buy him time and alleviate some pressure, the fact that his side have conceded nine goals in two weeks and boast the league’s worst defence won’t please owner Tony Sage.

And regardless of the Englishman’s recent calls for his men to “grow some b****cks” and perform, he’ll be the first to go should these poor results continue.

Wales offers Central Coast a hand

Finally, after more than seven hours of football, the Central Coast Mariners have scored a goal.

Second-half substitutes Lachlan Wales and Blake Powell combined with what was their first touch since coming on, the former finding Powell unmarked inside the six-yard area for an easy tap-in.

The 20-year-old, promoted to the first-team due to the absence of Olyroo Daniel De Silva, made the most of his rare chance as Powell – the player who last scored a goal for the Mariners – found the back of the net yet again to share the spoils in a 1-1 draw in Geelong.

Debuts to new Victory signings Dino Djulbic and Terry Antonis mattered little in the end, as Kevin Muscat’s men failed to add to Besart Berisha’s opener despite creating a catalogue of clear-cut opportunities.

Nevertheless, Wales’ heroics will be a huge boost to the coastal club’s finals bid, after successfully repaying the faith head coach Paul Okon placed in him and ensuring his name remains on the team sheet in the coming weeks with regularity.

Great Scot!

Melbourne City’s dismal run of three straight defeats came to an end on Saturday night with a 2-1 come-from-behind win over the Wellington Phoenix.

The cashed-up club struggled in large parts against the league’s cellar-dwellers but had a resurgent Ross McCormack to thank after his second-half brace cancelled out Roy Krishna’s fortunate opener.

While the 5,207 City fans in attendance voiced their displeasure at the abhorrent style of football instilled by head coach Warren Joyce, Daniel Arzani’s introduction 10 minutes after the restart finally offered them something to cheer about.

In what was just his fourth appearance of the campaign, the 19-year-old dazzled the Nix defence with two assists as City moved back up to third with a much needed three points.

With McCormack’s tally now at 10 goals for the season, it appears his future might yet remain in Melbourne for a little while longer.

“I think the club might be talking to Aston Villa now about if I can stay for the season,” McCormack said after the game.

Though the Scotland international’s prolonged presence may be a welcomed one, it remains to be seen whether he can co-exist with injured star striker Bruno Fornaroli.

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6 min read
Published 7 January 2018 at 10:42am
By Jonathan Bernard