Five things we learned from A-League Round 16

Title twists, old habits and a legend’s regression headlined this past weekend’s round of A-League action.

Aloisi, Berisha, Okon

John Aloisi (L), Besart Berisha (C) and Paul Okon (R) Source: Getty Images, AAP

Is Bes no longer the best?

He may be a three-time A-League champion, and the greatest goalscorer in the history of the competition, but Besart Berisha is losing support.

After more than half a decade of dominance, the 32-year-old is beginning to miss the target with regularity, causing fans to re-evaluate their once unwavering faith.

Melbourne Victory’s thrilling 3-2 win over Perth Glory on Saturday night came down to the wire, but it didn’t have to.

Berisha, with over 100 A-League goals to his name, spurned several guilt-edged chances, alarmingly against a Glory side boasting the worst defence in the league.

With six goals in 14 appearances, the Kosovo international is on pace to record his worst seasonal tally since his two-goal total for German second division club Arminia Bielefeld back in 2011.

Victory’s lack of competition up front has led calls for head coach Kevin Muscat to invest in an additional striker this transfer window, and put pressure on his complacent star.

But while Muscat is yet to confirm whether the club will add a third January signing alongside Terry Antonis and Dino Djulbic, perhaps it’s only a matter of time until there’s a new man leading the line.

The title race is far from over

Sydney FC’s 0-0 draw with a youthful Adelaide United on Sunday night saw their lead at the top of the A-League table reduced to six points ahead of the Newcastle Jets.

Though the Sky Blues remain unbeaten through 10 league games, the dropped points will no doubt offer extra motivation to the rest of the competition.

With the defending champions set to face both Melbourne clubs in the next four weeks before the commencement of their Asian Champions League campaign, the race for the Premiers’ Plate may yet have one final twist.

Football Federation Australia have prioritised clubs competing on the continental stage this season, adding split rounds to ease fixture congestion and fatigue.

And while head coach Graham Arnold has previously insisted his side have “no fear” of what lies ahead, their infrequent games on the domestic front may be a hindrance come the end of the regular season.

(Un)welcome distractions

Brisbane Roar’s shambolic, injury-stricken season continued in expected fashion on Friday night as the Newcastle Jets held firm for a 1-0 win courtesy of Jason Hoffman’s deft finish early in the first half.

John Aloisi’s men have now lost their last three league matches to start the New Year and are yet to score a goal in that time.

But despite this dismal drought, Aloisi remains optimistic for what lies ahead, citing their upcoming Asian Champions League campaign as a “welcome distraction”.

"The players are looking forward to the Champions League," Aloisi said.

"We know it's a busy period in terms of games but players will play – the ones that have been out will get a chance to play.

"We've seen in the past with teams that have struggled to start well (in) the season, the Champions League comes at a good time and it gives them a boost, not only in the Champions League, but in the A-League."

While this remains to be seen for the Roar, one cannot imagine them performing any better on the continental stage, where the opposition often boast better talent and larger budgets.

And though they may be expected to see off either Shan United (Myanmar) or Ceres-Negros (Philippines) in a preliminary playoff next Tuesday, a date with Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian – who boast both Alexandre Pato and Axel Witsel – may be as far as they get.

Better call Paul

“That’s criminal! That’s criminal!”

Central Coast Mariners head coach Paul Okon was left incensed after Melbourne City’s Harrison Delbridge went flying in on Blake Powell midway through the first half.

With the Mariners 1-0 up courtesy of Alan Baro’s early header, the subsequent straight red card for the City defender should have been enough to propel the coastal club on to all three points.

Instead, they had to settle for one, as Warren Joyce’s men twice came back from behind to force a 2-2 draw, with marquee Marcin Budzinski finding the back of the net late in the second half.

Central Coast’s one-man advantage mattered little to the visitors, as Ross McCormack struck yet again to break Bruno Fornaroli’s record for the quickest player to score 13 goals (15 games) in A-League history.

Following a promising start to the campaign, Okon’s men are now winless in their last seven matches and are in serious danger of missing out on finals football for the fourth successive season, a result club hierarchy won’t tolerate much longer.

Old habits

"In the first half, Wellington was very deep and we had control of the ball, and we could have gone ahead at half-time 2-0."

Josep Gombau’s post-match comments gave Wanderers fans a sense of deja vu on Saturday night, after his side squandered a lead late to draw 1-1 with the Wellington Phoenix.

After Brendon Santalab’s first-half volley had Western Sydney cruising to a routine win, a lifeless second-half showing allowed the Nix back into the contest, capped off by a superb long-range strike from new signing Matija Ljujic.

The Wanderers have now dropped points from winning positions six times this season, raising serious concerns over the side’s overall fitness and intensity.

And despite the club’s safe status inside the top six – three points ahead of Perth with a game in hand – patchy performances such as these won’t go unpunished come finals time.

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5 min read
Published 15 January 2018 at 10:52am
By Jonathan Bernard