Five things we learned from A-League Round 18

Frightening frontlines, transfer talk and an unwelcome farewell highlighted what was a significant round of A-League football.

Milligan Bobo McCormack

(Left to right) Mark Milligan, Bobo and Ross McCormack Source: Getty Images

The ‘Fab Four’ lives on

The arrival of Egypt international Mohamed Salah alongside Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho this season led to many sections of the media labelling them the ‘Fab Four’, in reference to the region’s iconic band, The Beatles.

And while Coutinho’s £142 million (A$244 million) move to Barcelona earlier this month hindered the Merseyside club’s astounding attack, it seems the A-League’s iteration are ready to adopt the title for themselves.

Sydney FC’s attacking quartet – featuring Bobo, Alex Brosque, Milos Ninkovic and Adrian Mierzejewski – have been unstoppable this season, and their 3-1 win over Melbourne Victory on Friday night was the latest example.

The formidable front four have accounted for almost 80% of the Sky Blues’ 42 goals this season, with Brazilian striker Bobo averaging a goal a game, and Polish international Mierzejewski boasting eight goals and seven assists from 15 appearances.

"The front four, I believe, is probably the greatest front line in A-League history," Graham Arnold said after the game.

“We know we can score goals and damage teams with our quality."

Arnold’s men, as a result of their Big Blue triumph at AAMI Park, now lead the league by a comfortable nine points with nine games remaining – a gap their ‘Fab Four’ will almost undoubtedly look to add to.

Second time lucky

Socceroos and Melbourne Victory midfielder Mark Milligan has signed for Saudi Pro League club Al-Ahli in a deal worth $1 million.

After initially rejecting a bid worth $375,000 last week, the Victory hierarchy accepted a revised offer, just days before the end of the transfer window.

Despite coach Kevin Muscat’s best attempts to squash rumours of Milligan’s exit in the lead-up to his side’s 3-1 loss to champions Sydney, the invaluable 32-year-old will now depart the club for the second time in just three years.

UAE club Baniyas previously paid $1 million for Milligan’s services back in the 2015-16 season, after he won the premiership-championship double with the Victory and the AFC Asian Cup with Australia.

The defensive midfielder has played north of 90 games for Muscat's side in total and will now hope to maintain his first-team stature ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in June.

Time’s up

Ross McCormack’s time with Melbourne City came to an abrupt end on Thursday night, after his injury replacement loan deal from parent club Aston Villa reached its expiration.

The Scotland international, who scored 14 goals in 17 games this season, came off the bench as City played out an entertaining 2-2 draw with second-placed Newcastle Jets.

Coach Warren Joyce is eager to regain the 31-year-old’s services in the near future, admitting both clubs are currently in negotiations.

"There are conversations between the two clubs and they need to speak to Ross as well … then we’ll know what’s happening," Joyce said.

Though Villa manager Steve Bruce is unlikely to rely on McCormack for the remainder of the campaign, agreeing to an additional deal with City may prove difficult given the A-League's salary cap restrictions.

Leeds United meanwhile are reportedly pondering an offer for the striker, in a move that would see McCormack return to the club he once captained on the way to winning the Championship golden boot back in 2014.

With their star man removed from the squad, and Bruno Fornaroli still weeks away from a return, City’s A-League campaign now hangs in a rather uncomfortable position.

Tears of joy

If you thought Brisbane Roar's A-League season would peel off from finals contention, much like the jerseys in their ill-fated AFC Champions League match midweek, you were wrong. 

John Aloisi’s men managed to bounce back with a 2-1 win over the Central Coast Mariners on Saturday, and though the three points placed them inside the top six for just the second time this season, they still almost paid the price. 

With a few minutes remaining in the contest, Wout Brama was awarded a red card from the VAR after his horrible studs-up stamp across the shin of Corey Gameiro left the Roar forward in tears. 

"I have no shame to say that I was in tears on the pitch after it happened," Gameiro said on Instagram. 

"Purely because I was scared that I was going to be hurt again. I was terrified that something bad had happened."

Had the injury been a serious one, Gameiro, who has previously suffered three knee reconstructions, would have been the icing on the cake in what has been an injury-plagued campaign for the three-time A-League champions.

Nevertheless, with Gameiro nursing a bruise and Brama facing disciplinary uncertainty, Brisbane’s dismal season may have turned the corner. 

The magic word

To no one's surprise, the VAR played a rather telling role in Perth Glory’s 3-1 win over the Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday night. 

While the technology arguably made the correct decision in sending Keanu Baccus off for a foul inside the box six minutes into the contest, the same could not be said for its next intervention, or lack thereof. 

Liam Reddy, facing Oriol Riera one-on-one inside the box, escaped a sliding challenge with just a yellow card – a decision that left fans incensed, and with reason. 

With the Glory playing on with the extra man advantage, further goals to Diego Castro and Andy Keogh were enough to hand the Wanderers their second straight loss. 

But it is the inconsistency with which the VAR operates that continues to frustrate all fans and pundits. It is a blight on the beautiful game that just won’t go away.

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6 min read
Published 29 January 2018 at 9:30am
By Jonathan Bernard