Five things we learned from A-League Round 22

A long-awaited Socceroos selection, club crisis and potential grand final preview capped off what was yet another eventful split round of A-League action both on and off the pitch.

Lowe George Arnold

(Left to right) Kenny Lowe, Leroy George and Graham Arnold Source: Getty Images

End of an era

The secret is out: Graham Arnold will take over as Socceroos coach once Bert van Marwijk’s tenure at the 2018 FIFA World Cup comes to a close.

Last Thursday’s announcement leaves defending A-League champions Sydney FC in search of a replacement primed to keep them at the top.

Arnold, who will see out the remainder of the season in a bid to establish an unprecedented back-to-back premiership-championship double, has taken the Sky Blues from mediocre to masterful in the space of four years.

And though their hopeful continental foray took a potentially fatal blow against Kashima Antlers last Wednesday, Arnold’s formula is one the club’s hierarchy are keen to follow.

"Whoever is selected must be somebody who fits with the culture and football philosophy we have at the club – and not somebody who wants to come in and change all of that," Sydney FC technical director Han Berger said.

While the club insist they will take their time in appointing Arnold's successor, all on-field attention will turn to Tuesday’s rematch with Kashima as Sydney look to avoid three straight defeats in all competitions for the first time since November 2013.

Practice makes perfect

In the midst of what's been one of the most difficult domestic seasons in A-League history, Newcastle Jets have remained a constant beacon of hope.

With crowds league-wide wounded, the Hunter faithful turned out for what many dubbed a grand final preview between the Jets and Sydney.

Despite Roy O’Donovan's dismissal less than a quarter of an hour into the contest, the 10-man Jets persevered and took the fight to the defending champions, before Andrew Nabbout's long-range winner sent the 18,156 in attendance into raptures.

While the fallout since the 2-1 result has seen Nabbout sign for J1 League side Urawa Red Diamonds and captain Nigel Boogaard suffer a potentially season-ending knee injury, coach Ernie Merrick believes the balance of power may have finally swung away from Sydney.

"I'd say the boys are pretty confident they can match it with anyone now," Merrick said.

"Whether we’ve played at home or away, we've played a brand of football that would always give us the option of delivering three points."

The Jets have split the three meetings against the Sky Blues this season with one win apiece, but have more than matched Arnold's men with their quick tempo and movement in transition, despite being understrength on each occasion.

Whether the two sides settle the score in the A-League's penultimate fixture remains to be seen, but the Jets - backed by their resurgent fans - know they've got what it takes.

Phoenix in a nutshell

Wellington Phoenix officially parted ways with coach Darije Kalezic midweek after yet another disappointing season.

The New Zealand club sit bottom of the league after 22 games, compounded by their 4-1 defeat against Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday.

Despite the result, the club - for the third time in the last five years - will leave Chris Greenacre as stand-in coach for the remainder of the regular season.

If this pattern wasn't alarming enough, this is the fifth time in the last six seasons the Phoenix have failed to make the finals.

After three consecutive seasons inside the top six between 2009-12 – including a preliminary final defeat in 2010 under Ricki Herbert – the Nix have since regressed beyond repair.

Ernie Merrick's fourth-placed finish with the club in the 2014-15 season is the only saving grace for a side consistently battling for the bottom.

Wellington's struggles stem back to 2016 after the FFA awarded the club with a 10-year license extension, including an immediate four-year deal and two incentivised three-year extensions.

Under the agreement, the club are to demonstrate improved broadcast rights from New Zealand, higher attendances and financial benefit to the A-League.

But after just two years on from said agreement, the club's average attendance has fallen from 8,042 in 2016 to just above 6,000 with three home games still to play in the current campaign.

The Australian public have long-slandered the Phoenix's involvement in the A-League, but - at the midway point of their existing deal - performance on the pitch has left serious concerns regarding whether their future, in the midst of forthcoming expansion, is indeed secure.

Show me the money

That’s what Melbourne Victory star Leroy George will be asking, and with five goals and 13 assists in the league thus far, can you blame him?

The Dutchman has set the A-League alight and remained a constant figure in every positive Victory foray since his debut back in Round 1.

But with George's one-year contract nearing its expiration, and the club's two marquee spots reportedly set for Besart Berisha and James Troisi next season, retaining his services may prove easier said than done.

"We will do everything within our powers to keep him here and I certainly want him at the club," Victory coach Kevin Muscat said.

The 30-year-old's exploits have also stemmed into continental territory against both Ulsan Hyundai and Kawasaki Frontale respectively, with the winger on hand for three goals and two assists and attracting a lot of attention from potential suitors in the process.

"I'm not surprised other clubs are interested," Muscat said.

"Leroy has been very good for us … all conversations with him and his management will remain private but we want him to be a part of the setup going forward."

Following George’s headed effort two minutes past the hour against Melbourne City, the telling goal in Victory's 2-1 win, he too remained tight-lipped on his future in a post-match interview.

Nevertheless, if Muscat's aforementioned comments are to anything to go by, we'll know of his star player's decision soon enough.

I've got a feeling

Seven points from Perth Glory’s past nine available have given their finals hopes new life – typified by their 3-1 win over Central Coast Mariners on Saturday night.

"We've had a hell of a disjointed year and a lot of guys haven't had much game time, but they can feel something happening and they want to make something happen," Perth coach Kenny Lowe said.

Lowe's comments come with his side just three points behind sixth-placed Adelaide United and slowly finding full strength as the likes of Diego Castro, Shane Lowry, Chris Harold and Adam Taggart make their respective returns to the matchday squad.

The success of Glory's late-season surge however will depend on upcoming fixtures against the Victory, Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets.

But despite this seemingly uphill battle for finals football, Lowe insists it can be done.

"We get a break for two weeks now and then we roll into three more home games and one away game," he said.

"Strange things can happen. The teams above us aren’t really on fire so we are getting a bit of momentum."

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7 min read
Published 12 March 2018 at 10:25am
By Jonathan Bernard