Five things we learned from A-League Round 26

Expansion dilemmas, supporter walkouts and one problematic coaching vacancy rounded out what was yet another entertaining weekend of A-League football.

Mulvey Riera Burns

(Left to right) Mike Mulvey, Oriel Riera and Nathan Burns Source: Getty Images / AAP

Two steps forward, one step back

There's real cause for concern across the Tasman, with Wellington Phoenix's current license set to expire the same year the A-League welcomes its two newest teams into the competition. 

After deliberation initially allowed the Phoenix an incentivised 10-year license extension in 2016, their two conditional three-year deals are in grave danger after back-to-back seasons of deteriorating crowds and sub-par performances, heightened by their late 2-1 defeat to Melbourne Victory on Sunday. 

The Nix's potential exit during the FFA's set 2020 expansion phase would decrease the league from 12 to 11 teams and raise hopes of a third entrant into the competition, with several clubs and projects currently in the midst of sending through their expressions of interest. 

Whether or not the Phoenix offer any real help to the game's growth in Australia has become a serious talking point for both fans and pundits alike, particularly when expansion talks intensify and the A-League remains without a capital club. 

With all these uncertainties in the air, it's no wonder the club's co-owner Gareth Morgan admitted things "don't look great" in a recent interview with Newstalk ZB

And if that's the kind of confidence the club's suits have publicly carried out, then it won't be long until the FFA bid farewell to yet another failed foray across the ditch. 

We sing for Wanderers

While the Red and Black Bloc took it upon themselves to boycott the rest of the A-League season, the Wanderers stepped up to produce their most impressive performance yet. 

With the club's renowned active support group citing "increasing restrictions" and "measures taken by various managements" for their latest walkout, 9,266 loyal fans turned out in full support as a Oriol Riera brace and Christopher Ikonomidis header helped Western Sydney to a much needed 3-0 win over Brisbane Roar. 

The RBB's decision to prioritise their own agendas ahead of the team's even caught coach Josep Gombau by surprise. 

"It's a new situation for me," Gombau said.

"We need to be united as a team and we also need all the help from the supporters."

Despite a horror-run of results, including just one win from their previous six matches, the Wanderers shrugged off the pressure in impressive fashion and reiterated Gombau's newfound desire for cohesiveness. 

With the win, Western Sydney have now moved back up to sixth spot, one point ahead of both the Roar and Perth Glory, and have finals football solely in their hands with one game remaining against Adelaide United. 

And as fans return to ANZ Stadium to see off the regular season next week, they will do so once again united under a common cause, the only cause: the team.  

Hold on - is help on its way?

If there were any positives from Central Coast Mariners' 1-0 loss to Melbourne City on Saturday night, it's that their season is almost over. 

After coach Paul Okon cut ties following several disagreements with the board, the Mariners are set for their second-worst league finish in club history. 

And while his plan to blend youth and possession-based football failed to deliver during almost two full seasons at the helm, his reported replacement - Mike Mulvey - may find circumstances just as deterring. 

With Mulvey a proven head coach in the league, winning the 2013-14 championship with the Roar and developing a number of notable players in Gold Coast United's youth team, his appointment would seemingly give the coastal club the best chance to succeed. 

However, with Okon's departure reportedly due to disagreements over control and squad management, Mulvey’s strong-minded manner may not be met with open arms from owner Mike Charlesworth. 

Modern football's tendency to have head coaches share managerial responsibilities with club directors has not sat well with some of the game's more traditional characters and - should the Mariners maintain the same approach with their next appointment - Mulvey too may look the other way. 

All out of gas

After three straight defeats, it seems the Newcastle Jets' best days are behind them. 

Perth Glory's rather routine 2-0 win away to the Jets on Friday was the latest blip on what's been a breakout season for the Hunter club. 

While the Glory were playing to keep their finals hopes alive, now just one point behind the sixth-placed Wanderers, they exposed some glaring issues within Ernie Merrick's team, and the Scotsman is all too aware. 

"We won't be playing in a grand final if we're going to play like that, and the sooner the boys get that message the better," Merrick said. 

Merrick will attempt to communicate this message more effectively next week against the Mariners, with the 65-year-old promising "a couple of new players" to take the field for the final game of the regular season. 

And whether the Jets can recover from their late-season slip remains to be seen but as it stands, they'll be lucky to put up a fight once their home semi-final rolls around. 

Target achieved

Sydney FC have made A-League history once again by becoming the first side to achieve at least 60 points in back-to-back campaigns. 

The Sky Blues reached the milestone total after Matt Simon's finish, in the shadows of half-time, and Bobo's second-half double secured a resounding 3-0 win at Allianz Stadium. 

Graham Arnold's men have returned to their clinical best in recent weeks, with a resurrected AFC Champions League campaign central to their resumed domestic dominance. 

With the Premiers' Plate already in their grasp, Friday's match at home to Melbourne Victory will be a matter of pride for the defending champions, before their attention turns to a penultimate ACL group game against Shanghai Shenhua and their A-League semi-final. 

And with Arnold opting to postpone every player's contract negotiations until after the grand final, it's safe to say Sydney's eyes are set firmly on the prize.

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