A-League 1,000: The Shuffle Edition

1,000 words, thoughts and musings on the coming weekend’s A-League action.

Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Adelaide United, Friday – AAMI Park
Late drama in Adelaide saw the Reds home in the week leading up to the game that everyone, it seems, got a contract extension (except for you Nigel, you must got to Newcastle). Whereas Melbourne City featured in an unsurprising game which only saw five shots on target for City and Perth combined. How Melbourne’s light blues go on a relatively quick back-up after playing in hot weather on Sunday could prove critical.
Big game for: Josep Gomabu’s defensive formation. Does he opt for three at the back (which he switched to after falling behind to the Wanderers last weekend) from the start and pour on the pressure early?
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The home side forming combinations. Kew Jaliens and Josh Kennedy are no doubt good signings but Sunday had the look of a pre-season game about it. However it’s February and the finals are in May.

Newcastle Jets v Central Coast Mariners, Saturday – Hunter Stadium
The Mariners played better on Saturday than the result against Sydney FC suggests, as has been widely mentioned, but how will Phil Moss keep up the enthusiasm within the side? Playing a derby against a fierce local rival is a good start. Facing a Jets side who seem to be providing drama every week, this game could truly cut adrift a Central Coast side who are six points back from sixth if they don’t get a win, so it really is the period of the season that the new Mariners stars like Anthony Caceres need to elevate their play.
Big game for: The replacements for Ben Kantarovski and Andrew Hoole. Both players are missing due to suspension, and both have been two of the better performed Jets recently. Rookie Allan Welsh and Serbian recruit Enver Alivodic look set to feature but, like the above match preview, combinations with new players can’t be expected to gel immediately.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The Mariners moving for a significant signing…Joel Griffiths signing for the yellow and navy late on Friday and netting a 95th minute winner would have been ironic. But it now won’t happen as the 35 year-old looks is bound for Wellington. The Mariners now lack an in-form ‘out and out’ front-man and given Griffiths business interests (the 35 year-old acquired a Newcastle-based Aussie Home Loans franchise in late 2014) his A-League career would have logically be best continued close to Newcastle. The Coasties have missed a trick there.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC, Saturday – Pirtek Stadium
Mathew Spiranovic missing for the Wanderers is a blow but will be useful for Tony Popovic to balance his side’s ACL commitments after their dramatic late win over Kashima Antlers where they elected to rest players, such as veteran goalkeeper Ante Covic and fellow international Nikita Rukavytsya. It they win it’s a masterstroke, but it’s concerning the defending champions didn’t see fit to treat their opening group game with the proper respect given the A-League is a virtual ‘lost cause.’ Sydney FC prefer to play away from home it seems in season 2014/15 so Shane Smeltz, Marc Janko and co. will take their goal scoring talents to Parramatta in form.
Big game for: Sydney’s rear-guard. At the polar opposite to their attack, Sydney really need to shore up their backline. We have lauded the addition of Mickael Tavares and Jacques Faty but as part of a collective Sydney need to look to improve at the back, especially if they are to challenge for silverware.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: “Fireworks”, or a lack thereof. I know it’s a derby and your emotions are high, and it’s ‘your way’ of supporting your team, but memo to Wanderers fans – don’t light flares. They obscure play for people sitting behind you and they are dangerous. End of.

Perth Glory v Brisbane Roar, Saturday – nib Stadium
Plenty of action but only a point for Perth in Melbourne, meanwhile Brisbane were made to pay for their ineffectiveness in the final third in the ACL on the Gold Coast on Wednesday. Perth striker Andy Keogh got some comedy police sirens in his direction from the cheeky home fans in Melbourne last weekend but he is back in familiar surrounds this weekend and will look to redeem himself after recent off-field misdemeanours.
Big game for: Jerome Polenz and Jean Carlos Solorzano. This pair are the unlucky duo for Brisbane who miss out on ACL action because of allowances for foreign players from clubs to play in the competition. Expect both of them to have a point to prove here, and in coming weeks.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A rare game played in the west played at a reasonable time. Due to their lack of ‘star’ power and time difference, Perth often get lumped with the early timeslots for matches played in normally hot conditions so it’s nice to have the Glory playing at a reasonable time locally .

Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix, Sunday – AAMI Park
After an unexpected break between games, Melbourne face a Wellington side who peppered the Jets goal late at the Hutt Rec but despite managing an equaliser probably didn’t get due reward for their domination. With Griffiths to join the New Zealand franchise it might be a prod for the Wellington front-men to finish their chances when they get them as the Jets championship player could feature on the bench this weekend. Melbourne face the prospect of entering the run-in for the finals without Adrian Leijer who looks bound for the Chinese Superleague, which will be of concern to Victory fans as it leaves a big hole experience wise in their rear-guard. However the return of Matthieu Delpierre does negate the loss of the 28 year-old somewhat.
Big game for: Archie Thompson. Would anyone count against the Socceroos veteran scoring the winner in his 200th game?
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Less fouls in a Nix game. We always hear about player welfare when it comes to heat but what about injury? Fouls are a consistent pattern for Wellington to deal with recently – the Phoenix have now had 70 fouls on them (28 coming from the Jets) in the last three games combined. If certain news outlets are going to push the barrow that Wellington are dragging down the competition they need to look at their opponents, who aren’t allowing them to play the game. Flowing attractive football has an impact on fans wanting to watch their games live and, by extension, neutral fans wanting to watch their games on tv.

The betting bit one serious one not
Adelaide to win @ $2.50 on TAB with no Damien Duff and the afore-mentioned new additions still to gel the Reds are to advantage here in Melbourne and should get all three points into a red card somewhere this round, especially given there are two derbies.
Profit: 34.70 units (based on ten unit investment) and we have steadied the ship
Record: 10/18 Sydney…just.

A-League 1,000: The Falling Over Edition

1,000 words, thoughts and musings on the coming weekend’s A-League action.

Brisbane Roar v Melbourne Victory, Friday – Suncorp Stadium (ED: This fixture has now been postponed due to the impact on Cyclone Marcia in Queensland)
The champions face off against what many believe are the champions in waiting. Weighed down by only 46% of possession and suffering the ‘ghost foul’ penalty in the 73rd minute Melbourne dominated the game but Kevin Muscat will be disappointed when they hit the lead for a second time and couldn’t hold on in Sydney. Brisbane enter a challenging period with this fixture starting a trio of games in eight days which include hosting Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan in the Asian Champions League before travelling to face Perth. Frans Thijssen faces Asian opponents as a head coach for the first time after a string of assistant and youth team roles in the Middle East so he will rely a lot on the knowledge of Michael Theo and Thomas Broich in the coming period but he will hope James Donachie continues he rise in helping to hold out Besart Berisha on Friday night.

Big game for: Andrija, after slotting a penalty away from home Roar fans will be looking for more goal action from their Serbian recruit who is already well on his way to fulfilling the ‘replacement Berisha’ tag from Mensur Kurtishi (who?)

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Victims of horrendous refereeing in recent week Victory coach Muscat has gone ‘full siege mentality’ but can his side keep it up all the way to May?

Sydney FC v Central Coast Mariners, Saturday – Allianz Stadium
After their ACL playoff defeat on Tuesday to Chinese side Guangzhou R&F the Mariners can turn their focus to the A-League. Phil Moss implored playmaker Anthony Caceres to carry his ‘quality’ performance in that match into the A-League and maybe it’s time for Moss to surround Caceres with more of the youngsters to see what the club can build with in the future. Sydney meanwhile will be pleased in the manner of their comeback(s) against Melbourne Victory but Graham Arnold will be cognisant that conceding three goals against top A-League sides won’t normally result in a positive outcome so it’s back to defence as a key this week.

Big game for: Fabio Ferreira. The former Adelaide winger is a great addition for the Mariners but will need to continue to get more help from his teammates, some of whom just weren’t at the races Tuesday night. The 25 year-old might battle it out with Jerome Polenz, now of Brisbane, and the two Senegalese players (Jacques Faty and Mikael Tavares) Sydney added for the ‘buy of the mid-season break’ category if he can help lift the Mariners to a finals berth.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seb Ryall not diving (just because there was contact doesn’t mean it’s not a dive.) Sydney has three games coming up in a row against NSW opposition, including a game in Parramatta against the Wanderers, so the A-League’s new panto villain has a few weeks of fan berating (more so than usual) which will come about from his antics in the #bigblue.

Adelaide United v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium
A wobble at home for Adelaide against a side they normally beat doesn’t spell disaster but it’s a mark of this how far this team has travelled in recent years that a point at home against a likely finals opponent is failure. After a recent breakthrough triumph for the domestic season the Wanderers should have made it two from two against the hapless Jets but it wasn’t to be. Popovic will be looking towards their Asian Champions League group H opener in Ibraki against Kashima Antlers so the next round of Wanderers merry-go-round is upon Western Sydney fans.

Big game for: Nikita Rukavytsya, With Tony Popovic shifting the flyer to his non-preferred right side to start the fixture last weekend it will be interesting to see where the 27 year-old is deployed. The Reds rampant wingers could tear apart someone not confident in their role and if Rukavytsya is worrying more about defending then he is wasted.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing who Adelaide replace Nigel Boogard with. Yes his departure isn’t until the end of the season but after exhausting their foreign visa quota what creative ways does Josep Gombau have to add more Spanish influence to his side. I suggest any South Australian NPL players that have attended the Running of Bulls should get in touch. Maybe they have a DVD of themselves evading one of the creatures on the streets of Pamplona. #goodfootwork… I’ve been to Spain twice does one more trip give me residency?

Wellington Phoenix v Newcastle Jets, Sunday – Hutt Rec
Ernie Merrick came in off the long run earlier in the week to lament the persistent fouling his side had been the victim off in recent weeks in the A-League. Speaking to Radio Sport’s ‘The Sauce’ program Merrick described one tackle on Roy Krishna as ‘horrendous.’ The former Victory mentor has seen his side kicked off the park in the last fortnight with Western Sydney Wanderers (20) and Melbourne’s light blues (22) racking up the fouls at an extraordinarily high percentage when they each played the outfit from the New Zealand capital. Newcastle might not have ‘turned the corner’ but the hardy set of fans did have something to cheer about on the weekend. One astute football fan e-mailed me to say he thought Taylor Regan was a double win for the Jets given the sacking of Kew Jaliens as he was “giving more commitment to the shirt as he is a Dudley junior and played previous senior football with Highfields Azzurri.” The email continued. ”(Owner Nathan) Tinkler wins both ways….cheaper option…with more tenacity for the club.” Whilst the local boy doing well for his hometown club is often overplayed in professional sport the erstwhile e-mailer, who has experience coaching players like Jason Hoffman in the youth ranks of Newcastle competitions, makes a salient point about value of players in the A-League. An imported centre-back on the same pay as a local winger has more expectation as they are (a) taking up one of the limited visa spots, and (b) come with the lustre of a ‘foreigner’ ergo the myth they must be a better player. We can’t judge Regan’s impact on a handful of games but there are good signs.

Big game for: Defying the stats, in recent weeks the Phoenix have had large swatches of possession and quality balls into the area but have come up with only one point from a possible nine and only two goals. Time to put some chances away for Krishna and Nathan Burns.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: More vigour from Newcastle, with their recruits gaining match fitness and the prospect of a first away trip with the ‘new’ team the Jets should play with positive intent early. They just have no reason not to.

Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Perth Glory, Sunday – AAMI Park
Perth picked up one point but also two court appearances after their trip to Adelaide and the club fined both players to the maximum level allowed under FFA regulations (although the fine was suspended in the case of Josh Risdon) making it an expensive night out in the City of Churches, particularly for Risdon’s co-conspirator Andy Keogh. Coach Kenny Lowe has them available again and what better way to show them there are no consequences in terms of playing then allowing them to rack up a cricket score against Melbourne City and then have a free night in the Victorian capital. What could possibly go wrong? Seriously for Perth, they do continue to impress and four points from two back-to-back away games would be a good result.
Looking at the home side they produced a high 18.9% of their passes as long balls in Wellington but their ‘hit and hope’ philosophy failed to reap rewards. One can understand the reasoning for it give most balls were probably directed at Josh Kennedy, a not entirely un-sensible option given they won 60% of aerial contests, but at what point does plan B come into play?

Big game for: Jack Clisby, he left Perth to join the east coast side and according to some it was due to football style reasons. That may be true but the above statistics (and the ladder) tend to prove the folly of this theory somewhat.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Perth finding comfort in Melbourne, some boffin has scheduled Perth with two games in Melbourne in the next three weeks but they have to play a home game in between. Not smart scheduling but at least they get the chance to find the best city bars. Suggestions on a postcard.

The betting bit one serious one not
Sydney convincingly beat the Mariners already this season and should do so again. Short but a collect it should be $1.67 @ TAB into maybe some fake money thrown at Phil Moss by Sydney FC fans?
Profit: 28 units (based on ten unit investment) and falling in a screaming heap after the break.
Record: 9/17 Wellington ugh…shoot…someone score! Please

Cricket Wars: A 2005 Summer Sporting Epic

@hamishneal

Before blogs and the occasional paid gig I put down my sporting thoughts in emails to friends. Here was me delighting in a week of Aussie defeats in the early part of the 2005 northern hemisphere summer.

—–
This summer sees the release of Cricket Wars, the battle between good and evil which will determine the fate of the universe. Starring Mohammad Ashraful, Graeme Smith, and Jedi Knight Kevin Pietersen this epic thriller will continue to excite until it’s final episode.
See below for full movie screenplay and episode previews…

EPISODE ONE – RAMPAGE AT THE ROSE BOWL
Having recently arrived to conquer the northern part of the galaxy the empire planned to commence it’s attack from the new home of the Jabba the Warne. In the ensuing battle Jedi Knights Trescothick and Lewis were masterful in their use of their weaponry. The evil empire are unable to quell the rebel uprising and are dispatched in a battle lasting less then three hours.
Full screenplay:
http://live.cricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/2005/AUS_IN_ENG/SCORECARDS/AUS_ENG_TWENTY-20-I_13JUN2005.html

EPISODE TWO- SLAUGHTER AT SOMERSET
Running scared the empire has retreated to the deserted planet of Somerset, unbeknownst though to the empire an alliance had been formed between the rebels and two of their formerly sworn enemies – the Lankas and the Saffers- this battle saw many casualties with the combined forces coming out on top to defeat the empire. It was the empire’s second losing battle in three days.
Full screenplay:
http://live.cricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/2005/AUS_IN_ENG/SCORECARDS/AUS_SOMERSET_15JUN2005.html

EPISODE THREE- CAPTURE AT CARDIFF
The empire, having retreated to the territory of Wales (which they believed to be neutral and easily ruled) were ambushed by the new power in the universe, the Banglas. Using the power of the force the Banglas, lead by Master Ashraful and Han Bashar, destroyed the empires forces in a battle which universe experts thought would be won in quick time by the empire.
Full screenplay:
http://live.cricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/2005/OD_TOURNEYS/NWS/SCORECARDS/AUS_BDESH_NWS_ODI2_18JUN2005.html

EPISODE FOUR- BOMBARDMENT AT BRISTOL
With the empire now retreating across the Severn section of the galaxy the Jedi Knights Collingwood, Flintoff and Harmison have raced to the province of Bristol to launch their own attack. Lead by Jedi Master Pietersen, who rained down many runs on evil empire apprentice Gillespie, the Empire was helpless to resist and was once again defeated. The empire has now lost four battles in the space of one week.
Full screenplay:
http://live.cricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/2005/OD_TOURNEYS/NWS/SCORECARDS/AUS_ENG_NWS_ODI3_19JUN2005.html

What will happen in episode five to the evil empire and their emperor Lord Ponting?

Phil Gould: Take the rule book away from NRL coaches #rugbyleague

@hamishneal

Penrith Panthers General Manager Phil Gould has implored the National Rugby League to spend more time analysing the impact of rule changes as ‘one change can have an impact on seven or eight scenarios’ within a game and raised the prospects of making referees solely responsible for rule changes. The call comes as NRL clubs grapple with yet another tranche of law changes ahead of the start of the 2015 season.
The rugby league icon, in a revealing interview on Sky Sports Radio, re-stated his feeling that club coaches should not be involved in any form of rules committee when speaking on Big Sports Breakfast Weekend noting how such committees have impacted rules over the course of his elite-level rugby league career.
Acknowledging that he was involved with the interim committee which was established to decide the rules to be utilised when the ARL and Australian Super League competitions merged in 1998 Gould (then coach of Sydney City) stated his feelings that coaches “should never ever get their hands on the rulebook.”
The issue of coach involvement has been prominent in the NRL off-season with Trent Robinson, Roosters coach, and Brisbane mentor Wayne Bennett getting the jump on the 14 other club coaches regarding key changes such as amendments to the tackle protocols due to the fact they occupy a club spot on the NRL Rules Committee.
“Every time (subsequent to 1998) we had meetings as coaches and coaches were asked for their interpretations on the rules I said ‘well this is wrong, we as coaches should not have an influence on the rules’ and I don’t like the fact that current day coaches are able to influence the way interpretations are made” Gould commented.
“Obviously they (coaches) can be consulted, but I think we change the rules and interpretations far too often. You’ve got to spend a lot more time analysing the effect of a rule change on other aspects of the game and we have seen it all too often they will change an interpretation but didn’t realise it applied to another seven or eight scenarios.”
The impact of this results in officialdom saying ‘well that’s not what we meant, we only meant it for this one’ according to Gould. “You can’t say that to a referee because they take that all the way.”
The one-time Canterbury coach afforded a possible simple solution about further rule developments, make it the sole responsibility of referees
“When a referee looks at a rule book or a player or a coach looks at a rule book they are looking at the same rulebook but they look at it from different sides.
“That’s where the interpretations are different. I think that we’ve got to give it to the referees and allow them to have the rule book. I think if you actually spoke to the referees and allowed them to do it their way things would be a lot simpler than what the coaches are trying to do and it would be a lot easier for the fans to understand.
Gould said rules need to be analysed in a more efficient fashion and expressed his frustration at what seems to be a never-ending cycle related to rule changes.

“At the start of the season they always throw a heap of different rules and interpretations at the referees, they’ve got to re-read the rule book and there will be all sorts of addendums to that.”
“We got a lot of this at the start of the year, a lot of penalties as they try to find a mid-point with the interpretations and we will get that for the first four or five weeks, everyone will throw their hands in the air and say it’s too much.”
Gould noted the change in the rules flow during the season occurs just before the highest-rating games
“It will eventually settle down around Origin time because we don’t want a lot of penalties in Origin and we want to let the game flow… It’s the same thing every year a lot of penalties at the start of the year, no penalties at the back end of the year and we are back were we started.”
In addition to the comments on rules the Origin-winning coach conceded his current club Penrith could be ‘underdone’ entering the 2015 season. Due to a large amount of off-season surgeries Gould noted the return to training had been staggered for many of Ivan Cleary’s side.
“We had a lot of players with major surgeries”
“It’s been a difficult season for the players and coaches because there has been a lot of rehab, a lot of fellas that have had controlled training programs.
“There is a risk we will go into the season with them a little bit underdone, but if we can keep them healthy I think the further the competition goes the better we will get.”
Speaking about their NRL trial in Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island Gould noted both sides started with their top players as the game went to halftime at 4-4 before both sides spent time “running some extra (fringe) players on” during the second stanza.
The Warriors ran out 18-4 winners however, with some enthusiasm, Gould noted “Bryce Cartwright, Elijah Taylor and Peter Wallace all had their first hit-outs…it was nice to get them through a half hour of football.”
Discussing the weekend’s NRL All-Stars feature Gould stated he was of the view the match could best be located later in the season but stressed the fixture had a place in the rugby league top-flight calendar.
“From our experience Matt Moylan and Tyrone Peachey were extremely excited to be in that game.”
Gould continued, “I guess from a club perspective it’s the timing of it whether or not the pre-season is the time to be playing that game and whether or not it might be better in the post-season or around grand final time… but I think it has a place in our game.”

*I work on a casual basis for Sky Sports Radio, including on Big Sports Breakfast Weekend.

A-League 1,000: The Home Again Edition

1,000 words, thoughts and musings on the coming weekend’s A-League action with the competition back in full swing.

Central Coast Mariners v Brisbane Roar, Friday – Sauce Bottle Stadium
Some of the gloss of the Mariners’ comeback win over Adelaide has come off with the loss of forward Mitchell Duke to the J-League this week but it was a positive day for the Coasties as Adelaide imploded on Saturday. 17 year-old Anthony Kalik entered the A-League for the first time, as did Liam Rose, with Kalik in a buoyant mood after a good recent run in the Youth League. Given the international recruits that haven’t come up to scratch in recent years for Phil Moss’ side it was a valuable lesson that whilst marquees might bring fans the nucleus of a good A-League side, for a club with the budget of the Mariners, will be built on a solid local core of players with a sprinkling of overseas players in the identified positions that will form their bedrock. Sadly for them, they meet a Brisbane side that contains the A-League’s most successful import in Thomas Broich. After a fright in Newcastle, where Brisbane not only got out of jail, they probably also stole the gate-takings (probably about $320 judging by the crowd figure), the Roar will be looking to maintain their 100% start to part two of this season.
Big game for: Kalik. Off the bench or starting week-in week-out, the former AIS player must produce consistently when called upon. The Mariners unexpected squad departures four months into the season have elevated his expected game times and contribution.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The starting line-up the Mariners rolls out. With an Asian Champions League qualifier against Guangzhou R&F, third in the Chinese Super League last year, at home on Tuesday evening Phil Moss has somewhat of a juggling act given he will want to reward the players who gave the side a crucial home win last weekend but will have an eye on their Chinese opponents who are still three weeks away from starting their domestic league.

Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whales Ships, Saturday – Hutt Rec
The intimate surroundings of the Brendan Foot Kia Hutt Rec in Lower Hutt host the #melbderby losers as Ernie Merrick’s side look to recover from the loss, and stifling conditions, in Penrith on Sunday. The extra day of recovery may assist Melbourne but it’s again hard to get enthused about a side who have trouble penetrating their opponents penalty area when they come up against top six sides. A case in point was last weekend, when despite having 14 attempts on goal just three of those were inside Victory’s area. As Mark Bosnich stated on Fox Sports’ ‘Shootout’ program “Wellington will play worse (in games) and win this season” and 67 % possession in the second half of this game will surely result in at least two goals against a porous defence.
Big game for: Wellington’s leaders. In danger of slipping to three straight defeats the influential spine of Glen Moss, Andrew Durante, Michael McGlinchey/ Roly Bonevacia and Nathan Burns need to produce a solid effort here. All internationals, Bonevacia at youth level for Holland, come up against a side that’s last away win was on December 30 against Newcastle in a game which foresaw the start of the Jets recent on-field troubles.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: More A-League goodness for the second week running in one of my previous home towns. Penrith to Lower Hutt. When is the next game in Canberra?

Newcastle Jets v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday – Hunter Stadium
Having lost when a point looked assured, Newcastle could fall apart here as they faced a galvanized and rejuvenated Wanderers side who have remembered how to win. In a sign of the times for both clubs the Wanderers played poorly but won whereas Newcastle played their best match for some time but lost. Two baffling substitutions from Phil Stubbins late in the game saw both Allan Welsh and Le Kee-ji enter the fixture with the former edging Brisbane’s crucial goal into his own net. The need for the changes, particularly with regards to the Welsh move when defending a set piece, left many viewers baffled. In an attempt to get more match fitness into the duo, Stubbins sent Welsh and Lee to Youth team duty on Sunday, at least they helped the junior Jets get a win there. If Newcastle can improve their attack accuracy, 12 shots with five of them on goal against Brisbane, they will stand a reasonable chance.
Big game for: Wanderers’ discipline. If not for the display in the Wild West of Saturday night, Western Sydney’s poor discipline escaped a fair deal of scrutiny. The red and blacks recorded four yellow cards amongst the 20 fouls they chalked up in 90 minutes against Wellington. Yes it was a warm day and they willingly gave up possession to defend their lead during large swathes of the second half but that level of discipline is not a recipe for success. If it was a non-Australian side in the Asian Champions League we could call them cynical and say they are palying not in the spirit of the game. It should work both ways.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A big roll-up. The large travelling fans should help this figure but a second game with less than 7,499 fans would not be a great look at the Turton Road complex. Why 7,499… that was the lowest Asian Cup crowd in Newcastle when Oman beat Kuwait in a game with no quarter-final significance on a night the Socceroos played at the same time. #ntua #bringbackthegoldendays

Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory, Saturday – Allianz Stadium
It’s a star line-up for Saturday night and this match has ‘game of the month’ written all over it despite the absentees from the fixture. Two weeks ago it would be hard to split this pair but the fact Sydney have Jacques Faty and Nikolai Petkovic suspended works in Melbourne’s favour here. Against Perth, Sydney – despite finishing the game with nine players – still piled on three goals and having conceded twice in their last three games their defence is pretty solid. Whilst Sydney was re-stocking it’s team in the break, Melbourne was fine-tuning and despite missing Milligan to suspension and without key recruit Matthieu Delpierre, who remains sidelined due to injury, the Victory scored an easy Derby win.
Big game for: Mark Janko. Strikers who are imports should be netting at least once every two games in the A-League, and while Janko took his goals well, he could have had more in both Gosford and Perth in recent weeks and needs a big effort here.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The Victor. A loss for either side here isn’t a hammer blow, but it would go along way to helping to lock up a top four spot for Melbourne in particular who could go top even if temporarily.

Adelaide United v Perth Glory, Sunday- Beer Sauce Burger Stadium
In a rarity for this season, both sides enter this game having lost their last fixture. Adelaide was forced to shoot from range in Gosford with only three attempts, one leading to goal, out of eight coming from inside the area. Perth dominated possession against Sydney and had more shots on goal but still came up short. With Josep Gombau pushing the possession philosophy for Adelaide it’s interesting to note in recent weeks other sides are still making more attempts on goal. Adelaide could be fourth by the time the game comes around with Sydney possibly also snapping at their heals. A loss and it’s not panic time but how will the fans react if they home side fall here?
Big game for: Miguel Palanca. The new recruit entered the game for the Reds as a substitute against the Mariners and his combinations with new teammates will take time to develop but, as we have stated before, being an import comes with expectation.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The return of Ben Williams to the A-League, Perth are already smarting after Dino Djulbic was sent off last weekend and Canberran Williams returns to refereeing in the domestic league after a less than spectacular Asian Cup. What could possibly go wrong?

The betting bit one serious one not
Wellington have beaten their opponents in the capital already this season so why not make it at a second venue. Take the $2.00 here into some ‘In the Hutt’ (ala in the Hood) banners.
Profit: 38 units (based on ten unit investment)
Record: 9/16 Adelaide please…

A-League 1,000: The Emu Plains FC edition

1,000 words, thoughts and musings on the coming weekend’s A-League action with all sides in action.

Newcastle Jets v Brisbane Roar, Friday – Hunter Stadium
It has been a tiring week at A-League 1,000 HQ after writing a thousand lines of “I will not tip against a team with Thomas Broich and Michael Theo in it at home ever again.”
Meanwhile Jets owner Nathan Tinkler has had a tiring week trying to find fine print that isn’t there in his various contractual arrangements he is seemingly trying to delay in paying. A ramshackle Jets side will do well to beat Brisbane with any new additions who do happen to start still very much in the ‘getting to know you’ mode with their new teammates. In addition to the return of Broich and Theo, former Wanderer Jerome Polenz looks a handy pick-up for the Roar – to get a championship player at this time of year when your team is on the incline is very useful indeed.
Big game for: Every Jets player in the final year of their deal. The handful of players with secured deals should have little worry whomever takes future control of the Jets but those in the final year of their contract will be looking to impress Tinkler (or their prospective new boss.)
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A great fan movement by the proactive Jets Squadron will see supporters at the ground decked out in the championship ‘gold’ jerseys. A great concept and a free marketing idea for whoever takes over the licence – gold jerseys in 2015/16!

Central Coast Toffees v Adelaide United, Saturday – Sauce Bottle Stadium
After shipping five goals it’s not an ideal scenario to be facing a team who scored seven in their last encounter but that is the situation facing the Mariners at home on Saturday afternoon. Adelaide was quiet on the transfer front in the break but did extend Bruce Djite’s deal this week. Josep Gomabu’se side get back Eugene Galekovic between the posts and will have had plenty of time to analyse the Mariners heavy loss on video so are in the box seat – a rarity for Adelaide in recent years in away fixtures.
Big game for: Jacob Poscoliero. Amongst the Mariners players in recent times to extend their stay at the club (along with Nick Fitzgerald, Nick Montgomery, and Michael Neill) it has been far from a completely happy elevation to the A-League for the 24 year-old. Having been part of a consistent defence in recent games the last home match was one to forget for the ex-Blacktown City player.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A wacky Gombau move if Adelaide get a comfortable lead. After trolling Newcastle by substituting his goalkeeper in the second half to give third string John Hall a run against the Jets, I wonder if Gombau has spent part of the week thinking up ways to anger more teams. Maybe switching attackers and defenders in the last 15 minutes?

Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Saturday – The Melbourne Stadium we don’t like.
Damien Duff and Aaron Mooy are the only players stopping the light blues from being viewed as a Victorian Premier League side. Yes they won on the weekend but their opponent, the Wanderers, are a shadow of the side from 12 months ago (even five months ago) so it’s probably one of those wins we shouldn’t overreact about. Having coughed up a lead away from home one can be assume Kevin Muscat will have torn the strips off the training rooms at AAMI Park in an endeavour to refocus his side in advance of the Derby. One would think this game will be high-scoring match as third plays sixth, but the edge is to the original Melbourne A-League outfit having scored nine more goals this season.
Big game for: Mark Milligan. Searching for a rare double in 2015, the Melbourne skipper will be looking to push towards A-League title glory to go with his Asian Cup winners medal. He has had almost a whole week to sleep off any hangover. (Ed: Oops Milligan is still suspended, our bad – Thanks Jules. On the upside he must have had a great post-Asian Cup party)
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Goals. Always good to see some team cop a battering in a Derby, so here’s hoping (more of the same in the Merseyside Derby on the weekend too for that matter)

Perth Glory v Sydney FC, Saturday – nib Stadium
On the strength of the last fortnight of action, Sydney and Brisbane, appear to be the two sides who have benefitted the most from the A-League’s ‘summer break.’ With a further fortnight to acclimatise recruits Mickael Tavares and Jacques Faty, the pair face their first trip outside of New South Wales on the back of a solid debut with Perth looking to try to break down an impressive defence. With Mitch Nichols still likely absent for Perth the home side aren’t at full strength but would no doubt have benefitted from a long period at home. Terry Antonis is available again for the Sky Blues after Asian Cup duty.
Big game for: Andy Keogh and friends. After feasting on Melbourne Victory’s lazy defence, Perth’s attackers will want to keep up the form against a strong Sydney defensive unit. Perth have netted six times in three games so pose a serious threat for a Sydney outfit that hasn’t faced a top six side since Boxing Day when they were thumped by Adelaide 3-0.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Second game syndrome reaction. How will Faty and Tavares respond to a rampaging Perth attack on a night which will still be warm given the day time high is tipped to be 36 degrees Celsius.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Wellington Phoenix, Sunday – Penrith Park
The effort of Wellington’s Nathan Burns to feature (along with Matt McKay returning to skipper Brisbane) on Monday night within 48 hours of the Socceroo’s Asian Cup triumph was impressive, but didn’t bear fruit in terms of a win for the Phoenix. Staying in Australia ahead of the game at the foot of the Blue Mountains the ‘Nix will look to right the ship and kick further clear of fifth-placed Sydney who are currently six points behind Ernie Merrick’s team. A tough away double which the side would at least want a point out of.
Big game for: Tony Popovic. The Wanderers mentor has gotten his way with his mid-season clean out, seemingly shipping his unwanted players north to Newcastle and other points beyond.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Football in the west of the west. As a one-time Emu Plains junior, it’s a exciting prospect for the Wanderers to play a competitive game in Penrith. I just wonder as to why it has taken so long. Also I will be outraged if my old club doesn’t have junior players as mascots at the game.

The betting bit one serious one not
The obvious pick would be Brisbane in Newcastle but lets head south and go for another away side. Adelaide at $1.80 on TAB to win in Gosford with a bonus Gombau kung fu fly kick after Adelaide scores the winner.
Profit: 48 units (based on ten unit investment)
Record: 9/15 Still lamenting Brisbane’s win, can I blame the pitch?

Super Bowl 49: It was the Butler in the Stadium with the intercept #sb49 #nfl

The scene was Glendale, Arizona and the University of Phoenix Stadium with 26 seconds left in the 49th edition of the Super Bowl.
The defending champions Seattle, down 28-24 had a seemingly easy opportunity to score the game-winning touchdown. The Seahawks, with timeouts remaining had a second-and-goal at the New England one-yard line when 26 year-old quarterback Russell Wilson threw a slant-route pass in the direction of teammate Ricardo Lockette before it was snatched by the hitherto unknown rookie Malcolm Butler of New England.
Subsequent to the game Seattle head coach Pete Carroll accepted blame for not ordering a ‘run’ play which would have meant the Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch would have endeavoured to bustle over into the end-zone for the deciding score. Butler’s intercept meant the Patriots knelt on their remaining play, running out the clock to ensure a fourth Super Bowl title for star quarterback Tom Brady and Hall of Fame-bound coach Bill Belichick.
With no a dog in the fight as neither of our teams were contesting the match, but with a fair deal of animosity to both sides for varying reasons here is a brief e-mail exchange from the following day with New York Jets fan Alex Malyon and myself, a San Francisco 49ers supporter.

From Hamish:

Why is the blame on Seattle’s lose going to Carroll when Wilson could have called the audible and ran from that close? Am I missing something really simple?

In the same scenario I could almost guarantee Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and any other well-known throwing QB would call a run play with the same team around them no matter what the head coach called!

Am I missing something?!

#wilsonout

From Alex:

By the same token, imagine for a moment if Peyton Manning or someone like Tony Romo had thrown that pass – they would currently be being crucified for the career-defining mistake. Wilson clearly a darling of the media, and I literally have no idea why! Point taken that he could have audibled, but that doesn’t take into account that the play call was wrong on a couple of levels.

Firstly and most obviously, FFS you’ve GOT to RUN THE BALL in that situation!! You have a time out, so run the ball and call TO if it’s stuffed. There will be plenty of time to have two shots at the end zone if your RB – arguably the best one in professional football – doesn’t score. I worked these stats out last night – Lynch himself ran for 4.5 yards per carry on the day, not to mention 5.5 yards on 1st and goal from the 6 on the previous play, and, AND, the Seahawks as a team ran for an average of 5.5 yards per rushing yards on the day. Just run the ball! If there wasn’t the confusion after the fluke catch that made it first and goal they would have had TWO timeouts, but had to burn one.

Second, that particular passing play was a horrible call. If your heart is set on passing, why not run play action and get the D to bite on the obvious call (running Lynch)? Why not run a fake stretch run to one edge and then bootleg Wilson out to the other edge looking for a TE uncovered in the flat? Wilson is a pretty good runner and a big dude, what’s to say he couldn’t have boot-legged the ball into the end zone? Why not run a draw, make it look like you’re passing and then hand off to Lynch or run Wilson up the gut.

I tell you what though – I’m a little sick of the Tom Brady love in. Yes he led them back from 10 down (equal biggest comeback in Superbowl history), yes he did throw the TD pass that gave them the lead – technically, the ‘winning’ TD – but without that bad play call by Seattle and the equally good play by Butler, they would have lost. And probably should have lost.

Seattle – how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Packers style!

From: Hamish

On point one yes you run the ball and your stats are notable but… Mike and Mike on ESPN ran out a stat last night which was something along the lines of Lynch has only been successful in those goal line scenarios at a really low strike rate this season. Moreover the Seahawks as a team also cruelled it in similar scenarios this season on multiple occasions. It was something like 1/5 really low return rate.

Second point, your play is about the next best option, again the play they picked was actually not even the best passing play. But again can’t Wilson audible that pass play as well! If Romo makes that same play you are right he would be crucified for days, weeks if not months. First day back at training camp he is asked about it. I’m not sure Wilson will be in a few months time.