Five Metre Gap – Origin I 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed out of Origin I. Wednesday night’s game was an 11-10 triumph to the Mal Meninga-coached Queensland side.

Early in the second half both sides were woeful with one period seeing NSW fail to find touch from a penalty. In the ensuing set, when hard on attack, Queensland passed the ball over the touchline as Bronco Darius Boyd looked a good chance to cross the stripe.

This period should have bought more dominance for Queensland. As well as Will Chambers 55th minute try the visitors should really have gotten more from a period which say them have 14 sets to the Blues nine in the first quarter of the second stanza. Queensland finished with 22 sets in the half compared to 16 for NSW.

Despite numerous left-offs, when Queensland wasn’t able to find a try to make the result comfortable, NSW failed twice when having the chance to secure a late lead after inexplicably running away from the middle of the field late in a set making a field goal attempt a low percentage option before looking to Josh Dugan (who missed his attempt.) This was despite Trent Hodkinson, who has 11 field goals to his name in the last five seasons, looking to be in perfect position in the first raid for a field goal.

For all the talk of the NSW forwards muscling Queensland up the middle only two appeared in the top nine of metres gained. Aaron Woods (5th – 159 metres, 17 runs) with Ryan Hoffman (9th – 125 metres, 15 runs) were the only players to really make a dent in the ‘Maroon Wall.’ A further damning statistic was Josh Dugan was the only other Blues player to feature in the top nine with 193 metres from 17 runs.

Given the side which has won game one in the series has gone on to with 24 of 33 series and given Queensland are unlikely to squander as many chances on attack again it’s hard to see the shield staying in Sydney this year.

Hamilton to Doha: Qatar’s cut-throat footballing journey

@hamishneal

New Zealand in June of 2015 seems a world away from Qatar in December of 2022 but the Under 20s World Cup, which starts on Auckland’s North Shore on Saturday May 30, provides a window into the hopes of Qatar on the pitch as *host nation of the 2022 world footballing showpiece. Qatar faces this crucial period in their footballing history with little experience at the top end of international football, and starting with the 2015 youth showpiece, we are going to look at how the tiny former British outpost could perform on the pitch in the coming few years.

The 24-team Under 20s tournament represents the first of three major competitive steps for the Qataris to prove themselves to a wider footballing public and build a team capable or making it out of the group at their home World Cup – the generally accepted minimum standard for any host to deem the football component of hosting a World Cup a ‘success’.

Before a large chunk of the players hoping to embark on their 2018 World Cup qualifying, which doubles as 2019 Asian Cup qualifying, commence the senior campaign the winners of last year’s AFC Under 19 title hope to show their worth in the home of the All Whites.

Featuring in Group C (based in Hamilton) along with Colombia, Portugal, and Senegal, the Felix Sanchez-coached Qataris need to start building the blocks for their senior team, who face the prospect of no meaningful tournament football after 2019 when their requirement to qualify for the World Cup ceases. This leaves the New Zealand event and, potentially, both the 2018 World Cup plus the 2019 Asian Cup, as their last meaningful hit-outs before they play host to the world in 2022.

Qatar qualified for the tournament in the land of the long white cloud by edging North Korea 1-0 to win the most recent AFC Under 19 tournament. The event also saw Uzbekistan and Myanmar qualify from the AFC after making the semi-finals (for those Australia readers, no your team is not in the tournament, this is thanks to a group stage exit in the tournament after getting edged on goal difference, meaning the Asian Cup winners at senior level have missed out on a key development tournament).

Proving that tournament win in Myanmar in October of last year was no fluke, Akram Afif – the goal-scorer from the final – has subsequently netted this year when Qatar beat Spain’s Under 20’s. Notably the cut-throat nature of even qualifying for the European Under 19’s title last year meant Spain weren’t in the tournament.

The controversial acquisition of Belgian Pro-League side KAS Eupen (via Qatar’s Aspire Academy – read sporting arm of the Qatari government) means key players such as Ahmed Doozandeh have been able to ply their trade in Europe and are able to escape the Gulf competitions, which seem to be a vortex for player development (Omar Abdulrahman anyone?), so this tournament represents the chance for Sanzchez, once a Barcelona youth coach, to mould the team further into an attacking force. Their form sets them up well to be a chance of progressing, especially given the tournament format allows for some third place group sides to progress to the round of 16.

Underscoring how quickly games will come for Qatar, many Under 20 players will be hopeful they can contribute to the senior side’s bid to make the World Cup in 2018, starting with a visit to the Maldives in June. Their game in Bhutan in September is intriguing. Formerly the ‘world’s worst team’, or at least the lowest-ranked, Bhutan saw off Sri Lanka to qualify for the group phase, so have the advantage of playing together recently with winning form. Their qualifying group group also features the ‘sleeping giant’ of Asian football, China, plus the Maldives (ranking no. 140) and Hong Kong (ranking no. 169). Unless they had drawn the group containing Indonesia, whose league is currently suspended, the Qataris could not have asked for an easier group.

However, their draw is somewhat negated by the fact they will be navigating this phase of qualification with a new coach after sacking Djamel Belmadi in April. With Gulf nations having a propensity for ruthlessly dispatching coaches it wasn’t a surprise such a move was made to shift on the Algerian mentor from his role. Jose Daniel Carreno will take over, making the Uruguayan the third coach for the number #99 ranked nation in the past 16 months. This will also be the 52 year-old’s first role leading a national side, however he is familiar with Asian football having coached Saudi club side Al Nassr.

Carreno’s men will need to make the next few months count. Only finishing atop the group guarantees direct path to the next phase of World Cup qualification and direct Asian Cup qualification for 2019. Any slip-ups will leave Qatar needing to track a path via other qualification tournaments. That said, more games might not be a bad thing, so should they reach their last game in China in March already knowing they may have to enter another tournament, it may be the chance for some of the younger players to get more experience. However, subsequent to this phase everything becomes, cut-throat, and the pressure will rise.

This highlights how important the next ten months are for Qatar football as they will ultimately play a major role in their success in 2022.

*Qatar is still hosting the 2022 event at the time of writing despite issues surrounding human rights abuses, player safety, fan experience and alleged corrupt behaviour which led to the successful bid. Notably, the FBI probe into a range of corruption allegations surrounding Fifa and their elected officials is, as yet, unresolved.

NB: An earlier version of this story noted the FBI investigation was into the 2018/2022 World Cup bids. This is incorrect. The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland is undertaking investigations with recent World Cup bids as the focus. US authorities investigations and arrests (as of May 27) centre on media, marketing and sponsorship deals surrounding football tournaments.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 11 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the Five Metre Gap in defence, reviewing the points you may have missed from round 11 of the NRL which featured four games due to the first Origin match.

Last week we led with a whack of Parramatta and whilst it would be easy to do so again given the errors and missed goals let us applaud South Sydney for their effort in winning Friday night’s match against the Eels 14-12. Missing only nine tackles all game given the horrendous weather was a top notch effort coupled with their competition rate of 82% (32/39.) Michael Maguire’s side had five more sets of possessions than the Eels. Both sets of stats a welcome one for those with fantasy forwards from the Bunnies looking for numbers in the tackle and hit-up departments. Thanks Tom Burgess!

The luck of the draw saw the Bulldogs face one of the three sides not impacted by Origin selections when they visited the Canberra suburb of Bruce on Sunday. Des Hasler’s side performed a Houdini act to see off the Raiders after coughing up the lead having raced out to an early advantage with four tries in 15 minutes before a late field goal the try sealed the triumph. The Raiders did lose Jack Wighton before the game but it’s huge bonus for the Bulldogs to nab a win, their fifth in this campaign, in the period against a side which wasn’t impacted by Origin absences.

As North Queensland grounded the Tigers into the Campbelltown turf late on Saturday night the howls of disapproval at the lack of creativity from both sides and tags of ‘worst game ever’ reached hyperbolic level. Yes the game on Saturday night may have left some scribes battling to find synonyms for boring to describe the play but the contest was enough to keep the neutrals engaged. By way of example the ratings on Fox Sports of 244,000 were somewhat down on the block-buster round 10 game of Storm v Rabbitohs which attracted 296,000 in the corresponding time-slot but compared favourably to the 256,000 fans who watched the Cowboys best the Bulldogs in week nine. It also bested most 5:30pm games of recent weeks. Sometimes it’s a contest and not always just skill that keeps people watching.

In the 8-0 win to Paul Green’s side it was interesting to note how the defensive work was spread amongst the Tigers side with two workhorse forwards absent. Regular captain Robbie Farah (51) and prop Aaron Woods (41) combined for 92 tackles in round ten but in round 11 38 tackles was the top mark achieved by three players, but two of them came off the bench to reach that mark. Kyle Lovett and Ava Seumanufagai (both of the bench) plus Kiwi international Martin Taupau spread the load amongst themselves to replace the herculean efforts normally registered by Farah and Woods. Also of note was regular centre Chris Lawrence’s 35 tackles. The most he had made in any single game in the last month was 15 tackles.

One bright spark for Newcastle on Monday night as they were beaten 31-18 on Wayne Bennett’s home-coming was former NSW Origin forward Kade Snowden. As the Knights burst out of the blocks to start the season 4-0 Snowden, most recently an Origin forward in 2011, averaged 17 runs for 134 metres and 35 tackles a game. This was followed by a dip in form for a month before the 28 year-old logged 25 tackles, made 19 runs (168 metres) and had three offloads in his contribution against the Tigers. He replicated his good first month of form in making 39 tackles as well as running for 131 metres from 14 runs against Brisbane. The former Shark off-loaded twice and helped the Knights cross for one of their tries at Hunter Stadium.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 10 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from round ten of the NRL. The final round before the first phase of byes rounds commence.

With Parramatta halfback Chris Sandow axed Luke Kelly was thrown in the deep end for the Eels, 3-6 coming into their game on Saturday afternoon against the New Zealand Warriors. Nabbed in golden point extra time despite having scored three tries to the visitor’s two in the regulation period of 80 minutes Kelly, once of the Melbourne Storm, missed all three conversion attempts. The 25 year-old did sneak the one-pointer to send the game to additional time but it was intriguing he didn’t go for it earlier (particularly when it would have put Brad Arthur’s side ahead.) Six minutes after Ryan Morgan’s try drew the sides level an Eels set had them near the Warriors 20 but to the right of the posts. It was a surprise Kelly didn’t pot for the lead then knowing they still would have had to time to replay to any Warriors score in the following 11 minutes. We can’t underscore enough the value of early field goal attempts. Especially in the first 70 minutes. The worst result is you miss and they are all worth the same. However this point is not to blame the defeat on Kelly, the Eels only completed 60% of the sets so really it’s hard to pin responsibility on the man from Katherine in the Northern Territory.

As Origin time rolls around the value of strong bench players asked to play more minutes with state players away/the impact of injuries means interesting times for NRL coaches (real and fantasy ones.) Both Gold Coast’s Eddy Pettybourne and Dylan Napa of the Roosters racked up big metres as interchanges on the weekend. As Cronulla beat the Titans in golden point Pettybourne, 27, ran for 140 metres from his 17 runs whilst Napa, as his Roosters defeated the Bulldogs, produced 142 metres from 13 runs. Both Pettybourne and Napa are missing next weekend with their respective sides on the bye but they might need it after their exceptional bench efforts.

In the afore-mentioned Roosters 24-10 win the handling from both sides was woeful in the second period with the victorious team going 9/17 (53%) and the Des Hasler’s Bulldogs not much better at 10/17 (59%.) Neither side surpassed 70% for the match which is odd for two very disciplined sides who have each featured in grand finals in the last two seasons.

Heading into the first bye round it’s time to take stoke (skull!) and the top try-scorers list in interesting reading. Curtis Rona from the Bulldogs has eleven to top the table. Second is Titans centre James Roberts on nine. It’s not until we get to third spot that we find players who could be considered certain starters before pre-season commenced at each club. Tigers duo James Tedesco and Pat Richards have eight tries each. Alex Johnston, incumbent test winger from late 2014, and Daniel Tupou also have eight as does Solomone Kata and Anthony Don, of the Warriors and Gold Coast respectively. An interesting data set given expectations for some of the others players not as high up the list.

As with last week we kick on the last with another note which may be of interest for those Australian-based fans with a look at rugby league broadcasting in New Zealand. On Friday night I had the pick of the games (Cowboys v Brisbane or Bulldogs v Roosters) across two Sky Sport channels in New Zealand. The pay-tv provider has, for some time, done this as well as screening the Sunday games which kick-off at 3pm AEST (or ADST) live. This season the second afternoon game which was always delayed in Australian on Channel 9 is now shown live in Australia but it’s a luxury NZ fans have had for some time. As of next season Channel 9 management have said they will split the games on Friday night so fans have the choice but it won’t be anything new for Kiwi league fans, who admittedly do have to stay up late to exercise this choice on a Friday night.

A-League 1,000: The Muscat v Arnold Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the A-League decider for season 2014/15 which will pit Premier’s Plate winners Melbourne Victory against Sydney FC.

Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC, Sunday – Etihad Stadium
Muscat v Arnold, Albania v Austria, Demons of 2010 v Stars of 2015. Whatever the angle, Sunday’s A-League Grand Final does not lack for head-lines or story-lines.
Despite the hopelessly compromised finals scenario which saw Perth allocated seventh and all the results of their games this still season stand (even after the confirmed salary cap breaches), first and second have made the A-League decider.

There were few concerns (absent a late goal for Adelaide in Sydney) as both Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC cruised through to the pinnacle fixture by three goals and it looks set up for another goal-fest in the final.

Kevin Muscat’s men got the golden ticket with the absence of key players for Melbourne City, who looked more like a VPL team than a side with loads of oil money, and each of the Victory’s key goal scorers found the net, a huge tick before the big game. However, that is counteracted by the fact Alex Brosque, he of the on-again, off-again end-of-season retirement, and key players in Sydney’s front third also scored as they beat Adelaide 4-1.

By extension, Sydney probably got the most out of their finals match-up given they faced a side closer to top strength, however one could suggest Melbourne’s extra day of recovery and ability to stay at home for the week might off-set the former.

As chances flew in both semi-finals, it almost seemed like the games were been played at the height of summer when players are making errors caused by fatigue, rather than skill execution. Will both sides adapt a more conservative approach in the final? Looking at their recent results, history says no.

The venue is a key factor which could work in Sydney’s favour, with the ticket allocation split amongst members of each clubs, VIPS, and sponsors all before any general admission sale (well done to the ten general public fans who get tickets!). Much like the Asian Champions League final, which saw Western Sydney Wanderers stubbornly hold their leg of the final at Pirtek Stadium instead of the MASSIVE stadium up the road, the FFA have allowed common-sense to take flex leave this week to bend on the time and day of the final. As a result, 30,000 plus extra fans will miss out on possibly attending the final. Quite why the option of a Wednesday night final at Etihad Stadium, as suggested by Richard Hinds of News Corp Australia, wasn’t picked up one only wonders. Whole of Football Plans are great motherhood statements of intention but they should start with the whole of the hard core football fans of both teams getting to attend the domestic final. An opportunity, possibly unlikely to come around again anytime soon, was missed in late 2014 and it’s happened again.

In many ways this game will be a matter of ‘my marquee is better than yours’ with Marc Janko and Besart Berisha holding the key. This will, however, be intrinsically linked to how the key defenders for each side, including Melbourne’s Matthieu Delpierre and Sydney’s Jacques Faty, perform. Following his mid-season addition, Faty has proved a more than solid acquisition for the Sky Blues and he will be hoping to deliver on the big stage. For the home side, they are yet to taste defeat in the Victorian capital when Delpierre has featured and this confidence will be important for Melbourne’s younger brigade.

Graham Arnold is seeking to become the first coach in the A-League to win Grand Finals at two clubs, having already tasted triumph with Central Coast Mariners in 2013. The keys to victory for the one-time Socceroos boss will be linked to his side’s ability to shut down Melbourne from the dead-ball (don’t concede any free kicks in the final third) and ensuring the home side’s wide men are kept in check.

Big game for: Lawrence Thomas. The pedigree of Melbourne Victory goalkeepers who have played in the A-League is arguably the best of any team in the league. Most if not all have been internationals and Michael Theo (then Theoklitis) plus Mitchell Langerak have winner’s medals. Glen Moss, who wasn’t at his best at the Victorian side, went to a World Cup. But Thomas, 23, has been thrust into a scenario he wouldn’t have imagined when he was busy getting game time playing National Youth League fixtures this season (as recently as March.) Even conceding one goal might not be chronic for Melbourne, but the shot-stopper’s able to keep a calm head as the game moves will be key. Who knows – maybe Nathan Coe’s understudy will be rocketing up the jersey sale figures come Monday?

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing the fan reaction when the first ball rolls over the touchline towards Kevin Muscat. With the final at a rectangular stadium and seating breakdown crucial, how does the former Victory skipper – well remembered for a touch-line scuffle as a player with then Adelaide coach John Kosmina in a previous big A-League game – react when faced with an on-rushing Sydney player seeking the quick throw in?

The betting bit one serious one not:

Our bank saved as Melbourne got the expected win on Friday. In Black Caviar fashion we will continue to roll with the winners at home ($1.60 @ TAB.) In salary cap leagues the talk of ‘title windows’ does hold weight. I think this young Sydney side, with players like Chris Naumoff have enough firepower to return in 2015/16 to this stage. I’m not saying Melbourne cant, or won’t, win next season either, but they have the right balance now and over the time on Sunday they can win the domestic title to complete a local double*

Profit: We finished in front for the season whatever the weekend’s outcome.

Record: 15/29

Profit: $12.88. We finish in front for the season (based on ten investment.)

*Should Melbourne’s possible double be a treble? They were dispatched from the FFA Cup at the quarter final stage (in extra-time) by a Perth side latterly found to be cheating. Food for thought at around 6pm or so AEST on Sunday.

Finally, thanks to Alex Malyon for his subbing of #aleague1000 this season. You should follow him on twitter @AlexMalyon14

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 9 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from round nine of the NRL which resumed after the representative break.

The decision to award Shaun Johnson the Golden Boot for 2014 may have been made in December last year but the affirmation to any non-believers must surely have been altered in Brisbane then Sydney over the past fortnight as the Auckland halfback steered the Kiwis to a test win and the Warriors to their fourth win of the 2015 season. Significantly Johnson’s rookie teammate Solomone Kata went to school on an error which cost his side a try to score a crucial four-pointer late in the contest. Kata dotted down from a clever Johnson chip to the left wing to cross after he had misjudged his dive not long before when Cronulla’s Jackson Bird did enough to see Kata bounce the ball. Using his angle better on this occasion Kata scored the Warriors’ penultimate try before it was usurped by Andrew Fifita of the Sharks who barged over to score. The remarkable ending was capped when Johnson scythed past the home defenders to score. Two weeks ago Johnson went lateral for no reward late in a game, it has been a hugely improved fortnight in the number seven’s career.

Eels forward Anthony Watmough hasn’t been backward in coming forward about where his side needs to improve and they fell 28-10 to Melbourne on the weekend for their sixth defeat of the season. The former Manly forward, who got the ‘stat assault’ in the lead-up to the game against Melbourne, with several media outlets noting how ineffective Watmough has been with his new side and he wasn’t quite able to come out and quell the crictics at Pirtek Stadium. The veteran forward missed four tackles, as he did in round eight, and ran for only 52 metres for his six runs. Only the now-dumped Chris Sandow has missed more tackles in each of the past two rounds for the Eels. Could some of Watmough’s performance be a factor of just getting used to new teammates? Perhaps. But by this point in the season the 31 year-old needs to be delivering to a higher standard in both defence and attack.

With two big suspensions from the weekend let’s take a look at the impact of the loss of both Konrad Hurrell and Tyrone Peachey for the Warriors and Panthers respectively in coming weeks. After collecting Anthony Tupou Hurrell will miss three weeks for the New Zealand-based club. In his return to first grade in round nine Hurrell broke two tackles but ran for 107 metres from his 12 runs. However the 23 year-old was even more prolific in round seven when he scored a try as he ran for 195 metres in 12 runs. Key utility player Peachey’s importance was typified after the former Shark scored for Penrith in round eight to see off Cronulla. Now banned for the next two games he broke three tackles in the game against Shane Flanagan’s side and he busted two this weekend. Both players have accounted for several errors in recent weeks, hence the reason Hurrell was dumped in round eight, but their dynamism in attack will be tough to substitute.

Often we target the fallout from errors in Five Metre Gap with tries often the result for opposition teams however it was a Roosters mistake, the first one in the game for the home side when they beat the Tigers, which helped them on their way to a 32-4 triumph. After 24 minutes when the home side conceded possession they went on a three-try run in a seven-minute period from the 25th minute to all but seal the game (shout out to Boyd Cordner owners in fantasy.) As a side which has often conceded the most penalties in their matches it probably isn’t the first occasion the Rooster have used their own error to sharpen focus during a game.

Staying at Allianz Stadium and if you will indulge me I digress for our normal style for the last tackle this weekend. Five Metre Gap is coming to you this week from a laptop somewhere on New Zealand’s North Island and it was interesting to consume some rugby league via a different TV platform this weekend. On Saturday night I caught the Roosters Tigers match on Te Reo TV (a Maori broadcasting network.) The play by play and special comments are all in Maori dialect with the occasional interspersed ‘refs mic’ coming in to the broadcast. The biggest thing that struck me was how differently names of some Maori and Pacific Island players were made, eg Issac Lui, (lower emphasis at the end ‘lee-oo’ but not pronounced ‘Loo-ee’) and Martin Taupau (Tow-pow, ‘tow’ pronounced as in the tow in the word ‘towel’). I’m not expecting all broadcasters to take full Pasifika and Maori language courses but more research needs to be done as players make their way in a club pathway. Between team managers, player managers and media information there is no excuse for getting it wrong. I concede the pronunciation of the Mata’utia brothers has caused confusion but the recently presented varied pronunciations seem to be the expectations that prove the rule.

A-League 1,000: The Nearly There Edition

@hamishneal

1,000 words, thoughts and musings on the coming weekend’s A-League finals game which will determine the 2014/15 grand finalists.

Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Friday – Etihad Stadium

Despite getting beaten by Perth and Adelaide in consecutive weeks before the finals, Melbourne City shocked Wellington in New Zealand to claim a spot in the final four despite having only won nine of their 27 games during the regular season.

There was one jammy goal for the hitherto under-performing City/Heart franchise, franchise, but despite deflections leading to goals, John van’t Schip’s men will enter the game with confidence.

With the week off, the original Melbourne A-League side have had the chance to sharpen combinations in training, but Kevin Muscat may have had to change his tactics slightly after having placed the ‘Melbourne City’ file in the trash can of his laptop (lucky he didn’t hit delete on Friday afternoon).

That said, I’m convinced, given the amount of times teams play each other in the A-League and the ability of their squad, the ‘navy blues’ will have their light blue neighbours worked out. Muscat would have gone to school on how City nullified Wellington and we can expect to see pressure on the wings on Friday night, with Kosta Barbarouses likely to hound Jonatan Germano and/or Kew Jaliens for the entire 90 minutes.

Former Jet Craig Goodwin was crucial for Adelaide to start the finals last weekend and another ex-Newcastle player in the form of Dutchman Jaliens will be critical if the ‘visiting’ team hope to cause an upset here. With Patrick Kisnorbo and Connor Chapman paired in the heart of defence, the versatile Dutchman will likely be deployed on the right after he was suspended for the game in the New Zealand capital.

An interesting subplot to the game will be the fans in the Southern Cross Station Dome with Victory members able to access only one ticket linked to their membership compared with their opponents who can get four per member. Talk about a disparity? I do hope someone has set aside a ticket for David Villa

Futhermore the officials have seen fit to merge the two Victory fans groups who normally sit at the northern or southern end into one collective at the northern end. I mean what could possibly go wrong?

Big game for: Besart Berisha. When the 29 year-old joined Melbourne from the Roar, it was with a view to him performing – and scoring goals – in games just like this. No pressure then.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Despite the fear Wellington fans had about falling victim to a dodgy goal (or two) which was proven that will be nothing on the amount of tension the Victory faithful will be feeling as the week rolls on. A lateral idea could be a Heart Foundation promotion testing fan blood pressure before the game.

Sydney FC v Adelaide United, Saturday – Allianz Stadium

Sydney FC mentor Graham Arnold said last week his side should have won the Premier’s Plate, so he has set the benchmark already for this game, and the ‘path to redemption’ so to speak includes the Sky Blues seeing off a side they are yet to beat this season. Arnold says Sydney was denied top spot in the league because of injuries, but conveniently omitting the fact his key mid-season acquisitions of Jacques Faty and Mickaël Tavares wouldn’t have joined the club if not for said injuries.

Sydney undertook a simulated training game on the weekend, so haven’t had the ‘week off’ in the strictest sense, with Arnold keen to make sure his returning players are sharp enough to execute his game plan.

After Goodwin’s early strike from a free kick it appeared the Reds would coast home at the Adelaide Oval, but that wasn’t the case as Brisbane worked hard, broke up play and got an equaliser after 27 minutes via their key man Thomas Broich, who played in more of a left wing role as a traditional number 10. Even after the goal, you felt Adelaide would take control as they had 55 per cent of possession and six shots on target to Brisbane’s three, but it took until substitute Awer Mabil netted late on to secure progress for Josep Gombau’s side.

With Marcelo Carrusca playing well on his return, until he made way for Mabil, and showing solid discipline in conceding only six fouls, the Reds do look a side that can trouble Sydney and have proved that already this season, including when they knocked them out of the FFA Cup at the quarter final stage.

It will be interesting to see if Gombau plays Carrusca in that more withdrawn role against Sydney and continues with Jimmy Jeggo pushing further up on attack ahead of Isaias. This will make the role of Milos Dimitrijevic and Tavares more important as they may have to break up the alternating play if this attacking midfield structure changes, especially if Mabil comes on earlier in this game if it’s deemed Carrusca is still hindered by his injury.

Big game for: Graham Arnold. Much like Berisha for Melbourne, this is why Arnie was brought to Sydney. Surely now he has created depth and creativity across the team to ensure his tenure at the club? Surely the club won’t overreact to a loss which could only leave them with a one-off shot at Asian Champions League group qualification?

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Marc Janko. The Austrian hasn’t scored in four games and there is no time like the present to prove his value to any wavering fans. Some eyebrows may have been raised amongst the Cove faithful to learn Janko has been offered a, new, $1.4 million deal. Even for his goal-scoring feats this season the $400,000 upgrade on what he is earning this season would probably be deemed worth it if he netted here.

The betting bit, one serious one not

Well it’s egg of face stuff after Wellington capitulated but we go straight to Friday night and with our bank go for Melbourne Victory to secure a grand final spot ($1.40 @ TAB.)

Profit: 9.20 (Based on ten unit investment)

Record: 14/28