A-League 1,000: The Disruption Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts, and musings on round 21 of the A-League, the first round after both Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC have started their Asian Champions League campaigns.

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Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Friday – Westpac Stadium

A funny clash as the Phoenix enter this game having fallen to defeat at the hands of the Jets for the third time this season whilst the visitor’s secured their third win over the Mariners this term last weekend. With Harry Novillo serving the second match of a two-game ban imposed by the club it will be interesting to see if Ben Garrucio plays a more advanced role as he did last weekend in the 4-1 win. Wellington, who have used 11 different back fours in the last 13 games (thanks @Dale_Warburton), must stem the flow out wide or will get torn to shreds here. At least the club secured the services of skipper Andrew Durante for a further two seasons this week.

 Big game for: Where to next? Heading into their game at Hunter Stadium the Nix had, and still have, scored more goals and had more wins against Newcastle than any other A League opponent so they had a history suggesting they would perform. But they didn’t and copped a blast at half-time from the coach even when they were ahead 2-1 which shows how below his expectations they were performing.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Alex Wilkinson has a shade under two months to develop more of an understanding with his new teammates ahead of a finals appearance. Aside from a few blips the game was another solid A-League appearance.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Perth Glory, Friday – Pirtek Stadium 

After heading towards the sea and the coming back with a point Wanderers are back home but face a Perth side looking for six wins on the bounce. Kenny Lowe’s shrewd purchase of Krisztian Vadocz is paying dividends with the Hungarian providing a great platform at the base of the midfield for Perth to launch in attack. Tony Popovic welcomes back Alberto after his suspension which should solidify things in the Wanderers’ spine.

Big game for: Mitch Nichols and Dario Vidosic operated very well in attack playing a supporting role to Mark Bridge for the Wanderers at Allianz Stadium and the duo will get no let up here with a big support role required.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Some more attacking initiative. Josh Risdon might not be afforded the same room to scoot forward on the left here but the Socceroo is bound to try his luck.

Adelaide United v Brisbane Roar, Saturday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium

The second-half specialist Reds nabbed a win in Melbourne when it appeared the game would finish 0-0 with both sides denied by various bit of woodwork at AAMI Park on Friday night. Brisbane (who we said last week) need to be more clinical in front of goal were, but also shipped six at the other end in a rollicking fixture. Jack Hingert was one who did well on attack but John Aloisi’s side need to focus on their role going forward and back. Guillermo Amor’s side do a good job of depriving teams of the ball and then playing on the fatigue factor late in the game and with the pace of players like Craig Goodwin so Brisbane’s backline will need to be aware of this.

Big game for: Away form. The Roar have won just twice from their last nine away fixtures. If they lose this game they could drop from second to fourth by the end of the match.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing the reaction. Along the lines of not getting too excited about big wins (see Wellington round 19) don’t get sucked in by a big defeat such as Brisbane’s last weekend – they did score three goals. It’s often not as bad as you think.

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Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC, Saturday – AAMI Park

After their 2-0 loss at the Saitama Stadium Sydney FC travel to Melbourne with David Carney, Brandon O’Neill and Matt Simon (all rested from the Urawa game) likely to play prominent roles here given they started in the Sydney Derby. This week saw the first in a series of games this season for both sides which we will see preparations disrupted by ACL and A-League games plus extensive travel. It’s a positive for the home side after their 2-1 triumph over Shangai SIPG. The ten-hour journeys aside, I get the feeling most players prefer playing to training three to four days a week. Captain Alex Brosque and Milos Ninkovic should be fresh to a degree having played the last 20 minutes in Japan on Wednesday. Melbourne get Kosta Barbarouses, who was key in their win over Shanghai SIPG, back from A-League suspension.

Big game for: Seb Ryall and Ryhan Grant. The wing backs were a bit more proactive last weekend in the A-League compared to their round 19 encounter when, at times, they broke in rather laborious fashion.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: More silky goals. From deep in their own half on the right to Oliver Bozanic who continued the switch move to Jai Ingham Melbourne’s first goal as the 22 year-old left winger slipped it past Yan Junling in the visitor’s net was a great display of speed and poise.

Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets, Sunday – Central Coast Stadium

From #melbderby to #sydneyderby to #beachclassico as the #f3derby is the third side-by-side derby in the last three weeks. The two sides have nine wins between them this season, four of those against the Phoenix, so it’s mark of how poor the two have been despite various bright spots. Luis Garcia missed the defeat in Melbourne and Tony Walmsley should welcome him back here but they do loss Fabio Ferreira to suspension. Significantly for team balance, Jets’ coach Scott Miller has Mateo Poljak and Ben Kantarovski back from suspension which should be enough to see them home.

Big game for: Back-ups. The home side have been shorn of two key defenders with Jacob Poscoliero (suspended) and Storm Roux (recovering from three injuries sustained in the one play) missing here so it’s another backline reshuffle for the home side that have lacked any consistency in this area. Remember they released Eddy Bosnar at the start of the season. 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: There was an excellent profile of Milos Trifunovic in the Newcastle Herald on Saturday but then the Serbian disgraced himself. The second half allegations of the striker spitting at Wellington’s Tom Doyle saw Durante and Trifunovic not shake hands at the end of the game. Referee Chris Beath (who didn’t see the incident) apparently included the details in his post-match report but nothing has come out for A-League HQ.

The betting bit – One serious one not:

Taking an away team this weekend, we wait until Sunday for Newcastle ($2.60) to salute into a brass band battle in Gosford as the Jets try to outdo the home side’s active support.

Record: 11/20

Profit: 31.55 units (ten units per investment)

Images via: abc.net.au and theguardian.com.au

 

A-League 1,000: The Melbourne Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts, and musings on round 20 of the A-League which starts and finishes in Melbourne.

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Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United, Friday – AAMI Park

The Victory should enter this contest in third spot but the missed goal from the officials meant the Derby was a draw. Yes Melbourne had chances after that point in the game but Kevin Muscat should be able to use the injustice of that result to fire up his side for the visit of their traditional rivals Adelaide. Gui Finkler has missed out on Asian Champions League selection so the playmaker will be looking to fire here against an Adelaide side who came from behind to see off the Mariners in Gosford in Sunday’s delayed game. The Reds wore down the Mariners with plenty of possession for the Reds (59%) eventually getting the win and they will be benefitted by the absence of Melbourne’s dynamic Kiwi Kosta Barbarouses who is suspended and the South Australian side get Tarek Elrich back.

Big game for: Late drama. Adelaide are the second half specialists with 22 goals in their past 11 A-League games during which they have gone unbeaten, 15 of those goals have come in the second half.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: In addition to Finkler missing the ACL Fahid Ben Khalfallah has also been left out of the continental tournament so he will be looking for a big game in this fixture.

Newcastle Jets v Wellington Phoenix, Saturday – Hunter Stadium

After the dazzling 5-2 win on Sunday, their first triumph since December 5, the Phoenix meet a Newcastle team playing with renewed vigour who have grabbed four points in their last two games. Scott Miller’s side seemed to have been playing an ongoing pre-season with suspensions and transfers meaning a settled side has been hard to come by. For Wellington in Parramatta Hamish Watson had plenty of influence, even if Blake Powell scored four goals last Sunday, and the Hawke’s Bay United striker probably exceeded expectations. Whether he can continue with this level of performance this weekend may be a challenge for a player who has been playing ASB Premiership this season. Now that we know Alex Jones won’t be joining the Nix Watson can expect an extended run in the side.

Big game for: Newcastle defence. The locals last had a home clean sheet in round 11, against Adelaide, when Mark Birighitti had a busy day with the visitor’s having 17 shots on goal. If the Nix get as many attempts here you think at least one goes in?

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The midfield battle. Wellington will come up against another midfield impacted by suspension with Ben Kantarovksi and Mateo Poljak missing for the home side. Can the Nix make hay again?

Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday – Allianz Stadium 

The start of a tricky period for the Sky Blues will see Filip Holosko and Jacques Faty focusing on the push for domestic glory after they missed the ACL cut whilst the Wanderers will be hoping their midfield can get back to some sense of normality after they were embarrassed by the Phoenix on Sunday.

Sydney FC will be looking to expose Scott Neville again with the former Jets player was cut to robins at various stages by Wellington’s Tom Doyle’s last weekend on the Wanderers’ right side.  Andreu is back and Dimas, after suspension, returns for Tony Popovic’s side..

Big game for:  Ali Abbas. Ryhan Grant made way for the Iraqi international on Saturday evening in the second half and it would be surprising if Abbas isn’t on the left flank on Saturday night.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Jonathan Aspropotamitis was sent off in the shadows of the Wanderers’ defeat on Sunday and with Alberto Aguilar still suspended for a further week from his sanction after round 18 against Melbourne Victory the normally reliable Wanderers defence, who had the league’s second-best defence heading into the round, face a challenge despite their returnees.

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Perth Glory v Brisbane Roar, Saturday – nib Stadium 

Kenny Lowe’s decision to stay in New Zealand after their round 18 win in Wellington paid dividends as Perth won their fourth game running after they hope back over the Tasman Sea to beat Sydney FC whilst Brisbane were stymied by a vibrant Newcastle side but did claw back to grab a draw at home. This could be the game of the week and the home side have even more reason to be happy with veteran defender Dino Djulbic available again after injury. Brisbane have no new injury concerns but will be hoping they don’t cede momentum to Perth with penalties like they did against Newcastle as this Perth side grows a leg when they score now.

Big game for: Clinical finishing. It seems a tad daft to suggest a side with nine goals in their last three games needs to be better in front of goal but a combination of poor Brisbane finishing and Mark Birighitti’s great goal-keeping meant attempts, like Brandon Borello’s just before the interval went wide. Brisbane’s goals were also both somewhat fortuitous given the rebound and deflection.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: An away trip is hard but heading to Perth in the A-League is very tricky so the prospect of seeing how Brisbane repel an impressive Perth outfit is intriguing.

Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Central Coast Mariners, Sunday – AAMI Park

Former Mariner Anthony Caceres got himself suspended for this match so my prediction of a few weeks ago won’t come to fruition but his teammates have had plenty of time to recover from an emotionally-draining Derby whilst the Mariners have had a day less and have to travel after an energy-sapping defeat which, despite the delayed kickoff, was still played in hot weather. Caceres aside, John van’t Schip’s side are in a good position given they have two convincing wins, 3-1 and 5-1, to their credit against the Mariners already this season with Bruno Fornaroli having scored three goals across those two games. The loss of Jake McGing is somewhat offset by the return of Harry Ascroft from suspension for Tony Walmsley’s side.

Big game for: Swings and roundabouts. Francesco Stella went close late in Gosford on Sunday when the home side was down 2-1, moments later Stefan Mauk scored his first goal for Adelaide with Josh Bingham’s late goal not enough for the Mariners. Even though the home side didn’t dominate the game the late flurry didn’t go there way. Stella has been dropped for this game.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: With Harry Novillo’s omission after he was detained by Victorian police on Tuesday following a domestic incident it will be interesting to see who replaces him in the left wing role and how they combine down the flank with Ben Garuccio.

The betting bit – One serious one not:

Perth to win at home ($2.60) into a “Shall we light a flare for you?” chant from the Cove on Saturday night.

Record: 10/19

Profit: 15.55 units (ten units per investment)

Images via: theguardian.com and fansunite.com

6-0. How two games eight years apart tell the story of modern football

@hamishneal

Valentine’s Day 2016 and there was no love for Aston Villa as the side from Birmingham were run off the park 6-0 by Liverpool in their English Premier League fixture. The result handed the Reds their tenth win of the season and left Remi Garde’s side anchored to the bottom of the English Premier League ladder, seven points adrift of 19th-placed Sunderland.

The score was not notable for its margin, given Aston Villa are last on the table and bound for relegation, but the quirk of the scorers was unusual.

Not since 21 September 2008 had a top-flight game in the UK finished 6-0 with no multiple goal-scorers.

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The historic fixture saw Manchester City dispatch Portsmouth who now reside in League Two (the fourth tier of English/Welsh football) and are currently fifth, seven points off an automatic promotion place.

City’s scorers on the day were then skipper Richard Dunne, Ched Evans, Gelson Fernandes, Jo, Robinho, and Shaun Wright-Phillips. The game was two days before the formal ownership takeover of the Abu Dhabi United Group (now better known as the City Football Group) who acquired the club from former Prime Minister of Thailand Taksin Shinawatra and provides an intriguing insight into the changes at Manchester City, the EPL and world fooball.

On Sunday Emre Can, Nathaniel Clyne, James Milner, Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge, and Kolo Toure all netted for Liverpool who won handsomely at Villa Park.

In case you are wondering the unfortunate Villans’ keeper on the weekend was Mark Bunn whilst in the 2008 game the Portsmouth shot-stopper was England international David James.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

The six players who scored for Manchester City in the 2008 game have since go on to represent their country on many occasions, win titles in other countries and continents, and (in the case of one player) spend time in jail.

Richard Dunne, With 296 games in the light blue Dunne spent the majority of his career playing for City before the Repulic of Ireland defender retired in late 2015 with time at Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers after leaving the Eastlands complex in 2009.

Gelson Fernandes. Perhaps the least known of those, played 43 times for City, and is now playing in France with Rennes but has a notable record. Last year the Swiss international became the first player this century to score a goal in the EPL, Bundesliga, Serie A, and Ligue 1. A journeyman yes, but what a career tale!

Robinho. Probably the most celebrated player in the group. The Brazilian striker played over 100 games at Real Madrid before heading to the north of England and he ended up playing 41 matches for City. In 2015 played top flight football for Guanghzhou Evergrande, who won the Asian Champions League last year, but the marksman didn’t feature in the ACL-winning team but can take credit for their run the to Chinese Super League title. The now 32 year-old has won the league in Spain and Italy.

Jo. He of the bushy haircut. Was a much heralded recruit for City from CSKA Moscow and won a Bronze medal in the Olympics that year but only played 21 games in the light blue. Had spells on loan at Everton and Galatasary but recently signed for Jiangsu Suning, the Chinese Superleague side who have made headlines in Europe with their recruitment of Brazilian midfielder Alex Teixeira from Shakhtar Donetsk for a CSL record transfer fee.

Shaun Wright-Phillips. The England international winger had two spells at Manchester City which totalled 218 games. Wright-Phillips, now 34, plays in the MLS for New York Red Bulls. Wright-Phillips was one of the two big signings for the citizens in the summer prior to the featured game ,along with Robinho, but no City fan back then could have expected spending on the scale the club has undertaken since then.

Finally the second-last scorer in the game – Ched Evans. The second-half substitute played the least amount of games for City of the six (16) and at the time was considered somewhat of a rising star having debuted for Wales in May earlier that year. His career, and life, changed in 2012 when he was convicted of rape. Evans has since been released from prison, after serving half of the original sentence. The 13-cap international, who last played professional football for Sheffield United, has staunchly maintained his innocence and sought to have the conviction quashed.

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WHERE WILL THEY BE?

The ‘City Six’ have taken very divergent paths with three having ended up in the ‘new football’ markets of the USA and Asia but what about the ‘Liverpool Six’. If we are to look at their career projections it’s an interesting snapshot.  All have played international football already with Emre Can the least experienced in that regard having turned out three times for Germany. If we were too fast-forward eight years later for this group as many as four could still be in the English Premier League and maybe even with Liverpool which would be in complete contrast to those under the 2008 tutelage of Mark Hughes (yes Mark Hughes was City manager then before he was axed in December of 2009). Toure, 34, will be retired and it is tough to see Milner, now 30, still charging around in the EPL given the toll his work-rate must already take on his body. Ex-Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen starlet Can is 22, Birmingham-born Sturridge 26, Belgian 20 year-old Origi and right back Clyne, 24, could all still be around – if not in red than maybe elsewhere in the UK. Sturridge may have to hope medical science can find a cure for tiredness if he wants to extend his career into his mid-30s though.

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SIX QUESTIONS FOR EIGHT YEARS FROM NOW

How many of the ‘Liverpool Six’ stay in England as the football market-place evolves?

Which of these players will perhaps end their career in the USA, United Arab Emirates or Uzbekistan?

Will a nation like Indonesian fix itself, resume international games, reinvigorate there national competition, and finally realise their football potential and attract a Sturridge in his twilight?

Does this mean Liverpool fans can expect two titles in the next eight years? Manchester City have won the league twice to go with FA Cup and League Cup triumphs. In that time Liverpool have won the League Cup once.

Are Villa consigned to life in the fourth tier within the next decade given how far Portsmouth have fallen?

Who is going to make the ESPN 30 for 30-style documentary on where the ‘City Six’ are now?

Images via: theguardian.com, thisisanfield.com, and express.co.uk

A-League 1,000: The Jones Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts, and musings on round 19 of the A-League which sees a Melbourne Derby and three games in NSW.

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Brisbane Roar v Newcastle Jets, Friday – Suncorp Stadium 

Sides playing off the short rest have a bad record in recent weeks (with four sides in round 17 all losing after playing Monday or Tuesday in round 16) but the Jets morale-boosting win should at least give them some confidence after the Roar mashed the Mariners 4-0 last weekend. Brandon Borello, who inked a new two-year deal with the Roar this week, wasn’t amongst the four goal-scorers for Brisbane in their 4-0 win over the Mariners so the 20 year-old could unleash here. Brisbane’s goalkeeper Michael Theo will be looking for another clean sheet.

Big game for: Has Milos Trifunovic found the service he needed? Languishing at times this season the Serbian linked well with Steven Ugarkovic and Danish recruit Morten Nordstrand when the 32 year-old came on.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The Jets hope to have Leonardo ready for Friday and he has been on light duties at training this week. Scott Miller will hope he is firing for 60-70 minutes on Friday and he is exciting to see when at or near 100%.

Sydney FC v Perth Glory, Saturday – Allianz Stadium 

The first of three games this weekend which are key for the bottom half of the top six mean Adelaide could finished the weekend anywhere from sixth to third and this match gives Sydney FC first crack at moving to third place. The home side see skipper Alex Brosque return but Kenny Lowe’s side also get a Socceroo back with Richard Garcia added to the squad. Having scored ten goals in three games Perth are almost the anti-Sydney of the A-League currently however the Sky Blues’ effort to come from behind twice and take a share of the points from Adelaide was laudable. Perth will come at Sydney a lot here but will need to be alert to Sydney’s pressure when the home side lose possession and try to nab it back immediately.

Big game for:  Sydney’s set piece defence. Chris Harold’s sole goal was enough for Perth to win in Wellington last weekend even though they were a threat on the ground as well. But Sydney will need to make sure they restrict dead ball chances for visitors.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: With Brosque back for Sydney, but with the skipper having played less than 30 minutes of football in eight weeks, it will be interesting to see how Graham Arnold tweaks his side.

Melbourne City v Melbourne Victory, Saturday – AAMI Park

Much of this result with hinge on how fit key Melbourne duo Gui Finkler and Matthieu Delpierre are after picking up knocks in the spiteful 1-1 draw with the Wanderers, the former coming off with nearly half an hour still to go. Kosta Barbarouses was amongst the most industrious Victory players on Saturday so he will cause trouble for the notional home side in this encounter. John van’t Schip’s team are without Aaron Hughes here but a club debut for Alex Wilkinson should help shore up their leaky defence and the return of Anthony Caceres from suspension opens up another attacking option, however the former Mariner is still getting used to his new teammates.

Big game for: Rants. Strictly not game related but it involves one of the two sides. The shame of Adelaide’s exit from the Asian Champions League at the playoff stage means at most one AFC eligible player (other than Australian players) will feature for the two A-League clubs contesting the continental club showpiece. Kevin Muscat confirmed the Victory wouldn’t be seeking at AFC player for the Victory in the group stage this year preferring to go with their A-League squad. Disappointing for arguably Australia’s big club and case number #847 of A-League clubs failing to embrace the AFC.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit:  Seeing recruits play. This column went early last week with both the Alex’s, Jones for the Phoenix and Wilkinson for the Melbourne light blues, not playing on the weekend. One would expect former Mariner Wilkinson to feature here but we will get onto the Jones matter later.

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Central Coast Mariners v Adelaide United, Sunday – Central Coast Stadium 

Shandong Luneng came and went on Tuesday with Guillermo Amor’s side off the pace but not without their chances when the visitor’s when down to ten men. The Reds failed to capitalise in their 2-1 defeat. The Mariners were humbled by Brisbane but are set to unleash European Cup winner Luis Garcia from the start. The home side should also be boosted by the return of Mitch Austin but if Fabio Ferreira (who has been named to played) misses out this will make things tough for the home side. Adelaide won’t be at their strongest with Iacopo La Rocca and Tarek Elrich suspended, the former for three weeks, so the home side are not without a hope here.

Big game for: Marcelo Carrusca, missing a penalty, and Sergio Cirio, who fluffed a late chance, on Tuesday. The import’s can’t take all the blame for the defeat to the Chinese Super League side but the will bear a degree of responsibility internally.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A good pitch. Less than ten minutes into a Super Rugby trial played in Gosford on February 3 the first scrum ripped up large chunks of turf on the surface. 11 days on let’s hope the surface is better. A major injury to say the club’s recent marquee addition due to patchy turf wouldn’t be good.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Wellington Phoenix, Saturday – Pirtek Stadium

The ladder-leading (by the barest of margins) Wanderers return home after grabbing a late point in Melbourne but their opponent’s, Wellington, were beaten 1-0 by Perth and haven’t won in nine games. Both sides are missing key imports with Dimas and Alberto suspended for the Wanderers (who also have injury concerns with Andreu absent) and Phoenix midfielder Alex Rodriguez is suffering a medial ligament strain. Some good news for the Phoenix could be that defender Ben Sigmund may feature if he comes through an ASB Premiership fixture he is planning to play part of earlier in the weekend. For the first time it seems this season the Wanderers have struck injury/suspension trouble so it will be interesting to see how the likes of Jacob Pepper take on extra responsibility.

Big game for: Hamish Watson – the Hawke’s Bay United striker has been pitched into the Phoenix squad as injury replacement for Roy Krishna after the recruit of Englishman Alex Jones went pear-shaped when the paperwork wasn’t processed by New Zealand Football before the transfer deadline.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Sensible behaviour. Ray Gatt and Simon Hill have covered the fan behaviour issue well in the last week so I won’t attempt to re-hash the argument here, suffice to say the Wanderers are the reason every A-League club has increased Police costs when the RBB come to town. I’m surprised other clubs have not put more pressure on the governing body to crack down on the club earlier but the FFA finally did on Thursday issuing a $50,000 fine and suspended three-point penalty.

The betting bit – One serious one not:

Lessons learnt, don’t go against your educated thought developed over several days and remember Melbourne City will likely concede at least one goal in every game. Adelaide to win ($1.85) in a tricky round into some fake flares made out of paper mache at Parramatta on Sunday.

Record: 9/18

Profit: 7.05 units (ten units per investment)

Images via sportsfan.com.au and abc.net.au

 

 

Super Bowl 50: The Sheriff wins in Santa Clara

@hamishneal

If you are reading this you are likely aware Denver upset the favoured Carolina Panthers to claim their third Super Bowl with the Broncos winning in Santa Clara 24-10 on Sunday.

The stadium’s main tenants the San Francisco 49ers were nowhere near the big game this year and the AFC West side made up for a heavy defeat in the 2014 showpiece at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.

Following last year’s ‘It was the Butler in the stadium with the intercept’ piece between myself and Alex Malyon, whose knowledge of Pistol Strong Right Stack Act 6 Y Cross Divide plays is better than anyone I know, I dropped a note to Malyon for his thoughts on the game. With a day to reflect on the contest in California, the second time Denver has won a decider in the Golden State, he gave us a quick wrap and I look at turning points, LVP’s, HGH and half-time shows.

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Westy’s words Alex Malyon (@AlexMalyon14)

The Xbox offence, and hence a neutral-fan pleasing score-line of 52-48, was never in the offing if Denver were to win. As outsiders how things transpired was the perfect game for Denver, old school grind it out football back before the NFL went all pass whacky.

Hamish’s hunches

Carolina failing to make inroads in the running game was disappointing. Jonathan Stewart’s 12 rushes for 29 yards was below par. Thomas Davis, who broke his right forearm two weeks ago, played. This was a silly risk but in the end he still came out with the second highest amount of tackles, five, on his team. Now a lot of this is situational but if the player with a broken wing has to do that much work it’s not going to be effective is it?

Someone must be blamed

The reaction to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s post-game press conference which was sulky but not terrible was off the hook in some platforms. Lindsay Gibbs wrote about aspects such as the racial coding and Shaun King of the New York Daily News reminded us Denver QB Peyton Manning didn’t shake hands with Drew Brees after the Saints beat the Colts (who Manning then played for) in the 2010 Super Bowl. Newton was rightly upset, but he fulfilled his duties, and after about a minute laid out what he thought went wrong. It’s wasn’t with the eloquence of one of the great orators of our time but he’d just been embarrassed at work, in front of nearly 112 million people in the USA alone. Cut him some slack.

Riding off into the sunset

Probably-retiring Denver quarterback Manning didn’t pull off any Hail-Mary passes but he did execute a nice little completion for a two-point conversion late in the game for his last scoring playing in the NFL. A rare way to go out for the former Colt’s pilot who, at 39 years of age is expected to hang up the helmet and, hopefully, star in more cheesy commercials. “Chicken parm you taste so good”

LVPs

Newton and Manning were the headline players coming into the game but Aqib Talib (surely the game’s LVP) was doing his best to stuff it up for the eventual winners. As the cornerback was stumbling his way from penalty to penalty early on and getting smoked in coverage some thought Denver’s day was done.

The Elephant in the Room

Talib was awful early and Denver’s Von Miller ended up the MVP but, and this is something I didn’t find about about/remember until after the game, if Miller was an athlete in any other sport he would likely still be out suspended after not only, probably, using performance enhancing drugs in 2013 but trying to get the drug collector to switch the urine sample when he was tested! HGH is HGH as they say (okay so they don’t say that) but it’s a pretty low act. Compared to Newton’s apparent post-game sulking this is much worse.

Commentator’s curse

Oh and before I leave the subject of drugs, last year the CBS broadcasting crew mentioned the ‘Deflate-gate’ saga surrounding Tom Brady as the Patriots leader drove for the eventual win. This year’s drug reference came earlier when Nantz mentioned the HGH investigation surrounding Manning and the parcels reportedly delivered to his wife which was covered by Al Jazeera America. How does this rate in terms of possible commentator’s curses? It’s probably a good thing the Broncos went on to win or the pitch-forks would have been out for Nantz and his broadcast colleague, Super Bowl MVP from 1987 Phil Simms.

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Believe love

I know some people have a vociferous hatred of Coldplay but I own a few of their albums so maybe I should just move on to other aspects of the Half-time show. Arguably the best effort of the interval was Beyonce dancing in heels on the dodgy Levi’s Stadium turf as she entered the extravagant performance. Amongst the multi-million dollar production in the billion-dollar stadium those in charge somehow couldn’t arrange for the singer to start on her own stage. Did the money run out?

Super Bowl 51

February 5 2017 will see Houston host the decider next year. The Texans, who play out of NRG Stadium, topped the AFC South division with a 9-7 record this season however that was the equal-worst record of any divisional winner and they were subsequently bounced in the first round of the playoffs 30-0 by Kansas City. New England, Pittsburgh and Seattle have all opened as equal favourites with one Las Vegas bookie to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy next season.

Images via: si.com and theblaze.com

A-League 1,000: The Recruit Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts, and musings on round 18 of the A-League which offers us a rare double-header of Sunday afternoon games.

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Adelaide United v Sydney FC, Friday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium 

Staying at home after edging out Newcastle 1-0 the Reds host a Sydney side bought undone by not only Brisbane’s Qualiroos players but also a dynamic Dimi Petratos performance. Former Jet Andrew Hoole looks like his will miss out. Ironically to be replaced by David Carney who has transferred from Newcastle (sorry) added as a free agent after he left the Jets this week. Guillermo Amor’s side will have one eye on their Asian Champions League playoff game scheduled for Tuesday night with Pablo Sanchez and Iacopo La Rocca the visa players not selected for the ACL squad one could expect them to play a prominent role here with some added motivation after their exclusion.

Big game for: Long-range attempts. With Jimmy Jeggo having left Adelaide their goal-scoring from range seems to be less threatening. Against Newcastle they had seven shots from outside the box versus 14 a few weeks ago against Perth. Clearly the value of these shots each time is varied however on occasion when Jeggo ripped one, or didn’t, it had the opposition in two minds opening up space for his teammates. Now and then they also came off.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing further sanctions for off the ball play. Vedran Janjetovic’s grappling of an opponent’s head is out of order. I’m amazed he is available for selection this weekend.

Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners, Saturday – Suncorp Stadium 

The only shame about the Mariners third win of the season is that they don’t get any associated performance bump crowd-wise immediately as the Garcia roadshow heads from the South Island of New Zealand to Queensland this weekend. Winning a game as they did was hugely impressive stuff from the Roar even if Sydney FC’s style has been called into question. A 3-1 triumph away from home is nothing to be sneezed at. Central Coast should now be able to start Garcia and given his impact last weekend against Wellington it may be worth Tony Walmsley, who also has Harry Ascoft and Nick Montgomery back from suspension, rolling the dice.

Big game for: James Donachie, the returning Australian representative, was selected ahead of Daniel Bowles against Sydney in an odd move given he hadn’t started all season but it was one that paid dividends for John Aloisi. Donachie is having to renegotiate his contract with the Roar when he thought he had an agreement until mid 2017, It’s a weird story covered by Marco Monteverde.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Liam Rose had one of his best games in a Mariner jersey in round 17 but the ability to back it up with a repeat performance is the requirement of a professional footballer. How will the 18 year-old go here if given the chance?

Melbourne Victory v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday – Etihad Stadium

A Saturday night cracker in Melbourne sees the table-topping Wanderers play the Victory who lost in the west playing off the quick back-up from round 16. After a normal week schedule-wise Kevin Muscat’s side should be more settled although they will be without Fahid Ben Khalfallah who was sent off against Perth. Piovaccari lotto is back with the some-time footballer named in the Wanderers squad.

Big game for: Sydney goalkeeper Janjetovic wasn’t the only player to take square-ups/face-offs to the extreme on the weekend. The near headbutt in the Wanderers’ win over Melbourne City was over the top. Western Sydney went close to finishing the game with ten players.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Jaushua Sotirio was somewhat of a surprise selection on Friday night but the Australian Under 23 representative acquitted himself well. It will be intriguing to see how Tony Popovic keeps his table-topping side alert in the coming weeks with more off-piste selections.

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Wellington Phoenix v Perth Glory, Sunday – Westpac Stadium

Perth come to Wellington having beaten the title-holders and the Phoenix back-up after they were knocked off by the bottom placed-side but will start favourite here. Funny game etc etc. Striker Alex Jones may be available for the home side after he left the UK on Thursday (albeit he was delayed.) Jones, a product of the West Bromwich Albion academy set-up, will be hoping to link up immediately with his new teammates to try to address the Nix’s flagging finals hopes and maybe make himself as popular in the capital as another former football league striker in Paul Ifill.

Big game for: Back at their spiritual home the Phoenix will welcome back Andrew Durante and this will allow Manny Muscat to take up his normal midfield role so this will be helpful as they try to put pressure on the visitor’s.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing Perth recruit Krisztian Vadocz possibly in action. Capped 39 times for his country the Hungarian midfielder could join Luis Garcia and former Nix player Leo Bertos in that small group of players who have played in both the A-League and Indian Super League. The much-travelled 30 year-old has also spent time in Spain with Osasuna.

Newcastle Jets v Melbourne City, Sunday – Hunter Stadium

Melbourne City had a successful weekend in round 17 but it wasn’t the men’s side, who lost to the Wanderers, with the second Victorian franchise’s W-League team beating Sydney FC in the grand final. The men lost 4-3 on Friday night. Socceroo Alex Wilkinson has joined the club and this could end up benefitting them even more next season if they have an ACL campaign give his experience in Korea and China. Newcastle played better in Adelaide last weekend but the benchmark was low after the heavy home defeat to Perth the week prior. Leonardo playing more minutes is helping and with Mark Birighitti in goal the Jets are always a chance of staying in a game, as they did against the Reds.

Big game for: Seeing if Melbourne can keep a clean sheet. Recruit Osama Malik was put into the starting line-up but the lack of understanding was highlighted with the last goal in their Friday night loss when substitute Jack Clisby did the classic ‘point and panic’ at the diagonal runner (Romeo Castelen) but failed to track the trailing runner (Brendon Santalab) This makes the addition of Wilkinson hugely significant for John van’t Schip’s defensive group. Interestingly their last clean sheet came when they beat Newcastle 4-0 in December.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Reciprocity… Or not… Maybe not today, maybe not months from now but the next time a potential move for a player from Newcastle to Sydney FC comes up it will be very interesting to see how things play out.

The betting bit – One serious one not:

Lessons learnt, don’t go against your educated thought developed over several days and remember Melbourne City will likely concede at least a goal in any game. Strong home team in form Brisbane ($1.40) into a bag or two with dollar signs on it getting offered to Andy Keogh in Wellington.

Record: 8/17

Profit: -6.95 units (ten units per investment)

Images via smh.com.au and soccerway.com

Super Rugby trial: Force blow Canes over in Gosford #FORvHUR

@hamishneal

There is no need to panic for Hurricanes fans in 2016 but there might be a glimmer of hope for the Force this season after they won their Super Rugby trial 28-0 in Gosford on Wednesday night.

Wooden-spooners in 2015 with only three wins, the Force scored early and then managed to kick clear finishing with four tries despite having two players in the sin bin at one stage against a Hurricanes outfit missing eight All Blacks (Beauden Barrett, James Broadhurst, Dan Coles, Cory Jane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea and Victor Vito) The number is nine if you count Ardie Savea who is on Sevens duty an won’t be around for last year’s beaten grand finalists this season.

The Force, the nominal ‘home’ team in the encounter, were missing players of their own including Wallabies Matt Hodgson, Ben McClaman, Luke Morahan, and Ben Tapuai plus former All Black Alby Matthewson however they did have the experienced Pek Cowan and key recruit in the form of ex-Springbok Peter Grant.

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The Force dominated the early play against last year’s regular season premiers and when Adam Coleman crashed over it looked like Michael Foley’s side might score six or seven tries but Chris Boyd’s team tightened up their defence and got some more possession.

The first quarter (with four 20-minute periods played in trial games) was punctuated by the inevitable period of two to three minutes resetting a scrum and then a further break when, in golfing parlance, the divots had to be replaced from where the scrum was at the southern end of Central Coast Stadium.

For a fleeting moment there was a murmur among the 3,500 or so fans that the game might have been called off on account of a dodgy pitch. But aside from the sandy surface which didn’t look good aesthetically it was “okay”. Or so Force centre Marcel Brache told me afterwards.

Leading 7-0 coach Foley would have been looking for his side to push clear but wouldn’t have wanted the start to the second half that he got when second rower Steve Mafi and then Kane Koteka, nephew of two-cap All Black Paul Koteka, were sin-binned in quick succession. Mafi had a bad few minutes as he trudged off the field following his sanction via the in-goal area he attempted to grab a water bottle from the trainer’s drinks carrier but swung and missed. Two strikes and he was off the plastic chair.

Not long after flanker Koteka was carded by referee Angus Gardner the Force got fortuitous when a Hurricanes line-out from near their own line went awry. Reserve hooker Tessman swooped at the back of the line-out to get a glancing hand on the ball for a try just before the three quarter break for a 14-0 lead.

This would have been annoying for Hurricanes’ coach Chris Boyd as the visitors had good periods of sustained possession deep in the Force half. Like WA they eschewed all penalty goals but in truth if the Force took their early penalty attempts they could have been 16-0 up before Wellington got a sniff.

After Semisi Masirewa stepped his way over whilst Koteka was still off the ground, making the Hurricanes defence on their left look decidedly average, the game was over at 21-0.

The fixture was capped when Jono Lance was the provider for Anmon Matuauto to score in the final quarter. Lance booted the conversion onto the Central Coast Highway at the southern end of the stadium and the crowd cheered. Good times.

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In summary:

Nothing major to worry about for Wellington. With almost a full team to come back last season’s mark of 14 wins may be tough to match again but their early handy draw with only one game outside of New Zealand in their first six and their first three home games against the Force, new South African side the Kings and the expansion Jaguares they should be near the top of the New Zealand conference from the off.

For the Force, with the addition of the Jaguares, Kings and Sunwolves this season, the probably won’t run last overall again. How Hodgson, McClaman and co come back and how Grant links with Matthewson at the outside backs will be crucial. However it will still be hard for them in the Australian conference.

Injuries:

There was early concern that Canes fullback Jason Woodward wouldn’t go on after he was down for some time following a heavy tackle from Force fullback Dane Haylett-Petty but he played on.

Late in the game Force try-scorer Masiwera was layed out on the pitch after copping a blow to the face during a ruck but he walked up to the subs bench and may just be on light duties to start the week.

Four better, four worse:

Better: Straight off the bat second row Adam Coleman got involved with some tidy runs and scored inside four minutes.

Worse: Wellington wasted a host of chances in open play with poor calling. Support runners twice veered the wrong way and the pass went just behind in the other direction. Reserve halfback Frae Wilson created some options at times also in those breaks but could do better.

Better: Hurricanes skipper on the night Brad Shields performed well firing his team up on the line when they held the Force scoreless for about 30 minutes at one stage.

Worse: Vaea Fifita had a serious case of the dropsies losing two balls at one stage in quick succession.

Better: Marcel Brache, the LA-born centre, had a great chip and chase in the first half and could be an improver for the WA side in 2016.

Worse: After some early wobbles the line-out of substitute hooker Tessman improved, and they had some nice short variations.

Better: Chris Alcock was good for the Force (playing a key role in the lead-up to two tries) and the former Waratah is now very much a senior player at the club about to enter his fourth year in the West so he must play well for them to do well.

Worse: Ian Prior, the Force halfback on the night, started badly when his first pass nearly went over Grant’s head at first receiver. Delivery overall could have been crisper.

Next: The force play the Asia Pacific Dragons in Perth before opening their season at home against the Rebels whilst the Canes and play in Canberra on the opening Friday night of the 2016 competition.

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