21 December 2006

Round Seventeen Report

After brushing aside New Zealand with four goals in ten minutes, Melbourne Victory has deservedly won the 'minor' Premiership to clinch their first trophy (in fact, the Premiership Shield).

They hope to show off the silverware to home fans in Round 20, but might have to wait until the away game the following week in Newcastle (with a second presentation for the local fans made during the first home semi-final). I'm sure Jets fans could do without the Shield being held aloft in front of their desperate faces at the start of their final - probably crucial - game of the season. Let's hope the FFA gets flexbile on this issue and allows championship winning teams to display trophies whenever the first available home match arises.

Big wins also for Adelaide and Queensland this week. Romario finally scored - albeit from about two feet away - and played particularly well in the Reds' showdown with Newcastle. The incredible goals kept flying in throughout the game, with a few other splendid shots - one from Romario - narrowly failing to hit the back of the net. World Cup squad member Ante Covic had a debut worth forgetting for the Jets, midjudging Fernando's underhit shot. Newcastle lost the match but showed that even without the unavailable Nick Carle and Paul Okon, they are a force to be reckoned with and genuine final four contenders - I think they're capable of beating both Adelaide (questionable defence) and Sydney (not firing on all cylinders) for a spot in the final.

Queensland clawed and scraped against the intentions of the referee as much as Central Coast's graft. Liam Reddy couldn't stop two Mariners' penalties, one of which had to be re-taken, but Matt McKay and Dario Vidosic conspired and toiled to pull off a terrific 3-2 result for the Roar. It's the first positive thing to happen for Queensland for some time - the question now is will they be able to gather steam and make a late charge for the top four? With Newcastle and Central Coast both at home to the top two teams in the league, a good result for the Roar away to New Zealand next week might put them right back in contention. It doesn't get any easier, though, with away matches against Melbourne and Sydney, then a tough home match against Adelaide to follow.

Perth Glory submitted to a lacklustre Sydney, going down to Alex Brosque's first goal of the season (starting to turn it around, as predicted last week). They will need to win all four remaining matches to stand only a tiny mathematical chance of making the finals, but I suspect determining the future direction of the club over the next three home matches and one away game in far off New Zealand will be the foremost priority in the minds of Glory management, who have miserably failed to meet the high expectations of the club's former NSL supporter base. Something needs to be done, but nobody seems willing to take the affirmative steps.

The only team worse off are New Zealand - will they still exist in just over a month's time? The forced withdrawal of the club's owners, player contract disputes, the appearance of yet more part-time players on the field (by my count the Knights have now used 31 players this season!), and the arrival of New Zealand Soccer as temporary license holders, has turned the club into a bit of a fiasco over the past week. Count me as a member of the ever-decreasing circle of supporters for a New Zealand team in the A-League - but only under the provision that murky issues surrounding the team's split-regional status between Asia and Oceania are sorted out. I can't imagine any prospective owner being encouraged by the team's ineligibility for the Asian Champions League - what a farce that would be if the Knights ever did qualify - thus largely restricting sponsorship deals to New Zealand and Australia. I think there's a national audience for the Knights, but I'm not sure that there's a financial system based around the New Zealand national market to fully support the team's continued involvement.

Best of Round Seventeen:

Player: Dario Vidosic - another match-winning performance. Good thing he's contracted for another year - as a proven scorer of crucial goals he'll be worth a great deal on the park and/or in the transfer market for the Roar next campaign. Adelaide's Jason Spagnuolo also had an instrumental performance.

U-20 Player: Ben Griffin, Queensland - his thundering volley past Danny Vukovic ('Where'd what go?') was the highlight of the match. As predicted, Frank Farina has been able to draw excellence from the Roar youth. Farina's not doing too bad with some of the senior players either.

Coach: Frank Farina, Queensland - a successful reshuffle on this occasion, with Buess (left fullback) and Seo (defensive midfield) starting where they ought to in the minds of most fans.

Match: Adelaide United vs Newcastle United Jets

Goal: Greg Owens, Adelaide - quality shimmy and finish after the lay off from Romario, and such a massive goal in the context of the final four. Roar's Ben Griffin and Victory's Adrian Caceres also scored screamers - as The Roundball Analyst points out, this was a week of great goals.

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Alex Brosque - Damian Mori
Jason Spagnuolo - Dario Vidosic - Mark Bridge - Leo Bertos
Matt Thompson - David Tarka - Mark Milligan - Ben Griffin
Danny Vukovic

Subs: Clint Bolton, Steven Pantelidis, Steve Corica, Romario

14 December 2006

Round Sixteen Report

More than 80,000 people attended the round's four matches, the highest overall attendance in the league's short history.

Newcastle destroyed Queensland to set themselves up for a very big finish indeed.

Neither Melbourne or Sydney were prepared to test the waters too any significant degree so close to the finals, resulting in a classic goalless draw.

Perth pretty much surrended its campaign to a suddenly watertight Central Coast unit.

Romario and Aloisi were finally dragged by John Kosmina, their replacements gaining an important point against a determined and fortunate New Zealand.

Although Glory, the Knights and Roar all seem unrealistic final four contenders at this stage, just about everyone still has something to play for - each club has between one-third and one-half of their playing staff coming off contract at the end of the season. Who knows what personnel changes might eventuate between now and the start of the third A-League campaign? As Alex Brosque showed last year, loyalty is something to speak highly of in the press but ignore when it comes time to make a bottom-line decision (that hasn't turned out particulary well for him, so far, but you get the feeling an exceptionally important goal might be just around the corner). Over the coming weeks, expect to hear plenty of positive self-judgements seeping into the press from players and agents seeking new deals.

Meanwhile, Sydney stands to lose competition points due to salary cap breaches involving payments to David Zdrilic, the FFA finally seems to have given New Zealand's owners the big flick, and Brazilian commentators - seeking excuses for Romario - have weighed-in on the slow pace and lack of sharpness evident in Adelaide's midfield.

Never a dull week of football.

Best of Round Sixteen:

Player: Mark Bridge, Newcastle - his chances have been come and go, as you expect from youth, but when he's come in and played well he's really given that extra option to lift the Jets

U-20 Player: Dario Vidosic, Queensland - came on as a sub and looked one of the few Roar players interested

Coach: Gary Van Egmond, Newcastle - it's just remarkable, right now they have to be genuine title contenders

Match: Melbourne Victory vs Sydney FC

Goal: Mark Bridge, Newcastle - take your pick, the first a great one-two-three with Milton Rodriguez, the second a perfect demonstration of when to be greedy

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Mark Bridge - Archie Thompson
Stewart Petrie - Stuart Musialik - Simon Colosimo - Travis Dodd
Damien Brown - Rodrigo Vargas - Mark Rudan - Jade North
Mark Paston

Subs: Tommi Tomich, David Tarka, Robbie Middleby, Alen Marcina

10 December 2006

A Look at Attendances

Following the record-breaking crowd of 50,333 at the Melbourne vs Sydney fixture on the weekend, average attendances for the current season are closing in on 13,000. In comparison, the last regular season finished with an average of just under 11,000 per game. So, we're clearly seeing a big improvement, albeit one fueled by Melbourne's stunning crowds (which have increased an enormous 85% from last year). Central Coast (up 24%) and Adelaide (up 10%) are the other teams to have significantly increased their home-and-away season crowd averages, while New Zealand (down 25%) and Perth (down 21%) have witnessed the biggest slides.

Yet, we still get ridiculous pieces of 'analytical' journalism such as this from Philip Micallef:

IF Terry Butcher wants to know why Melbourne pull far bigger crowds than Sydney, he should look no further than Friday night's blockbuster ...

Contrary to free-spirited Victory, whic [sic] is without doubt the flag-bearer of the league, Sydney does not create many scoring chances and is not exactly pretty to watch.

Perhaps this is why Victory gets huge crowds and Sydney's gates are poor, compared to last season at least.

Good grief. This is simply inane and vulgar sports commentary with no basis to factual reality. Micallef wants us to believe that exciting, attacking football brings patrons to games, an assertion that could be disputed with reference to all manner of examples from home and overseas. Queensland, for instance, are arguably playing less attacking football than last year - Miron Bleiberg stated as much before his departure, and Frank Farina's Roar has hardly managed to exhilirate fans so far. Average attendances to Roar matches have barely fluctuated from last year, though - the same fans are still turning up, regardless of the 'quality' of the attacking display.

Secondly, Micallef wants to drag Sydney through the mud some more - why not, everyone else is? Sydney's gates are down from last year, yes, but only by a relatively modest 8%. The situation is clearly far more dismal in the far east and west bases of the league, but perhaps due to their remoteness and low key media profiles those clubs haven't received the wrath of an ill-informed, agenda-based press. It's quite evident that an endless stream of negative media reports is at least partly, and possibly mostly, responsible for Sydney's poorer turnouts this year. Terry Butcher's heavy-handedness and watchful style probably hasn't helped an awful lot, but it's incredibly facile to assert his results-oriented approach is the major reason for fan disgruntlement. John Kosmina has also carved his team in the Jose Mourinho results-over-substance style, and one doesn't hear too many complaints from the larger Adelaide crowds.

Relative degrees of success is of course the other big factor affecting the fluctuation of attendances. (Perhaps I shouldn't say 'of course'; what might be obvious to 99% of us clearly isn't at all to a handful of imbeciles holding down decently paying jobs at our major sportscasters.) As the most successful team in the league in terms of the win column, Melbourne has benefited most of all from the post-World Cup intensification of interest in the local game. Since they keep on winning and remain on top of the table, Victory has been able to sustain the football bubble longer than anyone else. The enormous expectations surrounding Sydney after last year's championship no doubt contributed to the slowdown when early league results - especially at home - did not go their way. Meanwhile, the successful but not entirely satisfying inaugural seasons of the Reds and the Mariners may have helped pave the way for their improved attendances this year - the fans have had a taste and now they want more.

Finally, there's one more piece of the puzzle Micallef overlooks, much to his discredit: for an intense rivalry to emerge, it takes two to tango. If Sydney is so boring, why haven't 50,000 (or even 30,000) Melbourne fans attended any of the Victory's matches against any of the league's other teams? The analysis (not that Micallef did any) of home gates is just one aspect of the story. To provide a more complete picture of the league's favoured and disfavoured teams, both home and away attendances need to be taken into account.


By the way, if you're looking for a breakdown of current and historical aggregates and averages, please navigate to the approporiate page on AusFootballReview.

5 December 2006

Round Fifteen Report

Best of Round Fifteen:

Player: Daniel Allsopp, Melbourne - benefits so much from the hard running of Thompson and Caceres, as well as the precise passing of Muscat and Fred, but deserves every accolade for the way he's rebounded from a lacklustre first season to top the scoring charts

U-20 Player: Chris Grossman, Queensland (see comments) Adrian Leijer, Melbourne - not much competition this week, with Burns quiet and a little clumsy, Vidosic and Zadkid on late, and so many other U-20s on the bench

Coach: Ernie Merrick, Melbourne - no, the defeat against Newcastle was not a sign of hard times ahead - after demolishing Adelaide with their pace, vision, movement off the ball and hard tackling, Melbourne are still clear favourites for the title

Match: Central Coast Mariners vs Sydney FC

Goal: Matt McKay, Queensland - maybe a bit fortunate Tomich was slow to get across to his far post, but a fine looping shot to win the match for Queensland

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Daniel Allsopp - Joel Griffiths
Robbie Middleby - Kevin Muscat - Andre Gumprecht - Spase Dilevski
Matthew Kemp - David Tarka - Mark Rudan - Wayne O'Sullivan
Liam Reddy

Subs: Tommi Tomich, Dean Gordon, Fred, Nick Carle