5 Things We Learned from A-League Round 2

Record crowds, derby delight amongst the red mist and comebacks galore – just another week in the Hyundai A-League

Sydney’s Derby rules the roost

The crowning jewel of the A-League is without doubt the Sydney Derby. As a pure spectacle there is nothing like it in this country and Saturday night’s 3-2 comeback victory for Sydney FC will go down as a classic.

For all of the excitement and intrigue, it was Sasa Ognenovski who injected life into the home team in the second half – raising the intensity and aggression levels dangerously close to the line. His altercations with the Wanderers defence at set piece time after some one-on-one battles with Santalab clearly threw Western Sydney off their game. This was typified best when Vitor Saba lunged at Antonis before being rightly red carded.

Having let a 2 goal lead slip, frustration levels were at boiling point and it was the Brazilian who took the bait. But a derby would not be complete without a sprinkle of mind games and controversy. The latter would best be captured by Sydney FC’s equaliser – Ognenovski’s shot filtering through a crowd of bodies with Ibini clearly blocking Covic’s vision from an offside position. Perhaps Graham Arnold’s pre-game barbs at Western Sydney ultimately paid dividends, even if they looked to backfire spectacularly at 2-0 down.

For a derby to consistently provide this amount of drama time after time proves its worth to Australian football. When they write the history book about this contest, each chapter will tell a colourful tale about a battle for the hearts and minds of Sydney for 90 minutes. On this night Sydney was Sky Blue.

Adelaide Oval verdict – numbers good, atmosphere not

There was one thing that was impossible to block out of consciousness taking in the contest between old rivals Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory on Friday night – how much better would this be at Coopers Stadium?

The schedulers have performed as well as anyone of late, but maybe the shift across to Adelaide Oval should be consigned to the FFA bin of failed experiments for the time being, joining illustrious company in Clive Palmer, Gold Coast United and the soon-to-be Bunnings chairs. This might sound controversial, given a record 31,000 crowd for a regular season Adelaide United game, but the football suffered and so did the spectacle.

Friday night is the A-League’s only window into the mainstream with the current television deal, and it should not betray the successes along the road to reach this point. United’s Hindmarsh venue is modest in size, but with 19,000 people virtually on top of the pitch the passion and noise translate to television like few other stadia do in Australia. The unfamiliarity with pitch conditions at Adelaide Oval also hindered what should have been a far more entertaining match. With the FFA close to testing the ANZ Stadium waters for a Western Sydney match, we need to keep in mind what separates the A-League to other sports.

When compromises are made to sacrifice fan engagement and creating a better spectacle just for some short-term match day revenue, then football will follow the AFL and NRL who are slaves to corporatised stadium deals where clubs operate as occasional tenants than true representatives of a city or suburb. Adelaide are one of a few who can genuinely say that they have a home of their own.

Champions title defence more whimper than roar

Belief that Brisbane’s first up loss to Adelaide last week was a “blessing in disguise”  may need a rethink, because on current form the Champions will have more “blessings” dished out to them this season.

This is not to denigrate the football the Roar are playing, but it speaks to the fear factor, or lack thereof, that opponents are demonstrating. At no stage over the two games did Adelaide or Perth look to throw in the towel; they backed themselves to punish Brisbane with direct counter attacks.

Andy Keogh’s three goals, albeit with one that should have been a Donachie own goal, emphasises how teams will back themselves whether from set pieces or in transition.

Henrique and Kurtishi’s goals were fantastically worked and proved that finding the net should not be too much of a problem for Mulvey’s men. However, Michael Theo’s absence is proving a major blow particularly in defensive organisation as much as his shot stopping.

A 0-2 start is too early to hit the panic button, but the signs are there that the pack has well and truly caught up to the team who, for four years, has set the benchmark. Lets face it, Brisbane, when Kenny Lowe is gyrating and swinging those arms and hips in celebration – you need to ask questions.

Jets and Nix provide pain for punters

First up, Wellington’s 2-1 win at Central Coast told us two things – Wellington have enough in their locker to trouble more fancied teams this season, and the Mariners might not be able to squeeze blood from a stone much longer.

Michael McGlinchey’s return was always going to end in a goal for the former Gosford hero, somehow heading in from outside the box after Brockie’s attempted penalty blasted off the crossbar.

Nathan Burns’ winner was well constructed, crossing from left to right before hitting the shot past Reddy.

With 35 minutes left to play, you would back the hosts to pressure Wellington far more than they should have, but not to be. For Tom Doyle’s own goal to be the Mariners saving grace is a real concern.

Meanwhile the Newcastle Jets spoiled the Melbourne City party with their 1-1 draw on Sunday. Edson Montano’s perfectly directed header from a sweet Joel Griffiths cost came after an hour of play that the hosts well and truly dominated.

David Villa again popped up with a late equaliser, yet it has to beg the question why the marquee World Cup and Champions League winner was played on the left while David Williams was at number 9. How does that happen?

Crowd numbers brilliant, when viewed in context

106,082 was the aggregate crowd number across the five match weekend.

Absolutely superb.

The appetite for football in October is at fever pitch after a ridiculously lengthy offs-eason, and the crowds in the last couple of seasons at this stage are healthy.

In light of this, Perth Glory’s 8,700 and Central Coast’s 7,200 gates respectively are flies in the ointment for what was otherwise a spectacular weekend for the game. Four out of the ten teams in the competition are falling below capabilities for membership numbers, and perhaps it is no coincidence that they are the four who are tipped to struggle to make the six – Wellington, Newcastle, Perth and Central Coast.

If the adage is true that you are only as strong as you’re weakest link, then a lot more needs to be done to reignite the status of these clubs. Only six teams can make the finals and four will always miss out, but there is a danger that these four could be cut adrift for a few seasons if sponsors and more importantly fans are ambivalent to their fortunes.

With only ten teams, every club needs to give their supporters a reason to turn up.