A-League mid-season review

Sunset over AAMI Park.

Sunset over AAMI Park.

We’re 14/27ths of the way through the A-League season. Well, if you discount the finals, that is.

Anyway, what better place than here and what better time than now for some sort of mid-season review!

Adelaide United – Justin Civitillo

Rubbish start to the season, but things might be looking up now. What have been the key factors in Adelaide’s turnaround?

I think just getting back to what worked under Gombau. We’ve been more ambitious going forward and more resolute across the park. Carrusca and Jeggo have been given more licence to attack and our forward set up has been geared towards running at goal from wide positions, rather than away from it (and with no one to cross to). Or, more simply, we’re now causing problems for defenders and we’re shutting down our opponents instead of gifting them easy goals, and our confidence has grown through this improvement. No disrespect to John Hall, who did the best job we could possibly expect while Galekovic was out, but he doesn’t have Eugene’s experience and leadership and I think having that back in the side is important too.

We came from behind to win for the first time this season against Perth – previously there had been questions about the team’s self-belief under Amor and our ability to respond to set backs. Marcelo Carrusca’s resurgence has been a big factor too – he again looks the damaging, game-breaking player we all know he can be. If the normally prolific Cirio starts firing – he’s only scored twice in the A-League so far this season – then we can be a threat to any team, especially with Craig Goodwin also looking dangerous on the other wing.

Is Amor working his way into Adelaide supporters’ hearts?

To a degree. Obviously a winning team is going to keep fans onside, and it definitely feels that the criticism of Amor (and his managerial style) has died down a bit. But it can still go either way from here. There still isn’t the widespread adulation for Amor that Gombau enjoyed. If Amor leads us into the finals and we do some damage, and also win our qualifier to get into the Champions League and be successful there, then I think fans will want him back next season. Or at least be accepting of him. If we slump again, lose the qualifier, either don’t make finals or bomb out in the first week, then I think it’d be hard to convince fans he’s worth another season.

What should Adelaide United’s priorities be in the transfer window?

Probably 99.9 per cent of Adelaide fans would scream “a striker!!!” The general consensus would be we need someone like Berisha or Fornaroli to finish off all the chances our football tends to produce. The problem is those type of players aren’t easy to find (just ask the Wanderers). They generally don’t come cheap either – and we’re not exactly replete with funds to throw at a gun forward. So I can’t see that happening, to be honest. I think it’s also a little unfair on Bruce Djite, who works as hard as anyone for the team and never really gets any plaudits because he doesn’t score many goals at all. I don’t have any issue with that as long as his hard work creates space and opportunities for others to score. Also we’ve not yet seen what Eli Babalj can do as he has struggled with injury, while Pablo Sanchez is in and out of the team despite his tendency to pop up with important goals. He’s a different type of player to Bruce and Eli so I don’t know whether it’s that Amor deems him unsuitable to play as the number 9 against certain teams or that he doesn’t see him as being our main strike weapon, but instead someone who quietly chips in up front or out wide when needed.

If we do bring some players in then we need to look at strengthening the depth of the team. Despite the poor start to the season this is still a squad with a lot of experience and quality in it, but we’re reliant on our top players finding form and staying fit, and we also face a taxing Champions League campaign if we win the qualifying play-off. I know James Troisi has been mentioned and he’d be a fantastic signing, someone who would add significant firepower to the side. I do wonder though if he’ll actually end up here. It feels to me like he’d go to one of the richer clubs like Sydney or City over us, especially if City offload Robert Koren.

I’d say most fans are happy the Osama Malik for David Williams swap fell through. I’ve read Devante Clut wants out of Brisbane and he’d be a cracking signing for us if the club is interested (they should be!). An outstanding young player who has a point to prove and could contribute right away.   Especially if we get to the Champions League, as I can’t see Carrusca playing every game, and we do need some depth in that creative midfield spot. He’d be near the top of my wish list. A pacy winger who runs at goal and isn’t afraid to shoot would be a good addition, and certainly an experienced centre-back could prove invaluable given that we really lack experience among our central defensive options (in terms of actually playing that position or being a leader there).

Another thing to consider is that our youth team has been superb this season – they won the NPL SA State League title (our second division) and they’ve just won their NYL conference to qualify for the Grand Final. Obviously there are some talented young players in that group and they play the same style as the A-League side, so perhaps one or two could step up and make their mark in the seniors this season if called upon.

Brisbane Roar – Ben Clark

Roar, top of the table. Can we put that down to the fact that Brisbane has the most attractive manager in the league?

We undoubtedly have the best looking manager in the league. But also the team playing the best football. Definitely defying every prediction – even the most optimistic one. We have signed excellently to accentuate our already solid spine – Corona & MacLaren fantastic so far – definitely no Mifsuds amongst them. John is even getting some decent performances out of Dimi Petratos. Must be the expensive suits.

After the off-season carry-on, what has it been like for the fans to see the team winning on the park?

It’s been absolutely fantastic as a fan to see expectations on the pitch exceeded, while we are treated as a stakeholder & talked to honestly and frankly by David Pourre and his excellent team regarding our off field dramas. I think there’s fairly unanimous feeling from Roar fans that we’d still like to see the Bakries out, but it’s hard to complain when debts are being paid and responsible governance restored and we are updated on that process. Communication has been key. It’s been really unexpected – after hearing about John and David driving around Brisbane to find a pitch to train on his first day here, after being booted from Ballymore – for all of us to adjust from a season we all had low expectations for to a season we might get something from.

Should Gold Coast United be revived?

Gold Coast should never have been cut for Wanderers. Why do we need to kill clubs to bring in new ones? Why not an 11/12 team league? We’ve seen this mentality again with Wellington. We should be adding teams, games, and markets, not disillusioning entire regions by doing what they did with GCU. Let’s just say a returned Gold Coast sans Palmer would be a lot more popular than a Cronulla Riots FC…

What’s the food like at Lang Park?

The food at Lang Park is absolute garbage. If you’re up here for a game, go to BratHaus on Caxton St for a quality feed before you go in. Some fans have started going to Brisbane Bandits (baseball) games just to get good food at a sporting event.

Any tips for the January transfer window?

We need a left back, and another striker to shore up the squad. Polenz should leave, and we have the room to sign another foreigner… We really need some depth in those positions. Sadly I think Clut will also leave unless there’s drastic and unexpected changes in this window, like Manchester City signing Petratos after my hashtag gets off the ground. Will be interesting to see what John prioritises in the window as it will be instructive for who will be departing at the end of the season more than likely.

Central Coast Mariners – Josh Howe

CCM seemed to be one of the more supportive clubs during the Daily Telegraph shambles late last year. Has that helped relations with the fans while the on-field performance has been a bit up-and-down?

I think that CCM have one of the most loyal and supportive fan bases in the league due to its uniqueness and location. It’s an idyllic place to live and to have our own sporting team is great. While performances haven’t been the best and criticism has come on the whole club, there are still plenty of fans who believe in what Walmlsey is doing and hoping we can go through the 2nd half of the season with some more positive results.

It seems a very CCM thing to have exciting young players. Which players are you the most excited about?

Austin is a player that greatly excites me and every other Mariners fan l am sure. His electric pace down the wing and his cross delivery have been exceptional. With 2 goals in his last 2 games, he’s added a scoring touch to his game. Trent Buhagiar is the next big Mariners product. A local lad with massive potential. He’s been exciting fans in youth for some time now and deservedly has been given a spot on the senior roster.

Do you think the club will be making any changes during the transfer window?

I think we may bring in a striker with Roy’s suspension. Heffernan being let go was a strange call but I’m sure the club had their reasons. Bray is a promising goalkeeper and l look forward to seeing how he goes. Stella is someone unproven at A-League level despite his limited chances at the Victory, I’m keen to see how he goes for the Mariners for the rest of the season.

Finally, do people recognise in the street you these days after your appearance on ABC News?

Haha no, that interview was something that no one else wanted to do and l felt passionate enough to speak out during that time and to address the issues between the active groups and the FFA. I hope to think that l added some clarification to the issue for the viewers. Active fans are the most dedicated fans in any club and we all deserved the outcome that the FFA gave us.

Melbourne City – Natalie Tosh

Melbourne City is scoring goals like they’re going out of fashion. Is there optimism among City supporters?

There’s definitely optimism among City supporters, more than ever before. It’s hard not to start raising our hopes with all the positive media articles and praise from the football community about our style of play and exciting attack. However, I don’t think there’d be many City supporters who at this stage actually believe we will win the league. We’re probably at the point where we’re pretty sure we’ll make finals, and hopeful to make top 4. I think for me, the years of being a Heart supporter, and the disappointment of results falling apart after good runs have made it hard to be too confident. But it’s definitely nice to be in with a realistic chance of winning the league.

Watching our attacking combination of Mooy, Fornaroli and Novillo blossom this season has been so exciting for us City supporters, and I love being known as the entertaining team of the league. Let’s hope it continues for the rest of the season!

How long until Aaron Mooy is tempted away?

I think most of us are pretty sure Aaron Mooy will leave at the end of the season. It’s already a bonus that it looks like he’ll be here until the end of this season, so I’d be very surprised if he was still here for the next one. I just hope he goes to a suitable club where he gets to play regularly and that we’re able to still follow his career and see him get better and better.

Is defence still a problem for the team?

Defence is definitely still a problem. It’s nice that we’re scoring so many goals so the poor defence doesn’t result in us losing most of our games. But I don’t think we’ll go anywhere while we’re conceding so many goals, and relying on Sorenson to make multiple amazing saves each game. It’s really not acceptable for a team going for the premiership to have conceded the second highest number of goals, behind only the bottom team. Connor Chapman was a big loss, and I don’t think the combination of Kisnorbo and Hughes in central defence is good enough to sort out our defensive issues.

What has been your stand-out moment of the season so far?

The Christmas derby. Although we’d been in good form leading up to that game, most people were still saying we’d only beat teams lower on the table, we couldn’t compete with the top teams etc. It was just really nice to be able to come out and prove everyone wrong and show that we are capable. Of course, we were a bit lucky to get the win, but as most Heart supporters would tell you, those are the sort of games we’d lose in the past. It’s also been nice to be able to follow it up with a win against another top team, the Wanderers.

Melbourne Victory – Melissa Lordanic

Have the wheels fallen off Victory’s title defence? What’s going on?

The wheels have basically fallen off entirely regarding the title defence and it’s going to take a miracle, and a severe change in form from the likes of Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne City, for Victory to finish top two this season thus making their premier’s plate defence impossible and their championship defence statistically even more difficult.

Everyone has been asking what has happened and there have been multiple answers which have some sort of merit to them. Some argue Muscat’s game plan has become predictable and it is not as effective as it was last season because opposition defences now know what to expect, are defending accordingly and Victory aren’t changing it up. Some argue the depth of the squad has been tested more than it ever was last season, namely due to the absences of the Olyroos players, and it has shown itself in the lack of results.

Whatever has happened, this second half of the season is undoubtedly Muscat’s biggest ever test as a senior coach and he needs to show what he’s made of.

Do you think the club will do some business during the transfer window?

They need to. A central defender/defensive midfielder was a position the club was spoiled for choice with last season with Delpierre and Ansell the preferred centre back pairing and Milligan and Valeri the preferred holding midfielder pairing. On top of that Broxham was usually available to play in either position and was particularly useful during Delpierre’s long injury layoff.

But now Milligan’s gone, Valeri’s illness is keeping him off the park and, until recently, Ansell’s injury has meant Broxham has been playing as a centre back rather than in midfield where he is, arguably, more needed.

As well as this, the ACL campaign throws another spanner in the works with Muscat needing to make a decision about Delpierre and whether or not he includes the defender in the squad.

Victory need an experienced central defender for the ACL. It’s as simple as that.

What impact with the Asian Champions League campaign have on Victory’s A-League campaign?

The ACL is going to have a massive effect on Victory’s A-League season, it’s not a cakewalk for any side and for some reason it is always particularly difficult for Victory.

The team is lucky in the sense that of its next 13 A-League games only five are away, and one of those matches is the derby so the effects of travel won’t be an issue then. However, they still have trips to Perth and Wellington to contend with.

Squad depth and rotation could also pose a problem. Presuming our group of Olyroos is available that will lighten the load somewhat but Muscat will need to figure out, perhaps most importantly, which of the five foreigners he is going to include in the ACL squad. This decision will drive any transfer movement as well as, potentially, the outcomes of the ACL campaign.

If the A-League didn’t make it mandatory for coaches to wear a suit on the sidelines, how would Kevin Muscat dress? Trackie dacks and thongs?

Full Adidas getup including bum bag and Yeezys would be ideal.

Newcastle Jets – Todd Blackwell

The Jets have fallen away after a good start. What’s going on?

Squad depth mate, it was the only issue I could see causing us a major problem in 15/16. Scott Miller set the Newcastle Jets the challenge of taking 9 points from the first six games. At the end of round six we were on 10 points.

We’d also lost Labi Haliti with a season ending ACL rupture, our central defenders, captain Nigel Boogaard and Daniel Mullen and Korean left back Lee Ki-je, have all had several weeks out injured as has no. 10 and playmaker, Leonardo. Ex-South Melbourne gun striker, Andy Brennan, has also had an ongoing injury issues.

We’ve had a couple of fantastic Next Gen guys step up and really shown some pride in the jersey and what it means to Newy. Unfortunately there will never be a substitute for experience.

What are the fans saying about the Jets’ ownership situation?

What’s happening with a new owner and the Newy Jets, that’s a good question mate, we just need to find someone to answer it! Doesn’t seem to be much happening anywhere on that front.

Last I heard Steven Thompson was still interested, that’s a while back though, I think like most broken things, you’ll think of buying the item everyone’s had a go with, if its cheap, like real cheap.

The transfer of our Korean left back, Lee Ki-Je, to Ulsan Hyundai, has given us back a few dollars, there’s been a lot of talk among the Faithful of what we need and who we should be buying, I noticed in a Herald article a couple of weeks back, Jets fill in CEO, David Eland saying we weren’t in the market for an OS marquee player, ah, I don’t know, that makes me think we’re still in the market for a buyer.

The Red and Blue Faithful, I think after last season’s #Tinkastrophe most of us are just happy to still have a team.

Who has been your standout player so far this season?

That’s hard, top bunch of blokes, who have all bought into what football means to Newcastle and its fans. Really impressed with the Next Gen, Lachy Jackson really stepped up for mine, owned left side central defence there for a couple of weeks.

My standout though, the Hoffanator, spoke to him during preseason, he came back home as a man with a mission, had something to prove, (and for all the right reasons), the only problem with that you’ve got to be able to back that up on the paddock. He’s done that and more from where I sit in Bay 4, and if you go and check the stats, I think you’d find he’s close to if not the best defender in the league.

And just to top it all off Jason Hoffman’s just a great bloke. Have you ever seen him unhappy? No? Neither have I.

Despite half the season being over and the Newy Jets now holding a few records I’m sure we could’ve done with out, hahaha, I still have total belief in what Scott Miller, JP, and the coaching staff of the Newcastle Jets are trying to achieve in Season 15/16, Go the Newy Jets, Never Tear Us Apart.

Perth Glory – Jon Turner

Perth is second-last, but not out of the race for a finals spot. Is it a possibility, or should Perth be focusing on next season?

It’s been a season blighted by injuries and inconsistency. But thanks to the nature of the league, we are by no means out of the race for the top 6, however it looks unlikely. Of course it’s important to build a squad that will in time make finals, so there must be one eye on next season. But until it is mathematically impossible to make the 6, they should focus on the second half of 2015/16.

How did Perth Glory supporters react to the Daily Telegraph shambles?

The Daily Telegraph shambles affected the club to an extent. Mainly, it lead to the demise of the Perth Terrace, the active support group usually located opposite from the Shed. 10 Glory fans were mentioned in the article, with the majority from the Perth Terrace. I know of one individual who got banned for 3 seasons for brandishing a ‘Sage Out’ banner outside the stadium after the salary cap fiasco of last season. For me, that should not warrant a ban, however the DT article certainly ruffled a few feathers. I know that 3 fans were appealing with the help of the clubs, however their outcomes were not published.

The club has cut Fernandez and Sidnei, while Keogh is back. Good moves?

It’s set to be a busy month for the club as it seeks to find a formula which will propel them into finals contention. Andy Keogh is back, a highly debatable topic as he was front and centre of the salary cap episode. On the flip side, the Irishman scored 17 goals last season, something sadly Guyon Fernandez could not replicate. I have a feeling that if Keogh gets 3 or 4 goals and some confidence soon, the doubters will soon dissipate.

Unfortunately Fernandez was blighted by injury and in particular match fitness, evident by his return of 1 goal in 5 games. Sidnei is also gone, having signed for a club in Mexico. He wasn’t a bad player by any means, but he never seemed to have the X-Factor, or the ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck.

As for potential moves within PGFC this season, Michael Thwaite is hot topic, with a move to China being mooted. Anthony Golec is also mulling over an offer in Europe, whilst Glory’s hero son of WA, Josh Risdon, is apparently off to Germany. The loss of the RB would be a huge blow for the Glory, a team that lacks the spirit and determination of the Boy from Bunbury. Adam Taggart is apparently a target for Kenny Lowe as the young West Aussie continues to struggle to gain a foot in the door at Fulham. An unsuccessful loan spell at Dundee saw little game time, with a return Down Under seeming likely. As for replacing the others, Kenny will look to his NYL squad and could look to persuade WA talent to come back home from overseas.

Credit must go to CEO Peter Filopolous, who seems to have at least steadied the ship at Glory HQ. The imminent release of the ‘Four Year Plan’ by Filopolous will outline the targets and goals of the club in the future, whilst correctly managing the financial and management side of things. Time will tell and it will be an interesting few months for the boys out here in the West.

Sydney FC – Dale Roots

Happy with the season so far?

Reasonably so. The season so far seems to have been one of almosts and maybes, especially in the attacking third. Since losing Janko, Ibini and Antonis the team has seemed to have lost most of its sharpness and thrust. Alex Brosque is a hard worker and Filip Hološko has flashes of brilliance, but in most games the team seems to play as if there’s a glass box around the penalty area, which can be hugely frustrating to watch. With that said, defence seems a lot more solid than it did last year and the team isn’t losing many games, so if there’s another level of attacking quality to come, hopefully the team can start putting matches away and winning more consistently.

Is Graham Arnold being grumpy enough?

To paraphrase “Moneyball”: there’s Scott Miller and there’s Kevin Muscat after a Derby loss, then there’s fifty feet of impotent rage, then there’s Graham Arnold.

Who should Sydney FC target during the transfer window?

Great question. I’d really like to see the club target an Asian player for the ACL – it’s absolutely laughable that Ali Abbas is the only AFC player in the A-League at the moment. I’m sure there a bunch of Asian players who could fill the gaps in our squad but it’s a matter of finding them and fitting them into the team. I’d love to see the club take a punt on someone like Hamza al Dardour from Jordan or Igor Sergeev from Uzbekistan, but I’m also aware how hard it would be to pry them away from their current clubs given the financial and squad restrictions A-League clubs face.

How did you react when Ali Abbas scored on his return from injury?

Like everyone, I was so happy for him. It was utter madness in the active end – Ali’s a fan favourite and I think most fans recognise that his return gives the team a huge boost and brings hope that things will improve as he gets more and more match fitness. I think we should all be glad the Cove wasn’t on the ground floor of ANZ or in the Paddington End at Moore Park, because there would’ve either been a pitch invasion or Ali would’ve been chaired off into the Cove by the fans.

Wellington Phoenix – Patrick Barnes

A bit of an up-and-down season so far, will the Nix make the finals?

At this stage, it’s looking like a battle between us and Adelaide for sixth place. On current form, you’d have to say that Adelaide are the favourites to sneak into the six ahead of us. The Nix have been hit with injuries to key players, the biggest loss being Roy Krishna. Without him, it’s proving difficult for the Nix to score goals, and we all know that you can’t win a game without scoring.

However, if the Nix can solve these goal-scoring issues, I think we can just scrape into the playoffs at Adelaide’s expense.

Do you think the ongoing uncertainty about the club’s licence has affected the on-field performance?

Every one of the players will deny that this is the case, but they are only human so it makes sense that it would affect them in some way. We saw this in a positive sense during the first home game after FFA’s announcement that they had rejected the 10 year licence. The team put on a stunning show against Adelaide, winning the match 4-2 and Roly Bonevacia scored the goal of the season so far.

However, since then, there’s been the drop in form and I suspect the license issues have only compounded those issues. It seems like talks are going well now, which will hopefully put the players minds at ease. Either way, the sooner a new deal is sorted out, the better it will be for everyone at the club, including the players.

What should the club’s priorities be during the transfer window?

Before the last round of games, I would have said the defence. Our back four players against the Roar had a collective 237 starting XI appearances in the A-League, and Andrew Durante accounted for 228 of those. However the makeshift back four consisting of Durante, Dylan Fox, Troy Danaskos and Justin Gulley gave a good account of themselves against a very good Brisbane side, even though the Roar were slightly depleted. I can see Dylan Fox keeping that centre back position the entire time that Ben Sigmund is out with his long term injury.

It would be hard to argue against signing another goalscorer to take the burden off Michael McGlinchey, Blake Powell and Bonevacia, however Ernie Merrick has stated that he doesn’t expect to make any signings in the transfer window. It’s going to have to be a case of other players stepping up to create chances and score goals.

What do you think about playing home games away from the Cake Tin?

From a personal standpoint, I really enjoy them. It’s very expensive for us to attend an away game in Australia, we can’t just jump on a 2 hour train ride to get to a game like some supporters in Australia are able to do. These Home & Away games, as we like to call them, are a good substitute for having to make the international flight to Australia for a game, as it gives us a chance for an away game experience without breaking the bank.

However, not everyone is able to make the trips around the country for various reasons, and therefore the more games at Westpac Stadium, the easier it will be to grow the supporter base here in Wellington. I think the current balance of two games away from Wellington is a good balance. The Nix make a bucketload of money out of these games, so it definitely makes financial sense for them to take place, but one game in Auckland and one somewhere else in the country is enough.

Western Sydney Wanderers – Tatiyana Shaba

What’s the feeling in the stands? You must be happy with how things are going after a pretty slow start to the season.

Yeah, the feeling is great in the stands. Disappointed to have ended our undefeated streak but still confident that we’re real contenders for the title.

Obviously in hindsight it’s easy to look back at the first few games of this season and identify the positive changes Popa had made in the squad and style of play and know that it would only be a matter of time before it all clicked into place. However, after last season, the losses were too familiar of a feeling and optimism was at a bit of a low.

How do you think the Daily Telegraph fiasco affected WSW supporters outside the RBB?

For the most part I think it brought a new level respect for the active supporter groups, not just in the case of WSW. As with anything, there were fans opposed to the boycotts and believed that we should have been there for the team no matter what. But once the players came out in support of the fans, and the realisation that active fans put more into supporting the club than just showing up to the game on a weekly basis, it brought the two sets of fans a little closer together.

Do you think the club will make any changes during the transfer period?

No. There’s no reason to. We brought in Reddy and Bouzanis has made the move, I think that will be the extent of it. We had our fair share of changes at the start of the season and it all seems to be working quite well, I don’t see Popa wanting to disrupt that.