Five things we learned from A-League Round 15

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Mid-season surrenders, post-season premonitions and a one million-dollar injury cloud capped off an interesting midweek round of A-League football.

Marquee misery

Siem de Jong’s Sydney FC stint could be in serious trouble after the Netherlands international was injured in the act of scoring against the Wellington Phoenix.

The 29-year-old was hit from behind by Phoenix captain Andrew Durante in the 25th minute and was swiftly substituted after writhing in pain on the pitch.

While the nature of the injury is yet to be confirmed, Sydney coach Steve Corica revealed de Jong would not feature against rivals Melbourne Victory on Saturday.

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“Siem obviously got hit from behind and he heard a crack,” Corica said.

“We’re not too sure of the damage – I think it’s to the knee. I think his ankle got caught as well, so (he) definitely won’t be playing on Saturday.”

Wednesday’s woe is the latest derailment to the star’s season-long loan move from Ajax, having already missed four weeks with a hamstring injury earlier this season.

Corica will likely turn to either Paulo Retre or Daniel De Silva in his marquee’s absence and is sure to alter his side’s formation with fellow loanee Anthony Caceres also under an injury cloud.

Season over?

Markus Babbel has received his fair share of the blame this season – not least from me – but even he could be excused for Tuesday’s train wreck.

With the Western Sydney Wanderers on the verge of a hard-fought 3-2 victory at AAMI Park, a red card to Keanu Baccus helped Melbourne City straight back into the contest.

And after Ritchie De Laet’s low shot levelled the scores in the 84th minute, Bart Schenkeveld ensured the comeback win was complete with a towering header deep into injury time.

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Despite the drama, Babbel could not help but feel a sense of familiarity following the final whistle, telling reporters: “It’s normal for me, every week is the same, what can I say?

“We can’t do it. We do too many individual mistakes at the back.

“Even if we score three, we concede four, then if we score four, we concede five.”

With the Wanderers 14 points adrift of the top six with 12 games remaining, the German’s frank admission all but confirmed the end of their finals hopes.

Six successive defeats have all but buried belief in the squad and, after months of mind games and obscure support, it appears even Babbel’s had enough.

Heads have to roll

The VAR’s villainous reputation among A-League admirers reached an unimaginable low Wednesday in Wellington.

Fans, players and pundits were left collectively incensed after both referee Daniel Elder and VAR Nick Waldron failed to find fault with a blatant handball inside the box, as well as a “dive of magnificent proportions”.

Louis Fenton and Steven Taylor will count themselves lucky for said infractions but, thankfully, they did not affect the final outcome of the match as Sydney FC prevailed 1-0.

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Given the nature of such unforgivable errors, Elder and Waldron have now etched their names onto a long list of A-League officials in the firing line, further fuelling the call for a total revamp of the nation’s referees.

In light of Jarred Gillett’s surprise resignation, league chief Greg O’Rourke now has the perfect opportunity to pursue a new face and raise the sliding standard.

Pending their end-of-year review, such a search could in fact open up further vacancies and introduce a new slate of men and women with the whistle.

Wishful thinking? Sure, but nevertheless, Wednesday was the last straw

I have a dream

“I still feel that we’ll definitely make the top six and play in the finals.”

Ernie Merrick’s midweek inkling took one significant step towards reality on Wednesday after the Newcastle Jets’ narrow F3 Derby win.

Kaine Sheppard’s solitary strike less than 10 minutes after the restart sank an unlucky Central Coast Mariners side at McDonald Jones Stadium and took the Jets back to within eight points of sixth-placed Wellington Phoenix.

Should Merrick’s men muster a string of positive results to clinch a finals berth, they will join Perth and Brisbane as they only two teams to have qualified despite struggling on 12 points through 14 games.

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Profligacy has been the Jets’ worst enemy this season, with six of their eight losses coming by way of one goal and a host of spurned attempts, but it appears this morale-boosting win might be their much-needed wake-up call.

Merrick, a two-time A-League champion, has seen it all in this league, so if he believes his team will contest come May, there’s every reason his players should too.

Goal-shy Glory

After an almost invincible start to the A-League season, it appears Perth Glory’s goals have all dried up.

The league leaders drew blank for the second time in five days on Wednesday, this time against Adelaide United at HBF Park.

Coach Tony Popovic admitted his side were “restricted” against the Reds but were not without their chances, with Joel Chianese spurning a golden opportunity right at the death.

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The draw leaves Glory just two points in front of second-placed Sydney FC ahead of Sunday’s clash with the Newcastle Jets and Popovic admitted his side would need to be at their best if they were to avoid another goal-shy game.

“Now it’s about recovering from this game for Sunday,” he said.

“It’s going to be a difficult game but we’re going to make it difficult for Newcastle too.” 

Perth have not gone three games without a goal since their mid-season collapse under Kenny Lowe in 2017-18.