Five things we learned from A-League Round 18

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Improbable comebacks, flawed formats and big-game statements highlighted this past weekend’s round of A-League action.

Relegation can’t come soon enough

It’s no secret the lack of relegation has left A-League stragglers with little to play for, but on Saturday afternoon, you could tell.

Stray passes were aplenty during the Western Sydney Wanderers’ 2-0 win over Central Coast Mariners, as was the shortage of quality on show.

The defeat left the Mariners rooted to the foot of the competition, posting just six points for their once-promising season.

And with a second successive wooden spoon in sight, the question of relegation needs to be asked of Football Federation Australia once again.

“The job is a lot more difficult than I thought it was when I first came here,” Mariners coach Mike Mulvey said after the match.

Such an admission would merit the sack in most two-tier competitions, but in the A-League, coaches get both a free pass and free entry into the next season.

Though relegation itself remains a few seasons away from reality, the current campaign is a clear reminder of the league’s flawed format.

Had last place sent the Mariners to a two-legged playoff with the second division champions, Saturday’s sleeper at Spotless Stadium would have been worthwhile.

Instead, the two teams tossed to and fro knowing three points would do little for their current position, with the top six all but locked despite a third of the campaign still left to play.

More money, more problems

Jamie Maclaren’s A-League return brought the goals with it on Saturday night, but not the fans.

Only 6,569 supporters turned out to witness Melbourne City’s 1-1 draw with Adelaide United at AAMI Park, with the cash-strapped club yet to top 8,000 outside derbies since round three’s 3-0 defeat to Sydney FC.

The City Football Group pledged both Maclaren and Tottenham Hotspur’s Shayon Harrison to City late in the January transfer window, thus completing one of the most talented teams in the competition.

 And yet, no-one is watching them.

City weren’t at their best against the Reds, but the fourth v fifth clash; on a Saturday night; featuring new signings, should warrant greater engagement.

The Socceroos striker looked lively on his club debut and, after cancelling out Crag Goodwin’s first-half header, almost doubled his tally with a fierce strike at Paul Izzo in the 72nd minute.

With Bruno Fornaroli now a distant memory, Maclaren and Harrison have ushered in a new era at City but it appears not many of Melbourne’s passionate sports supporters are willing to be a part of it.

Deck the Wenzel-Halls

Queensland’s NPL goal-machine is warming up in Brisbane and fans got a great taste of what’s to come with an impressive performance on Friday night.

With Brisbane Roar braced for a precious point at home to Sydney FC; a special 90th-minute strike from Dylan Wenzel-Halls secured an unlikely 2-1 win in front of 8,356 fans.

The result was near-inconceivable once Sydney’s Daniel De Silva broke the deadlock in the second half, with the Roar already ravaged by first-half injuries and the suspended Jamie Young, Daniel Bowles and Dane Ingham.

Interim coach Darren Davies was forced to deploy midfielder Matt McKay alongside Jacob Pepper in defence, as well as 16-year-old debutant Izaack Powell, and while most makeshift back lines would have buckled, this one only grew stronger.

Buoyed by his side’s resilience, Wenzel-Halls proved a constant threat to the Sky Blues – and Rhyan Grant’s mullet – before his persistence paid off with the winner.

The 21-year-old’s second goal of the season helped bring the Roar’s 12-game winless streak to an end and sent a clear message to the club of his importance ahead of his one-year contract’s expiration.

Premiers in waiting

Perth Glory took a telling step towards silverware on Sunday after goals to Neil Kilkenny and Diego Castro completed a 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory.

Over 25,000 fans flooded AAMI Park to witness the top-of-the-table clash but not many would argue the gulf in quality between the two teams.

Don’t let the scoreline fool you, the Glory controlled the contest from start to finish, leaving Melbourne with all three points for the second time this season.

The victory stretched the visitors’ lead atop the league ladder to seven points with nine games remaining, a lead almost unassailable given the Glory’s current form.

Tony Popovic’s team have lost just one match this season and look destined for a maiden Premiers’ Plate – not that he’s paying any attention to it.

“For us, it was just another challenge,” Popovic said.

“Another important match that we could still show our consistency, show our quality and show that we don’t have fear.”

Lucky for Popovic, the Glory showed all that and more.

You shall not pass!

Newcastle paid witness to one of the most entertaining 1-1 draws in recent A-League memory on Thursday night.

Were it not for goalkeepers Glen Moss and Oliver Sail, the Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix might well have had four goals apiece to show for their attacking intent.

Moss and Sail produced a string of spectacular saves at McDonald Jones Stadium, with the former on hand to deny the Nix all three points with a late stop from the spot against the in-form Roy Krishna.

Sail’s heroics were a welcomed surprise to the Phoenix faithful, who were fearing the worst when Filip Kurto pulled out pre-match with illness.

The 23-year-old’s confident, athletic presence between the sticks frustrated Jets coach Ernie Merrick and the whimsical Scot couldn’t help himself after the final whistle.

“Oliver Sail played out his skin,” he said. “It’s a credit to him. I just hope the next keeper we’re playing against has a nightmare.”

Fortunately for Merrick, the Jets will have the perfect opportunity to make amends when Indonesian outfit Persija Jakarta visit for a preliminary Asian Champions League playoff on Tuesday.