Mind games, club catastrophes and one last-gasp hat-trick headlined the penultimate round of the A-League regular season this past weekend.
Bogey team or bogus talk?
Sydney FC defeated Premiers Perth Glory for the second time this season on Thursday night, but did they really land the psychological blow they’d hoped for?
Tony Popovic made six changes to the side that lifted silverware last weekend and though his new-look Glory barely buckled, they were ultimately unable to erase Adam Le Fondre’s simple first-half finish.
Thursday’s result, coupled with Melbourne Victory’s failure in Adelaide, has since guaranteed the Sky Blues a top-two finish for the regular season and coach Steve Corica believes his side now have the mental edge heading into the finals.
“It’s a mental game now because we have beaten them twice now,” Corica said.
“They had players out tonight but so did we, having (Michael) Zullo out and also (Alex) Brosque so we’ll have to wait and see what happens if we meet them again.”
Sydney have now defeated the league leaders both home and away this season, and while some supporters may claim superiority, Glory striker Brendon Santalab completely disagrees.
“We’ve been the best team all year,” Santalab said after the match.
“We had some players missing tonight. It (the result) just shows how good our depth is.”
A fresh-faced Glory line-up was inevitable with the Plate already secured, but as for Corica’s crop holding the advantage, a potential grand final match-up may help decide things once and for all.
‘We need to know what’s going on’
Mark Bosnich left no stone unturned in his assessment of Brisbane Roar on Saturday night, calling on the Bakrie-backed club to break their silence.
“To David Pourre (CEO), to the club, we need to know what’s going on,” Bosnich said on Fox Sports’ Matchday Saturday.
“The club need to come out this week and make a statement one way or the other.”
Bosnich’s comments came off the back of the Roar’s worst ever A-League defeat; a 6-1 walloping at home to the Newcastle Jets.
On a night originally set out to celebrate captain Matt McKay’s penultimate match with the club, the Roar instead produced a performance paradoxical to their past.
With no fight, no vigour and the never-say-die attitude that won three A-League Championships now a distant memory, four second-half goals buried a Brisbane outfit beaten long before the first whistle.
As it stands, the Roar have no head coach in place for next season, with interim Darren Davies set to depart this Anzac Day and the club alarmingly yet to address his full-time replacement.
Such a predicament is a rare sight in professional football, both in Australia and around the world, and yet, here we are wondering what’s become of the club once dubbed ‘Roarcelona’.
Just under 8,000 fans attended Suncorp Stadium for Saturday’s disgraceful display and if club hierarchy believe that figure will increase for Thursday’s final fixture, they’re in for a shock.
A-League’s most underrated
Round 26 saved its best for last this past weekend as Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City played out a five-goal thriller at the Cake Tin.
On a weekend in which most matches mattered for little, both sides threw everything they had to keep pace with fourth-placed Adelaide United and it was the Kiwi club who came out on top, courtesy of one man.
Roy Krishna might just be the most underrated striker in the A-League, and yet, it is he who leads the Golden Boot race with just one match remaining.
Adam Le Fondre’s slender lead vanished after 90 magical minutes on Sunday as the Fiji international bagged three goals, including a 94th-minute winner.
With 50 league goals in six seasons, it’s a wonder A-League clubs haven’t considered the pacey striker, particularly those – like Adelaide – almost always in need of one.
The club’s record goalscorer has found career-best form under Mark Rudan this season and as the rookie coach prepares for new pastures next season, he might just take Krishna with him.
Speaking on Krishna, Rudan acknowledged the “massive role” his star striker had played this season, before leaving one last message for the rest of the competition: “There’s more to come”.
Out with the old…
Markus Babbel’s blueprint for success at the Western Sydney Wanderers will not involve a significant slice of his current squad, if his most recent comments are anything to go by.
Speaking after his side’s 3-1 defeat to last-placed Central Coast Mariners, the German called on his players to be more professional and, once again, bemoaned their poor mentality.
“We have to change something,” Babbel said.
“I was talking to players, and yeah, that they are not staying with us, that they don’t get a new contract… I hope the last game we can bring our (best) performance again.
“They have to know they are professionals, they earn good money here.
“Especially our supporters, they expect something. Today was just not good enough.”
With the majority of the squad set for upheaval ahead of next season’s return to Parramatta, Babbel has identified “quality” and “mentality” as the two key traits needed in his future signings.
However, should the 46-year-old’s incoming crop fail to fit the bill, it might be his own contract that’s next to go.
Adelaide United coach Marco Kurz declared Coopers Stadium the A-League’s best during the week and after almost 13,000 fans flooded the venue for Friday’s 1-0 victory over old rivals Melbourne, you’d be hard-pressed to argue.
When full, the boutique, football-specific venue provides Kurz’s men with a rare advantage over the rest of the competition and that was exactly the case against the Victory.
George Blackwood’s second-half header helped end the visitors’ pursuit of second place and spurred United one step closer towards an all-important home final.
The Reds are now within one point of securing the desired fourth-placed finish and have Anzac Day’s trip to Brisbane in their own hands as a result.
Should Kurz and co. achieve the required finish to the regular season, a packed out Coopers cauldron will likely spur their side on to the semi-finals for the first time since their historic 2015-16 campaign.