R27: Play-Off contenders only decided after final game

by Jeremy Ruane:

with the compliments of www.sportswebsoccer.com

Hyundai A-League – Round 27 Review
End of League HAL9

The six teams to contest this season’s Hyundai A-League play-offs were finally confirmed after the final game of round-robin action took place on April 13, which determined that Sydney FC would join Adelaide United, Brisbane Roar, Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers in the post-season action over the coming weeks.

The Novocastrians set up this situation by scoring a 2-0 win over Adelaide in front of 11,226 fans at Hunter Stadium on Friday evening, to ensure they were in with a shout of play-offs action.

In what may have been the last game played by both Emile Heskey and Mark Bridges, Joel Griffiths headed the home team in front half-way through the first half of a match in which both teams had chances to alter the scoreline.

It wasn’t until second half stoppage time that the scoreboard operator was called upon again, however, runaway Golden Boot leader Adam Taggart stabbing home his sixteenth goal of the campaign to clinch the points for Newcastle, who had to wait until Sunday evening to find out their play-offs fate.

Adelaide, meanwhile, could finish no better than fourth, and no worse than sixth after this outcome, but it was fifth position in which they found themselves after the first of Saturday’s matches, with Melbourne Victory thumping Wellington Phoenix 4-1 at Westpac Stadium in front of just 5,336 fans – the home team’s lowest turn-out all season – to keep alive their hopes of a top-two finish.

The visitors were on easy street inside the first minute courtesy Archie Thompson’s opener, and doubled their advantage on the half-hour when James Troisi fair smashed the ball home from an acute angle.

Guilherme Finkler’s classy finish capped off a scintillating move on the stroke of half-time, and Mark Milligan made it four from the penalty spot on the hour, Shaun Timmins having felled Costa Barbarouses from behind in the area to earn himself an early shower.

Jeremy Brockie’s fine volleyed finish in stoppage time was the only bright spot in the match for Wellington, who looked well in contention for the play-offs until a string of season-ending injuries to key personnel meant avoiding the wooden spoon became the priority.

The very next match on Saturday evening decided the outcome of that particular “trophy”, with Melbourne Heart, long the occupants of last place this season, ending the campaign in familiar territory after Western Sydney Wanderers struck twice in the last ten minutes to score a come-from-behind 3-2 victory at AAMI Park.

The result meant Harry Kewell concluded his career in a manner far from befitting of his contribution to the game. But Wests had their own agenda to pursue – a second-placed finish, and a week off in the upcoming play-off series.

To that end, Nikolai Topor-Stanley headed them in front just before the half-hour mark, but Orlando Engelaar had Melbourne on level terms a mere seven minutes later, a parity which remained until the last twenty minutes of the match.

At that point, Wests had the perfect chance to restore their lead from the penalty spot, but Shinji Ono smashed his shot against the crossbar. Melbourne stormed straight down the other end and promptly took the lead themselves through Jason Hoffman.

But there was a sting in the tail in store for the 10,003-strong crowd, with the visitors levelling in controversial fashion nine minutes from time through Brendon Santalab – he clearly fouled Robbie Wielaert in his eagerness to turn home Jerome Polenz’s cross, but referee Jarred Gillett wasn’t having a bar of Melbourne’s protests.

2-2 swiftly became 3-2, with Youssouf Hersi netting the winner for Western Sydney four minutes from time to secure second spot for the victors, a result which meant the best reigning champions Central Coast Mariners could achieve was a third-placed finish.

But to do so they had to win at Premiership Plate winners Brisbane Roar – no biggie! The title-holders made light of their task, however, scoring a convincing 2-0 win at Suncorp Stadium thanks to Nick Fitzgerald and Anthony Caceres, who scored in a four-minute spell just before the half-hour mark to crown a fine showing for the visiting team.

Both Dimitri Petratos and Besart Berisha hit the woodwork for the home team, with the latter also having a goal disallowed for offside, much to the disappointment of the majority of the 14,218 present.

So to the final game of the premiership phase of the competition, Sydney’s encounter with Perth Glory at Allianz Stadium on Sunday evening, a match which the home team went into knowing that they could afford to lose by the odd goal and still make the top six.

In the end, they won it 2-1 through a last-minute Richard Garcia strike, a goal which propelled Sydney into fifth spot, above Adelaide, after Terry Antonis and Perth’s Roystyn Griffiths had exchanged goals late in the first half.

So the play-offs are set.

Brisbane and Western Sydney enjoy a week off, and await the outcome of the Easter weekend fixtures.

Melbourne Victory and Sydney square off at Etihad Stadium on Good Friday night, while on Easter Saturday, Central Coast and Adelaide lock horns.

As this is the final round review of the season, enjoy the finals series play-offs and the close-season, and we’ll look to do it all again from October.

Match details:

Brisbane Roar FC 0 – Central Coast Mariners FC 2 (N. Fitzgerald (24), A. Caceres (28)); HT 0-2

Melbourne Heart FC 2 (O. Engelaar (34), J. Hoffman (72)) – Western Sydney Wanderers FC 3 (N. Topor-Stanley (27), B. Santalab (81), Y. Hersi (86)); HT 1-1

Newcastle Jets FC 2 (J. Griffiths (21), A. Taggart (90)) – Adelaide United FC 0; HT 1-0

Sydney FC 2 (T. Antonis (38), R. Garcia (90)), Perth Glory 1 (R. Griffiths (45)); HT 1-1

Wellington Phoenix FC 1 (J. Brockie (90)) – Melbourne Victory FC 4 (A. Thompson (1), J. Troisi (29), G. Finkler (45), M. Milligan (59 pen)); HT 0-3

P W D L F A GD Pts

Brisbane Roar 27 16 4 7 43 25 +18 52
Western Sydney Wanderers 27 11 9 7 35 30 +5 42
Central Coast Mariners 27 12 6 9 33 36 -3 42
Melbourne Victory 27 11 8 8 42 43 -1 41
Sydney FC 27 12 3 12 40 38 +2 39
Adelaide United 27 10 8 9 45 36 +9 38
Newcastle Jets 27 10 6 11 34 34 0 36
Perth Glory 27 7 7 13 28 37 -9 28
Wellington Phoenix 27 7 7 13 36 51 -15 28
Melbourne Heart 27 6 8 13 36 42 -6 26

By Jeremy Ruane