R26 Review: Top Three set to determine destiny of Silverware

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of www.sportswebsoccer.com

Next weekend’s final round of the Hyundai A-League will see the three teams who topped the table at varying times of its penultimate round fight out the destiny of the Premiership Plate, after Western Sydney Wanderers, Adelaide United and finally Brisbane Roar took turns to top the table over the course of the first weekend in April.

In a round which saw the play-off contenders confirmed with a round of games to spare, incumbent table-toppers Melbourne City were the biggest losers of all, as a 3-2 defeat at the seemingly unstoppable Perth Glory has left them needing to win their last match and rely on the other contenders stumbling if they are to have a shot at the silverware.

Mind, given the way the leadership of this competition has changed so frequently in recent weeks, you can’t yet rule out that seemingly unlikely situation becoming a reality come the final whistle next Sunday night!

Come the final whistle this Sunday night, however, City had dropped from first to fourth, with their conquerors a point abaft after mustering their tenth win in eleven matches in a stunning second half watched by 14,504 fans at NIB Stadium.

The locals roared with delight ten minutes into the second half as Andy Keogh set a new record for scoring in consecutive matches in the A-League – it’s now eight and counting.

It was a lead Perth deserved – they were the better side during the first half, which saw a gathering of the clans late on after an off-the-ball incident resulted in Shane Lowry and the league’s leading marksman, Bruno Fornaroli, squaring up to each other.

Keogh’s goal prompted the floodgates to open, and within sixteen minutes, the marksman had set up two of his team-mates to increase Perth’s lead, Gjorgy Sandor and Diego Castro – a superb volley – doing the honours in a four-minute spell around twenty minutes from time.

Cue a City fightback, Fornaroli reducing the arrears seventeen minutes from time before substitute Marc Marino’s stoppage time strike set up a nervous few minutes for Perth fans, whose relief when the final whistle sounded was palpable.

The round kicked off with Western Sydney’s expected 4-1 thumping of Central Coast Mariners in front of 14,855 fans at Pirtek Stadium, where Romeo Castelen uncorked a twenty-five yard screamer to open the scoring just eight minutes into what may be the final A-League match at this ground, which is scheduled to be demolished and rebuilt.

The Dutchman went close on a few more occasions throughout proceedings, but it was a Spaniard who was next on the scoresheet, Luis Garcia’s splendid diving header affording the bottom-placed side parity on the scoreboard half-way through the first half.

It was short-lived, Brendon Santalab restoring Wests’ lead nine minutes before half-time before putting the game beyond doubt seven minutes into the second spell. Mitch Nichols wrapped up the scoring seven minutes from time after fine work by Mark Bridge ensured that Friday night would conclude with Wests topping the table yet again.

Twenty-four hours later, Adelaide topped the pile once more, Bruce Djite’s first half double earning them a 2-0 win over Sydney FC, with just 8,981 fans turning up at Allianz Stadium as the Sky Blues’ campaign concludes with a whimper.

It was the home team’s eleventh successive winless match, one in which Djite became the most prolific A-League marksman in Adelaide’s history by pouncing on Vedran Janjetovic’s parried save in the 26th minute, then thundering the ball home on the stroke of half-time for his second goal of the night.

Sydney went into that match knowing their play-off hopes were already over, a result of Melbourne Victory vanquishing Wellington Phoenix 4-1 in front of just 5,140 fans at Westpac Stadium, where Besart Berisha opened the scoring for the visitors eight minutes into the contest.

Oliver Bozanic doubled their lead eleven minutes later, but ten minutes before half-time Berisha got himself sent off in remarkable circumstances, kicking out at the enquiring figure of Wellington captain Andrew Durante while the Melbourne striker lay prone as he recovered from finishing second-best in an aerial duel with Ben Sigmund.

The home team were unable to capitalise on their numerical advantage before they, too, were reduced to ten men, Albert Riera’s second bookable offence taking place nine minutes into the second half.

Two minutes later, future Wellington players Costa Barbarouses and Guilherme Finkler worked a delightful double one-two which allowed the Kiwi to make it 3-0, and while Roly Bonevacia reduced the arrears seven minutes before full-time, George Howard was on hand to ram home his first A-League goal in stoppage time, having been unselfishly set up by Archie Thompson.

So to the penultimate game of the round, which left Brisbane on top of the pile for, as it turned out, another few days, a result of their come-from-behind 2-1 defeat of ten-man Newcastle Jets in front of 14,285 fans at Suncorp Stadium.

Leonardo gave the visitors a shock lead from the penalty spot five minutes into the second half, but Brisbane replied in kind through Henrique seventeen minutes later, the spot-kick awarded after Nigel Boogaard was shown the red card for the third time this season, this time round for committing a professional foul.

The home team took full advantage of Newcastle’s numerical disadvantage, but it was an unlikely match-winner for Brisbane sixteen minutes from time. Thomas Broich usually sets up the majority of their goals – this time he had the pleasure of leading the celebrations.

And so to the all-important final fixtures, kicking off on Friday night with Melbourne City entertaining Adelaide at AAMI Park. Twenty-four hours later, at the same venue, Brisbane get their chance to top the standings when it matters most as they take on Melbourne Victory.

Earlier that night, Central Coast and Newcastle play out the season’s final F3 derby at Central Coast Stadium, while on Sunday, Wellington welcome Western Sydney to Westpac Stadium prior to the clash of Sydney and Perth at Allianz Stadium.

Match details:

Brisbane Roar 2 (Henrique (67 pen), T. Broich (74)), Newcastle Jets 1 (Leonardo (50 pen)) HT 0-0

Perth Glory 3 (A. Keogh (55), G. Sandor (67), D. Castro (71)), Melbourne City 2 (B. Fornaroli (73), M. Marino (90)) HT 0-0

Sydney FC 0, Adelaide United 2 (B. Djite (26, 45)) HT 0-2

Wellington Phoenix 1 (R. Bonevacia (83)), Melbourne Victory 4 (B. Berisha (8), O. Bozanic (19), C. Barbarouses (56), G. Howard (90)) HT 0-2

Western Sydney Wanderers 4 (R. Castelen (8), B. Santalab (36, 52), M. Nichols (83)), Central Coast Mariners 1 (L. Garcia (21)) HT 2-1

Ladder (R26 – penultimate)

P    W    D    L    F    A    GD    Pts

Brisbane Roar    26    14    5    7    49    40    +9    47

Adelaide United    26    13    7    6    43    28    +15    46

Western Sydney Wanderers    26    13    6    7    42    33    +9    45

Melbourne City    26    13    5    8    63    42    +21    44

Perth Glory    26    13    4    9    49    38    +11    43

Melbourne Victory    26    11    7    8    40    33    +7    40

————————–

Sydney FC    26    7    10    9    32    36    -4    31

Newcastle Jets    26    7    6    13    24    39    -15    27

Wellington Phoenix    26    7    4    15    34    52    -18    25

————————–

Central Coast Mariners    26    3    4    19    31    66    -35    13