R21 Review: Play-Off spots wide open after fascinating results

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

Round 21 Review

A fascinating 21st round of results in the Hyundai A-League on the last weekend in February has opened up the race for teams looking to join Sydney FC in the end-of-season play-offs.

The league leaders bounced back to winning ways when overcoming ten-man Melbourne City 3-1 in front of 10,706 fans at AAMI Park, where the visitors opened the scoring from the penalty spot half-way through the first half, Bobo doing the honours as they capped off their first attack of note with a goal.

Parity was soon restored, however, and how! Straight from the kick-off, Melbourne stormed forward, and Nick Fitzgerald unleashed an unstoppable volley into the top corner of Danny Vukovic’s goal to level the scores.

The playing numbers didn’t remain level for long, however, with Manny Muscat committing his second bookable offence six minutes before half-time to reduce City’s numbers to ten for the duration.

Sydney took full advantage of their numerical superiority in the second spell, Brandon O’Neill restoring their lead eleven minutes into the half with a free-kick, before Bobo made it 3-1 eleven minutes later.

Vukovic prevented City substitute Fernando Brandan from bagging a goal of the season contender late on, but the table-toppers were home and dry long beforehand, and with this win, put themselves mathematically out of reach of third-placed City on the standings.

That result opened the door for Brisbane Roar to leapfrog the beaten team, but in front of 10,723 fans, they were stunned 2-1 at Suncorp Stadium by a Wellington Phoenix side which dropped three recent first team regulars – Roly Bonevacia, Thomas Doyle and Ryan Lowry – for “breaching team protocol”.

The message was clearly heeded by their team-mates, who recorded just their second ever win at Brisbane, although they were reliant on an outstanding display from Glen Moss to ensure they clinched the points.

He made the first of his denials half-way through the first half to thwart Thomas Broich in a one-on-one situation, to which Wellington responded by opening the scoring just after the half-hour mark, Shane Smeltz’s diving header coming somewhat against the run of play.

They doubled their advantage with a stunning 22-pass move just after the hour mark, Roy Krishna applying the finishing touch to a genuine team goal which left Brisbane with a mountain to climb.

They made some in-roads as the visitors looked to hold what they had, and when Brandon Borrello curled one home fifteen minutes from time, it set up a grandstand finale which saw chances materialising at both ends. Much to the visitors’ relief, their hosts failed to strike again, thus reigniting Wellington’s play-off hopes.

So it was Perth Glory who found themselves with the chance to climb into third spot going into their clash with Western Sydney Wanderers, and the 9,789 fans who braved the heat at NIB Stadium saw the home team prevail 2-0.

A Terry Antonis crossbar-rattler – from a free-kick – apart, Wests were second-best out west as their AFC Champions League campaign caught up with them. Perth were in dominant mood, particularly in the first spell, and it was only the exploits of Vedran Janjetovic which prevented them from taking the lead long before Chris Harold’s deflected long-range effort broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time.

Two goal-line clearances and a couple of intriguing calls about handball incidents by referee Jonathan Barreiro aided Wests’ cause before the interval, while after it, Dino Djulbic went close with a header before substitute Joel Chianese wrapped up the points in stoppage time.

Meanwhile, all the scoring came in the second half at AAMI Park as Melbourne Victory overcame reigning champions Adelaide United 2-1 in front of 19,035 fans, who saw Leigh Broxham clear off the line from Sergio Cirio in the third minute.

It set the tone for a lively first half, with chances aplenty at both ends of the park. That trend continued in the second spell, with the deadlock finally being broken by Marco Rojas’ superb free-kick for the home team twenty-five minutes from time.

He then hit the bar with a header as Melbourne went for the game-clinching second goal, which finally materialised eight minutes from time, Rojas setting up Besart Berisha to all but seal another home victory.

All but, because United came storming back, and halved the deficit through Tarek Elrich’s cracking strike as the game entered stoppage time, of which there wasn’t enough to allow Adelaide to snatch a share of the spoils, with their conquerors well placed to confirm a top-two finish sooner rather than later.

On Sunday evening, the F3 derby ended in a stalemate for the seventh successive match, with Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners again having to settle for a point apiece, this time from a 1-1 draw in front of 9,423 fans at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Aleksandr Kokko headed the home team in front against the run of play after twenty minutes, but the visitors eventually got back on level terms, Scott Galloway’s reply materialising five minutes into the second half.

There were opportunities for both teams to win it, with Fabio Ferreira forcing a fine save from Newcastle goalkeeper Tomislav Arcaba before substitute Josh Bingham’s injury time header for the visitors went closest of all to breaking the deadlock – only Johnny Koutroumbis’ goal-line clearance kept Newcastle on level terms at the death.

Next weekend’s action kicks off on Friday evening with a match which could effectively decide the destiny of the Premiership Plate, with Sydney welcoming Melbourne Victory to Allianz Stadium.

A Saturday night double-header sees Wellington welcoming Perth to Auckland’s QBE Stadium, before Western Sydney and Adelaide square off at Spotless Stadium. And on Sunday, Central Coast entertain Melbourne City at Central Coast Stadium prior to the clash of Newcastle and Brisbane at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Match Details:

Brisbane Roar FC 1 (B. Borrello (75)) – Wellington Phoenix FC 2 (S. Smeltz (32), R. Krishna (61)); HT 0-1

Melbourne City FC 1 (N. Fitzgerald (25)) – Sydney FC 3 (Bobo (24 pen, 67), B. O’Neill (56)); HT 1-1

Melbourne Victory FC 2 (M. Rojas (66), B. Berisha (82)) – Adelaide United FC 1 (T. Elrich (90)); HT 0-0

Newcastle United Jets FC 1 (A. Kokko (20)) – Central Coast Mariners FC 1 (S. Galloway (50)); HT 1-0

Perth Glory FC 2 (C. Harold (45), J. Chianese (90)) – Western Sydney Wanderers FC 0; HT 1-0

Ladder:

P W D L F A GD Pts

Sydney FC 21 15 5 1 44 11 +33 50
Melbourne Victory 21 13 3 5 44 25 +19 42
Perth Glory 21 8 7 6 40 37 +3 31
Melbourne City 21 8 6 7 36 31 +5 30
Brisbane Roar 21 7 9 5 28 27 +1 30
Western Sydney Wanderers 21 5 9 7 24 31 -7 24
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Newcastle Jets 21 5 7 9 27 34 -7 22
Wellington Phoenix 21 6 4 11 25 35 -10 22
Central Coast Mariners 21 5 5 11 24 39 -15 20
Adelaide United 21 3 5 13 17 39 -22 14