Round 16 Review: Top Six looks sorted with Eleven Rounds left

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of

HAL 14 – Round 16 Review

With all teams now having played sixteen rounds of Hyundai A-League football, it’s looking highly likely that the six teams presently occupying the top six spots on the table, barring disasters, will contest the end-of-season play-offs, such is the gulf between them and the other four sides in the competition at the end of January.

In the midweek matches, Leaders Perth Glory were held to a scoreless draw by Adelaide United in a dour duel witnessed by 7,213 fans at HBF Park, with Dino Djulbic and Joel Chianese going closest to breaking the deadlock for the home team.

How starkly that match contrasted with a seven-goal thriller twenty-four hours earlier, with Melbourne City coming from behind to edge Western Sydney Wanderers 4-3 in front of 5,149 fans at AAMI Park, where Bart Schenkeveld bagged a stoppage time winner for the home team, who got off to a flying start courtesy Ritchie de Laet just 31 seconds into the contest.

Wests responded well to that early setback, and were on level terms by the half-hour mark courtesy Roly Bonevacia’s penalty. But parity was short-lived, Luke Brattan’s twenty-five yard missile seven minutes before half-time restoring City’s advantage.

The visitors turned things round inside the first eight minutes of the second spell, with Tass Mourdoukoutas and Jaushua Sotirio firing Wests in front in a contest which soon saw a gathering of the clans, in the aftermath of which Keanu Baccus committed his second bookable offence twenty minutes into the half to reduce Wests to ten men for the duration.

They battled manfully against the odds, but finally succumbed to a de Laet strike six minutes from time, before Schenkeveld’s bullet header in stoppage time clinched the points for City and all but dashed Wests’ realistic hopes of a play-off spot.

9.466 fans saw Kaine Sheppard’s goal nine minutes into the second half earn a 1-0 win for Newcastle Jets over Central Coast Mariners in the latest F3 derby at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Having been denied by Ben Kennedy moments earlier, Sheppard made no mistake when a second chance came his way, soon after Nikolai Topor-Stanley had been denied the opening goal by an offside call.

The Mariners came back strongly, with Jordan Murray somehow denied by Ivan Vujica before Lachlan Jackson thwarted Connor Pain in the act of scoring, seconds after Jonathan Aspropotamitis saw his header rattle the upright eleven minutes from time. A third game without defeat proved beyond the bottom-placed side, however.

At Westpac Stadium, Sydney FC ended Wellington Phoenix’s club record nine-match unbeaten run, 8,961 fans witnessing Siem de Jong’s 25th minute strike which earned the visitors a 1-0 win.

It was a tale of two penalties as Wellington maintained its reputation as the world’s windiest city, with poorly performed referee Daniel Elder defying logic by not awarding a penalty – even with the Video Assistant Referee’s guidance – when Louis Fenton handled the ball in the area.

Eight minutes from time, the inexperienced referee was conned into awarding the home team a penalty, but Wellington had been distinctly second-best in this encounter, and Roy Krishna’s miss from twelve yards – Andrew Redmayne saved the spot-kick – ensured Sydney of a victory which they thoroughly deserved.

Wellington bounced back from that by beating Melbourne City 1-0 at the same venue three nights later, David Williams’ splendidly executed hip-turn volley in the fifth minute settling a contest which saw Filip Kurto produce a string of outstanding second half saves to prevent the visitors from earning a share of the spoils.

Wellington and Adelaide are now a point behind fourth-placed City, the South Australians ahead on goal difference after coming from behind to down Central Coast 2-1 in front of 7,965 fans at Coopers Stadium.

Scott Galloway and Kye Rowles produced goal-line clearances at each end of the park inside the first 25 minutes to preserve the deadlock, which was broken eight minutes from time by Andrew Hoole’s twenty-five yard stunner for the visitors.

Ben Kennedy, on his 150th A-League appearance, kept Adelaide at bay for much of the remainder of the contest, but couldn’t deny Isaias’ equaliser half-way through the second half, nor George Blackwood’s stoppage time winner, a stooping near post header which rewarded Galloway’s burst down the left past two opponents.

The teams immediately above the Mariners, Brisbane Roar and Western Sydney, shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw in front of 8,053 fans at Suncorp Stadium, where the home team looked dead and buried as the game headed into stoppage time.

Roly Bonevacia found the net for the fourth consecutive match before Kwame Yeboah doubled Wests’ advantage three minutes before half-time. They looked to be well on course for three points, even when Tobias Mikkelsen pulled a goal back for Brisbane two minutes into stoppage time.

But then came a Vedran Janjetovic brain explosion for which nobody legislated, the ‘keeper casually conceding a needless corner from which Adam Taggart headed home the equaliser with the last touch of the ball in the match – two dropped points for Wests which you just know are going to prove costly where their play-off hopes are concerned.

Australia Day saw the biggest clubs in the competition locking horns in front of 21,085 fans at AAMI Park, and reigning champions Melbourne Victory emerged triumphant over their predecessors, Sydney FC, by a 2-1 scoreline.

Ola Toivonen broke the deadlock after twenty minutes with a quite superb twenty-five yard free-kick which arrowed into the top near corner, and was instrumental in Melbourne’s second goal, a counter-attacking effort struck by James Troisi just shy of the hour mark.

Within minutes, Sydney were back in the contest courtesy Milos Ninkovic, and only the crossbar denied them an equaliser twelve minutes from time, much to the frustration of Adam Le Fondre.

That result saw Melbourne leapfrog Sydney into second spot, and allowed Perth to re-establish a four-point buffer at the top of the standings, the Western Australians easing past Newcastle Jets 2-0 to the delight of 11,393 fans at HBF Park to do so.

It was one-way traffic for the league leaders, with Andy Keogh opening the scoring on the quarter-hour before Neil Kilkenny doubled it with a splendid twenty-five yard curler two minutes into the second spell.

Those were the only occasions on which Glen Moss was beaten, with Newcastle’s custodian producing fine saves to defy Fabio Ferreira, Jason Davidson and Diego Castro before Ivan Franjic hit the post as Perth put even more ground between the top six and the quartet who are already looking like also-rans with just over a third of the season still to play.

Wests and Newcastle meet at ANZ Stadium on Friday evening in a match which will be crucial to the play-off hopes of both clubs. And on Sunday night at Jubilee Stadium, Sydney and Melbourne City lock horns in a top-four battle.

In between times, there’s a Saturday night triple-header to look forward to, with Central Coast welcoming reigning champions Melbourne Victory to Central Coast Stadium, prior to the clash of Adelaide and Brisbane at Coopers Stadium. Wrapping things up is the “Distance Derby”, with Wellington heading west to Perth’s HBF Park home.

Match Details:

Melbourne City FC 4 (R. de Laet (1, 84), L. Brattan (38), B. Schenkeveld (90)) – Western Sydney Wanderers FC 3 (R. Bonevacia (28 pen), T. Mourdoukoutas (49), J. Sotirio (54)); HT 2-1

Newcastle United Jets FC 1 (K. Sheppard (54)) – Central Coast Mariners FC 0; HT 0-0

Perth Glory FC 0 – Adelaide United FC 0

Wellington Phoenix FC 0 – Sydney FC 1 (S. de Jong (25)); HT 0-1

Adelaide United FC 2 (Isaias (66), G. Blackwood (90)) – Central Coast Mariners FC A. Hoole (37)); HT 0-1

Brisbane Roar FC (T. Mikkelsen (90), A. Taggart (90)) – Western Sydney Wanderers FC 2 (R. Bonevacia (18), K. Yeboah (42)); HT 0-2

Melbourne Victory FC 2 (O. Toivonen (20), A. Troisi (58)) – Sydney FC 1 (M. Ninkovic (63)); HT 1-0

Perth Glory FC 2 (A. Keogh (16), N. Kilkenny (47)) – Newcastle United Jets FC 0; HT 1-0

Wellington Phoenix FC 1 (D. Williams (4)) – Melbourne City FC 0 HT 1-0

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