The unpredictable and always intriguing A-League

By Corinthian (Paul Green):
Hyundai A-League – Season 11 – 20015/2016 – Round 1

8pm, Thursday 8th October 2015 – Parramatta Stadium

Western Sydney Wanderers FC 1 (Mitch Nichols 13′)
lost to
Brisbane Roar FC 3 (Jamie Maclaren 9, 34, Daniel Bowles 23)

Welcome back, everyone, to the unpredictable and always intriguing Hyundai A League, for 2015-16!

Western Sydney Wanderers had a chance to capitalise on much uncertainty in the Brisbane Roar visitors’ camp, over ownership-issues, late player-payments and at least one squad defection.

With far more resources at their disposal, Tony Popovic’s Wanderers were favourites to begin the new season with a home win for the first time, but they were to be disappointed.

Brisbane Roar, appeared in grave doubt of even taking the field at all for the new season, a few weeks earlier, yet the Queenslanders arrived as a tight-knit unit and played the game to their strengths, thus making the Wanderers look ill-prepared.

With Roar’s regular keeper, Michael Theo, fit again after missing many matches last term, appearing to be fully recovered from the injuries that kept him off the scene for so long, his welcome reappearance between the posts lent the visitors some additional security and confidence, with the former Victory man sitting behind a back-line that included the impressive Daniel Bowles and the ever-reliable and vastly experienced Jade North.

Those two were immaculate, for the most part, and while Theo had to make few saves, he commanded his area well, combining with the other pair and their defensive partners, making it difficult for the Wanderers to recover after going behind twice.

Their own new-look defence – and a new goalkeeper – had far less of a confident air about it and the lack of match practice in playing together as a unit must have played some part in how Roar managed to score three goals on this occasion, all of them coming more or less in the first half- hour.

The Wanderers began the game brightly enough, with Jaushua Sotirio breaking quickly down the left, then making space for himself, but volleying well over the bar, unable to make anything of his early foray.

Similarly, their new Italian striker, Federico Piovaccari, was getting into good positions, but as was to prove often later in the game, the strapping forward was unable to make his strength on the ball count for much.

A terrible mix-up between Wanderers’ new centre-back, Brendan Hamill, and his keeper, Andrew Redmayne, after only nine minutes, gifted the Queensland side the opening goal.

Lively new Brisbane striker, Jamie Maclaren, pressured Hamill as a ball the defender clearly intended to play back to his keeper, would not obey his commands and as it bounced awkwardly behind him, Redmayne, sensing danger, rushed out, attempting to clear.

But Maclaren was too sharp and cleverly clipped the ball over the stranded keeper, watching the ball as it bounced perfectly into the Wanderers’ net.

It was a calamity and struck the tone for the remainder of the match.

Although the Wanderers managed to draw level four minutes later through one-time Roar stalwart, Mitch Nichols, that piece of uncertainty at the back gave the Brisbane team added confidence and they pressed home their advantage.

Nichols was quickly away down the left on a counter-attack inspired by the speedy Scott Jamieson, whose ball to the near-post for fellow new-signing Nichols gave Michael Theo an early test.

Theo guarded his near post well enough, but even with a difficult angle to deal with Nichols somehow stroked the ball right-footed across goal and in at the far post.

Scoring against his long-time home club was probably high on his wish list before the match, but he was unable to make a similar impression again as the game wore on.

Playing quite deep in midfield, as Sotirio, Piovaccari and the speedy Romeo Castelen formed a lively spearhead, Nichols was given more of a free role than any of the others, but, Castelen apart, the Wanderers had trouble getting anywhere against a very experienced Brisbane back-line.

The Brisbane side soon regained the lead and it was not the kind of goal that Wanderers’ coach, Tony Popovic, a top defender in his day, would want to remember, as it was a set-piece that yielded the second.

Corona, the new go-to man for corners and free-kicks for Roar, whipped over a nice cross from the left, in the 23rd.

The corner had been given away cheaply, as it was, but the way central defender, Daniel Bowles, was able to get in his header at the near-post and beat the keeper, was not something a top-level defensive team would be proud of.

Initially, the ball was on its way into the back of the net, but a defender tried to boot it clear, only for the ball to be swiftly rifled back in again to complete the job.

That didn’t matter, though, as the assistant’s flag had already been pointed to the centre circle to indicate that the ball had crossed the line.

Thinking at first that a goal had been disallowed, Brisbane players appealed to the referee, Jarred Gillet, but after consulting his assistant, the goal was soon confirmed.

That rocked the Wanderers again and they really never recovered, as Brisbane played to their strengths and continued to press their opponents hard.

Nichols lost the ball in the middle of the park in the 34th and after Maclaren sped towards goal, making light of heavy numbers in front of him to find the net from close range, after seeing his first instinctive attempt blocked, Brisbane were well in command.

Brisbane were able to dictate the game, thanks to not only the presence of North and Bowles at the back, but the clever Thomas Broich, who pulled all the strings as usual in the attacking third and was not afraid to get stuck in when needed, further back.

The second-half failed to produce a hoped-for revival for the 14,122 mostly-Wanderers’ fans at Parramatta Stadium.

Brisbane had plenty of willing workers up front and while they didn’t create a great deal in open play the damage had long been done due to opportunism and one profitable set-piece.

Brandon Borrello and Dimitri Petratos kept the Wanderers’ defence on its toes, without offering much in the way of shots, but that hardly mattered, as old hands like Broich and North kept things tight.

Castelen tried his heart out and did effective work in tracking back as well, despite taking an early knock.

The introduction of substitutes Andreu, for fellow Spaniard Dimas Delgado, early in the second-half looked a sound decision, while Sotirio’s replacement, after an hour by Dario Vidosic, appeared to augur well.

Josh Macdonald also came on for Hamill, with the two-goal deficit requiring the sacrificing of a defender, over the last 20 minutes, but Roar had the game safely in their keeping, it seemed, with Castelen remaining the main opponent likely to test them.

It was a shaky start to a new season, yet again, by the Wanderers, who have a big squad, but who are already feeling the affects of some absentees due to injuries.

Some players were away on international duty, as well and Popovic will surely be glad to have the likes of Brendon Santalab and Mark Bridge available again, once they recover from short-term injuries again.

Having said that, however, it will surely be the defence that the coach will feel the most concern over.

Permutations of attacking players is one thing he can always tinker with, but the defence need to be solid week-in, week-out.

The loss of Matthew Spiranovic and importantly the release of foundation keeper, Ante Covic, at the end of last season, may be the most keenly felt.

Redmayne came in to join last season’s second-choice keeper, Dean Bouzanis, and won the nod for the first match.

Popovic said post-match that he wouldn’t be making any changes due to the result of this match, as he felt his players had done enough and will learn from the experience.

He ruled out any knee-jerk selection decisions based on the result of this opening game.

But Redmayne won’t have been particularly pleased with his  debut for his latest club.

As for Brisbane, coach John Aloisi was not making any bold claims for his team’s achievements in putting the Wanderers to the sword on opening day.

“This squad of players is very tight-knit,” he disclosed.

“One player walked away, but the rest stayed and fought on, even when nobody was getting paid and their future was so uncertain.

“It’s been very difficult for them, but there are a few leaders in this team and they did a great job today.

“The presence of the owners at training did boost the players’ morale and they did very well to win this match, as we don’t have that many players to choose from yet.

Once the Wanderers get all of their players back, Popovic will have more options again, though it’s hard to know how many of those absent friends would have been included for this match anyway.

Match details

Attendance: 14,122

Western Sydney Wanderers FC: 20. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 12. Scott NEVILLE,  4. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEY (C), 5. Brendan HAMILL (33. Josh MACDONALD 70), 3. Scott JAMIESON; 6. Mitch NICHOLS, 21. Jacob PEPPER, 8. Dimas DELGADO (18. Andreu 54); 7. Romeo CASTELEN,  9. Federico PIOVACCARI,  16. Jaushua SOTIRIO (10. Dario VIDOSIC 61)
Subs Not Used: RGK 1. Dean BOUZANIS, 22. Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITIS,

Red cards: Nil
Yellow cards: Scott Neville

Coach: Tony Popovic

Brisbane Roar FC: 1. Michael THEO (gk); 19.Jack HINGERT, 13.Jade NORTH (C), 14.Daniel BOWLES, 5.Corey BROWN; 7.CORONA, 8.Steven LUSTICA (32.George LAMBADARIDIS 90+3), 22.Thomas BROICH, 23.Dimitri PETRATOS, 28.Brandon BORRELLO,  9.Jamie MACLAREN (16.Devante CLUT 78)
Subs not used: RGK 21.Jamie YOUNG, 6.Jerome POLENZ, 20.Shannon BRADY
Red cards: Nil
Yellow cards: Michael Theo 72, Jade North 76

Coach: John Aloisi

Points and ratings

Player points:
3. Thomas Broich (BR)
2.  Romeo Castelen (WSW)
1.  Daniel Bowles (BR)

Match 7/10
Pitch 9/10

Jarred Gillet 8/10
Assistants: Nathan MacDonald and James Tesoriero
Fourth Official: Stephen Lucas