The A-League is back again and what a kick off we had for the start of season twelve of the national football league. The aggregate crowd record for a single round fell by the wayside as crowds flocked to watch the opening round of matches. They were rewarded with some red cards, injury time stunners, extraordinary comebacks and stunning football.
Here are a few of our takeaways as we celebrate the start of season 2016/17
When the Roar play the Victory it is a must see:
The season opened on Friday night at Suncorp with Brisbane Roar hosting Melbourne Victory. The 90 minutes that followed added another storied chapter to what is fast developing into one of Australian sports most compelling rivalries. Suncorp Stadium is built on a former graveyard and in recent times it has proved the final resting place of Melbourne’s Championship hopes, the last rites having been read on their season in dramatic and/or controversial circumstances twice in the last three years on the once consecrated Brisbane turf.
Melbourne hell bent on retaining possession had all the run early but Brisbane and new signing Brett Holman created a number of chances on the counter. It was a willing contest, with referee Shaun Evans’ patience being tested constantly with fouls by both sides and yellow cards needing to be issued a number of times to restore order. It was a second yellow card to Brisbane’s Matt McKay that turned the contest on its head with his resultant send off in the 65th minute.
With the Roar again on the back foot, the Victory pressed to break the deadlock, which they did in sloppy circumstances in the 83rd minute. Mitch Austin’s first goal in Victory blue looked a likely winner but you can never write Brisbane off and so it was again on this night. Just like they had in the Elimination Final last year, the Roar found the dagger for Melbourne hearts. Defender Luke DeVere somehow conjuring an equaliser with almost the very last kick of the match in the 96th minute. It was a sweet return for DeVere playing his first A-League match in 18 months, but Victory boss Kevin Muscat would be right to wonder why there was any play at all remaining with only 5 minutes of added time to be played at the end of 90 minutes.
Muscat was, for the most, complimentary of the referee’s performance which was in deep contrast to his Brisbane counterpart John Aloisi, who was withering in his condemnation of the official. The central tenant of his displeasure the send-off of McKay. Right or wrong, the Brisbane skipper’s response to his send-off was nothing short of deplorable, and while his disappointment is understandable he should respond better. With the red card McKay ties Muscat for the second most in the A-League’s history. With that kind of experience, it is even more reason he should have been able to keep his emotions in check.
Is this the year of Melbourne City?
The following day, without their marquee signing Tim Cahill, across the ditch Victory’s cross-town rivals Melbourne City started their campaign against Wellington. Even with the Socceroos leading goal-scorer away on national duty, City looked threatening throughout an electrifying first half. If not for Phoenix keeper Glenn Moss, it could have been far more fruitful than the one Anthony Caceres goal.
Wellington were able to stem the flow in the second half and, combined with a red card to City Keeper Thomas Sorensen, saw an end to scoring for the afternoon. As it was City would no doubt be able to come home from their tricky overseas assignment with a vital three points.
A week two derby with the Victory followed soon after, and with an FFA Cup Semi Final against the same opponent, it will give us a big insight as to how serious their claims for silverware will be this season.
In the A-League the 3 points aren’t certain till the final whistle
Defending champions Adelaide were short priced favourites to begin their campaign with a win, but 2015/16 strugglers Newcastle had other ideas. The Jets took an early lead against the Reds and were unlucky to only split the points with the champs.
At half time on Saturday night in Perth, Glory fans would have been forgiven for wondering by how many goals their team would defeat the wooden spoon holding Central Coast Mariners by. Having exploded to a 3-0 lead, the Glory looked ominous. What followed in the second half was one of the more remarkable 45 minutes in A-League history.
The Mariners threw caution to the wind and took to their task of chipping away at the mountainous deficit. Their enterprising play was rewarded early with Roy O’Donovan bursting the net and opening the door slightly for the visitors.
When Mariners claims for a spot kick were ignored – despite a Dino Djulbic handball in the penalty area – it looked like their chances might have been dashed, yet they continued to attack their task with relish. An 83rd minute ball ricochet around the area before an attempted clearance off the goal-line went only as far as Perth goal keeper Liam Reddy’s back and rebounded into the waiting net.
The Mariners return to level terms was complete when their striker Rhys Williams was fouled in the box three minutes later. When he successfully converted from the spot the Mariners had become only the fifth team in A-League history to return from a 3-0 deficit.
Was the suspended 3-point penalty for WSW lip service from the A-League?
Last season the West Sydney Wanderers, among a number of clubs, were given a 3-point penalty suspended sentence for poor fan behaviour. The intent seemed to be clear – if your fans misbehave, you will lose 3 points. Confronted again with Wanderers fan misbehaviour, the A-League have blinked, notifying their intention to extend the suspended sentence rather than enforce the penalty.
Disappointing as it is to again be speaking of fan behaviour, the A-League has to make their position known – are Flares a part of the game or not? Then be clear and consistent, there is no room for mixed messages on this.
Does the largest ever crowd make the Sydney Derby the games’ biggest?
On a red letter night for the league, Saturday night saw West Sydney host their bitter rivals Sydney FC at ANZ Stadium in front of 61,880 – the largest ever crowd in the competition’s history. The sight of the Olympic Stadium’s seats bathed in blue and red one to warm the heart of football fans across the country.
With Tim Cahill due to make his A-League debut for City this weekend against Melbourne Victory, a 50,000+ strong crowd is expected to cram in to watch the first Melbourne Derby of the season. It should make for some interesting discussions as to whether the Sydney or Melbourne Derby is the A-League’s biggest.
Week 2 of the A-League will also see West Sydney return to Adelaide for their first crack at their Grand Final nemesis United, the rampaging Sydney FC take on the resurgent Mariners, the Jets host the Roar and Wellington embark on the longest road trip in domestic league football when they visit the Glory, all with their eyes set on getting their hands on the ‘Toilet Seat’. The most important fact for all of us however is the simple fact that the A-League is back.