Last week we looked at the triumphant Melbourne Victory team in the A-League Grand Final, this week we’ll take a look at more of a season review and how all the teams in Australia and, of course, New Zealand fared.
It’s been an up-and-down season in 2017/18 in the Hyundai A-League, much like over in the United States and Canada with Major League Soccer, there is something missing at the lower end of the table in the threat of relegation. While the FFA may build to this, it’s currently a void but thankfully there are plenty of drama and quality players to compensate. Even towards the lower reaches with Central Coast Mariners, Lachlan Wales has done well enough to earn a move to Melbourne City, as an example.
We begin with the A-League Champions, the team who as manager Kevin Muscat admitted, hit their peak form at just the right time. Finishing fourth wasn’t impressive, not by a long shot. Not when their forward three are two of the best wingers in the competition Leroy George and Kosta Barbarouses, and then they have the A-League’s leading goalscorer Besart Berisha in their ranks. Victory have quality all over the pitch but underperformed, leading to calls for Muscat’s head from the terraces. Had Victory not hit their stride entering the Finals, he could well be seeking employment right now. VAR, or lack thereof, affected the final game itself but you cannot deny the momentum from defeating Adelaide United and then Premiers Sydney FC to get to McDonald Jones Stadium.
The fairy tale was written and so it came to pass as Ernie Merrick, Nigel Boogaard and Nikolai Topor-Stanley led Newcastle Jet from last place on the A-League ladder in 2016/17 to the final day of the 2017/18 season. The loss to Melbourne Victory, amid an excellent goalkeeping performance from Joe Marsden Medal winner Lawrence Thomas, doesn’t taint the story, it only enhances it. The challenge now is to build when strong, Jets were disappointing in attack during the Final and with Roy O’Donovan’s extended suspension at the start of the next season, new attacking firepower for Petratos and Vargas to play in is a priority.
It’s almost pleasing to see that Sydney FC didn’t win the A-League Championship despite blowing all competition out of the water for the majority of the regular campaign. 14 points ahead of Newcastle Jets tells its own story. By only being crowned Premiers, Sydney have some unfinished business and motivation to come back next season firing on all cylinders. Some of their players were nigh-on-unplayable at times. Brazilian hitman Bobô ended the season with scary statistics, 36 goals in 37 games in all competitions. Only this week did Josh Brillante credit his success in the Hyundai A-League with the Sky Blues as a key factor in his selection for the World Cup preliminary squad. Sydney FC have unfinished business and that will be something spectacular to watch in 2018/19.
A bitter few weeks for the Citizens have left them defeated by Newcastle Jets in the Finals Series and their AFC Champions League place stolen by rivals Melbourne Victory. To have finished third in the regular season ahead of the likes of Victory and Adelaide United is a credit to them, especially as they had to weather the first half of the season without their inspirational striker Bruno Fornaroli. Scotsman Ross McCormack came in on loan from Aston Villa and hit some splendid strikes but while goals were replaced, the influence was not. Consistency is now the key for Melbourne City as they regroup for another A-League assault.
A season of transition for Adelaide under coach Marco Kurz has seen some excellent signings in Daniel Adlung and a first full season for Danish international Johan Absalonsen. As always the mercurial Spaniard Isaías has pulled all the strings in the centre of midfield and his positioning has been scarily superb, dropping between the two centre-backs at times but yet still affecting play in the final third. Where Adelaide have been lacking is in the striking department, although everybody would love a 25-goal a season man up top. Baba Diawara and George Blackwood have both been given chances, but neither have impressed. I am, however, impressed with the acquisition of Dane Michael Jakobsen on a two-year-deal.
John Aloisi’s side snuck into the Finals Series on the last day of the regular campaign as Western Sydney Wanderers stuttered. It was the eighth year in succession that they have made the Finals amid some stunning upsets, notably against Melbourne City in Melbourne and overcoming Sydney FC. Marquee signing Maccarone took on the responsibility to grab the goals and largely did, meaning his absence in 2018/19 will be felt. Goalkeeper Jamie Young is one of the best in the A-League but needs help with a negative seven goal difference amassed over the season.
Western Sydney Wanderers
The tone really was set for the Wanderers when Tony Popovic resigned from the club to coach Turkish Süper Lig club Karabükspor just a week before the start of the 2017–18 A-League season. That left Hayden Foxe in charge until November, when Josep Gombau was recruited. It was always going to be an uphill battle for Gombau without pre-season and no transfer window. He did as well as could be expected but the lack of qualification for the Finals saw him dismissed at the end of the season, hardly in my view. The core of Spaniards; Raúl Llorente, Oriel Riera and Álvaro Cejudo performed well but were let down by central defence particularly, unable to help the experienced Vedran Janjetović in keeping goals out.
Not good enough is the judgment for Perth Glory, too many games they were anonymous and the only player to come out of the season having enhanced his reputation is the Spaniard Diego Castro. Adam Taggart, the team’s main goalscoring threat, returned just eight goals and despite a late surge from Neil Kilkenny, manager Kenny Lowe can be disappointed in the campaign. He has now stepped away from the first team squad to a position upstairs, creating an opportunity for the return of Tony Popovic. Popovic was sacked by Karabükspor after just nine games.
A minus goal difference of 24 (a league high) tells you where the problems were for the Nix. Darije Kalezić lasted until March before Englishman Chris Greenacre took the reins for the end of a very chastening campaign. With such a turnover of players, 11 came in across the season and 13 left, it was to be expected. Experienced heads like Nathan Burns and Andrew Durante will be hurt by the way the Phoenix imploded, perhaps motivating the latter to attempt to set the record straight next season with a new contract. Striker Roy Krishna did his level best and youngster Sarpreet Singh put in some good performances, but with turmoil off the field with media outlets reporting that the club hierarchy are actively looking to sell their license, stability is needed urgently.
Central Coast Mariners
The recipients of the wooden spoon weren’t actually that bad, the problem is that they weren’t any good either. The losses of Paul Izzo and Ivan Necevski along with attacking players Roy O’Donovan and Fábio Ferreira hit the team hard. Blake Powell and Connor Pain top-scored with just four goals each. Full-back Storm Roux was the most consistent player across the season and has now left the club seeking opportunities with the likes of Melbourne Victory. Mike Mulvey, a former A-League Premiership and Championship winner, has come in to oversee next season. He replaced Paul Okon, who left the club in March and Wayne O’Sullivan saw out the season.