Monday, September 29, 2008

Weekend of upsets in A-League

Weekend of upsets in A-League.
Last weekend's string of unpredictable results in the English Premier League has been mirrored in Australia proving the A-League remains as competitive as ever.

While Hull City were shocking Arsenal and Wigan upsetting big spending Manchester City, closer to home joint league leaders Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory both lost matches they were widely anticipated to win.

With crowds down significantly on the previous campaign and the introduction of the two new Queensland teams delayed for 12 months, it was not the set of scorelines A-League doomsayers were predicting.

Football's popularity is constantly tested at this time in the Australian sporting calendar.

The traditional football codes - AFL and rugby league - stage their respective showpiece deciders over two weekends in late September and early October while round ball officials simply pray to come through unscathed.

But Adelaide United's surprising passage to the AFC Champions League semi-finals has already propelled Australian football into continental minds this past week. And over the weekend unlikely victories for bottom-placed Wellington Phoenix and erratic Queensland Roar generated more column inches.

Wellington stunned Sydney by coming from behind to register their first win of the season and their first A-League triumph in the calendar year.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert had been given the dreaded vote of confidence during the week but despite seven personnel changes - including both first choice central defenders and No.1 goalkeeper Glen Moss - his side prevailed with Tim Brown rifling home a 76th minute winner.

"It's been a difficult period and although there's a long way to go, it's a nice one given the circumstances," Herbert said afterwards. "There's a lot of belief in this group and this was a real testament to the boys. They really stood up for a cause."

Queensland undid 10-man Melbourne with late goals from youngsters Michael Zullo and Tahj Minniecon, a pair of strikes which conjured up more than a hint of a similar turning point last season.

12 months ago, Zullo and Robbie Kruse scored against Wellington on their A-League debuts to propel the Roar into a 12-match unbeaten run which saw them narrowly miss winning the premiership on the final day of the season.

Even coach Frank Farina recognised the parallels and remains convinced his side can push Sydney and Melbourne all the way for the title this year.

"I've told the players over the past few weeks if we continue to play in the manner we have been playing things will turn. Tonight was the night that it turned for us," Farina assured Queensland supporters.

Next up for the Roar is Sydney away this Friday.

Meanwhile, exhausted Adelaide - playing just three days after disposing of Japanese greats Kashima Antlers in the AFC Champions League - put away champions Newcastle thanks to a second-half brace from Brazilian Cristiano.

“They’ve gone through five games in 16 days and that’s a massive effort,” coach Aurelio Vidmar said. "There was a bit of doubt in my mind tonight about how they were going to come up and they were a bit flat.

"But for the boys to go out and really squeeze every last bit of energy they had in their bodies was a superb effort.”

The race to become the league's leading goalscorer is also closer then ever before at this stage of the season.

Six players, from six different clubs, are tied for the lead with four goals apiece including 2007/08 Golden Boot winner Danny Allsopp of Melbourne.

Queensland's Scottish playmaker Charlie Miller scored in each of his first four A-League appearances to break Kevin Muscat's record while Cristiano, Perth's Eugene Dadi, Mariners striker Matt Simon and Kiwi Shane Smeltz complete the list.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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