United Round’s baby steps, Nix pip Perth in thriller, Wanderers make statement


The first time all A-League sides descended on the same city brought mixed results for the APL and its clubs. Plenty to run the rule over, so let’s get into it.

Here are your A-League Round 12 talking points.

Unite Round a tentative success

Even before the Macarthur-Western United clash kicked off on Friday evening, it’s safe to say that A-League fans are happier with the concept of the Unite Round than APL’s disastrous three-year deal with Destination NSW to host all Grand Finals in Sydney. That agreement was a stain on Danny Townsend’s and the league’s reputation, and its dissolution was a massive triumph for the game’s most important stakeholders: the supporters.

Now, on to the first iteration of Unite Round itself. By the most relevant metrics, it was not a massive success. I’m still uneasy with the concept’s introduction to football; simply copying something that works – and works very well, it must be said – in the two major football codes is not inherently a good strategy.

Probably my biggest gripe is the lack of auxiliary activities for fans before and after matches. The Asian Cup live site for Australia vs India was well-intentioned, but the unpleasant weather and technical difficulties sent anyone hanging around in Moore Park either to pubs in Surry Hills or Redfern, or to the couch at home.

Jackson Irvine celebrates Australia’s first goal (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Apart from the games on tap throughout the weekend, what else was there to do for fans wanting to make a full day of it? Sydney is one of the best cities on Earth to visit – and there are more than a few other businesses in this town willing to take visitors’ hard-earned cash. On top of ticket sales and merch, the APL need to maximise their earning potential in future.

Youth star as Wanderers rebound in style

Some good news coming out of Western Sydney last week, with Marko Rudan putting pen to paper on a three-year contract extension at CommBank Stadium. Rudan has brought much-needed stability to a club that was drifting aimlessly for years prior to his arrival; the only negative mark on his record being the finals loss to Sydney.

Rudan’s recruitment has been top-notch across two off-season transfer windows, bringing in quality foreigners like Marcelo, Jorrit Hendrix and Morgan Schneiderlin – the former two being crucial cogs in what is shaping to be another fruitful campaign.

But it was the younger members of the squad the former Socceroo has nurtured who played key roles in Friday’s win over Melbourne City, an important three points at home after a disappointing defeat last round. Dylan Pierias scored the only goal of the game as Oscar Priestman, Nicolas Milanovic and Alex Badolato also impressing.

At this point in the season every side is missing players but Brandon Borrello and Lawrence Thomas are possibly Rudan’s two best players.

Nix return to summit with high-scoring Distance Derby triumph

Despite their hot start, it took me some time to recognise that Wellington Phoenix are the real deal this season. First-time A-League head coach Giancarlo Italiano has built upon Ufuk Talay’s work at Sky Stadium, overseeing the Nix’s transform into serious contenders.

Kosta Barbarouses’ Indian summer has offset the absence of Oskar Zawada, with the Kiwi rolling back the years as Bruno Fornaroli does the same in Melbourne.

With all due respect to Alen Stajcic’s side, the ladder does not lie this deep into the season and Perth deserve to be where they are – and these are the kind of games, where they are expected to win, that Nix need to close out to ensure they remain at the pointy end of the table. The banana skin fixtures, if you will.

It was a wild affair in Parramatta, with not a lot of defending going on as seven goals flew in. A big concern for Stajcic has to be the number of goals Glory are conceding: seven in their last two fixtures, 28 for the season – equal-worst with the awful Western United.

Inconsistent Sky Blues concede four in awful display

Credit to Adelaide United, as you can only beat the team in front of you. The Reds, who themselves are in the midst of a mixed run of form, downed a pitiful Sydney FC in the back half of the A-League Men doubleheader on Saturday night.

Hiroshi Ibusuki, who’s definitely had his detractors this season, netted a hat-trick with the second goal particularly well taken. The Japanese has looked off to my eye test but a hat-trick is a hat-trick and his nose for goal is clearly still there.

Injuries are definitely affecting the Sky Blues – Jack Rodwell unfortunately cannot avoid the treatment table – but there is enough quality in this Sydney side to overcome the losses. Talay has done an admirable job since coming in mid-season to replace his mate Steve Corica and you can’t blame the kind of defensive collapse we saw on Saturday on the coach.

(Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

The challenge now will be how well he can leverage the promising youth at his disposal to plug gaps opened up by injury. Curiously, Max Burgess still cannot muscle his way into Talay’s starting 11.

Quick hits

-Ben Cahn notched his first win at A-League level as Roar snapped a four-game losing run dating back to the end of Ross Aloisi’s tenure.

-There was definitely some luck involved in Ulises Davila’s three-goal haul, but hat-tricks for midfielders are definitely collector’s items.

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