Jackson leads Mariners revival, Wood red card ruins Big Blue, Arnie lashes A-League


As always, plenty happening including a feisty evening in Gosford, a dramatic Big Blue and the national team coach having plenty to say about our humble domestic competition.

Here are your A-League Round 14 talking points.

Mariners keep rolling

Firstly, Mark Jackson deserves a lot of credit for the work he’s doing with Central Coast. Four straight losses is pretty much as bad as a championship defence can get off to but that seems like a distant memory now. The goals are flowing and the back line has looked impressive, led by Dan Hall and Brian Kaltak’s formidable partnership in the heart of defence.

Youngster Miguel Di Pizio notched his first A-League goal to break the deadlock on Saturday evening, combining well with Jacob Farrell then beating Macklin Freke with an emphatic first-time finish. It’s the Gosford side’s MO in a nutshell – leverage young talent before selling those players on for, hopefully, significant transfer fees.

Some very talented players departed Industree Group Stadium after Central Coast’s second championship last season, but the new crop of youth could be just as promising. And with the way Jackson has got his team trending, adding some silverware to the cabinet in 2023-24 is looking a lot more plausible.

Miguel Di Pizio scores his first A-League goal (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

It wasn’t all bad news for the Roar and the still green Ben Cahn but goals continue to elude them. In the five games Cahn’s overseen, they have only scored more than one goal on a single occasion: the 3-2 win over Newcastle.

Wood send-off blunts Big Blue

If goals make big occasions like the Big Blue, then red cards certainly can break them. I’m not saying that there should be seperate rulebooks for a Macarthur versus Brisbane Roar clash and the Big Blue – although subconsciously all referees would be influenced by the magnitude of the game – merely that these are the matches you really do want to get your decisions correct.

Sydney FC striker Pat Wood’s red card did ruin the latest edition of this long-standing rivalry. I can’t understand how two players looking at the ball, short of one decapitating the other, results in Wood being handed his marching orders after VAR intervention.

At home you have to think it’s two dropped points for Tony Popovic’s men, who have fallen behind Wellington at the top of the table. Zinedine Machach again showed his quality, scoring his fifth goal of the season to go with three assists. Identifying and bringing over the Frenchman is the kind of scouting that can transform a good side into a championship team.

It should also be acknowledged that Victory are still undefeated after 14 rounds, an impressive feat.

The Sky Blues find themselves a smidge outside the top six, two points behind Melbourne City. Ufuk Talay is yet to really find his footing in the head coach role – or his best starting 11 – and it’s always difficult to negotiate the situation when a new manager comes in midseason. Sydney need to beat Western United next week to keep pace with the better sides in the competition.

Arnold doubles down on A-League

Despite the Socceroos’ failure to defeat an unspectacular Uzbekistan outfit, it was what Graham Arnold had to say after the draw that was most frustrating. Bizarrely praising the number of Uzbeks playing in their domestic league, Arnie also took a shot at the A-League, claiming we don’t have enough of our own national teams stars playing domestically and that he’s “done” with the league.

His one salient point is that players are not conditioned enough with the current length of the season, that I can agree with.

I’ve never made a secret of my view on Arnold. His achievements at the Qatar World Cup understandably landed him a four-year contract extension as Socceroos boss, but I can’t see him seeing out that deal unless he can improve the turgid football the side are playing. But more to the point, publicly lashing the league he has so often praised – sometimes deservedly and sometimes undeservedly – is a pretty awful look.

How much worse a job would Jacob Farrell done than Aziz Behich on the left side of defence? Granted, Jamie Maclaren has never impressed at international level but he had a case to be frustrated for being left out of the Asian Cup squad. Arnold will likely have to keep picking domestic-based players, or at least consider them.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Quick hits

-North Hobart Oval is a quaint little ground, but it is shameful that the APL are continually allowing Western United to take games to the Apple Isle. This, on the back of reports United’s training base will be delayed. I can’t comprehend how they’re going to build their fan-base in Victoria if they are not playing matches in Victoria.

-Oskar Zawada netted the match-winner in his return from injury as the Nix toppled Newcastle. I don’t think the Jets are quite as bad as their ladder position says – and they’re actually not too far outside the finals but it was always going to be an uphill battle for first-time head coach Robert Stanton.

-A nice moment after City’s 1-0 win over Adelaide – Jamie Young consoling Nestory Irankunda after denying the soon-to-be Bayern Munich winger on a one-on-one.

Jamie Young ???? Nestory Irankunda

The @MelbourneCity veteran had some words of wisdom for the 17-year-old @AdelaideUnited star after a tough defeat ????#ALM pic.twitter.com/DBKnDsTG7G

— Isuzu UTE A-League (@aleaguemen) January 25, 2024

Irankunda wears his heart on his sleeve – sometimes to his detriment, to be fair, but this is the kind of emotion fans love seeing. The antithesis of laughing and joking with the opposition post-match that drives me mad.

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