Wanderers’ season ends, Nix stay alive in premiership race, Perth humiliated again


And just like that, another A-League regular season (sans one game) is in the books and we look ahead to the finals. Let’s recap the action-packed final round.

Here are your A-League talking points.

Premiership race goes down to wire

For months there’s only been two teams in the premiership race, and it will go right down to the final game of the season. Central Coast host Adelaide on Wednesday evening, needing only a point at Industree Group Stadium against a Reds side with little to play for to clinch their third premiership.

Mark Jackson’s side were stifled by a valiant Jets in the F3 Derby until the dam broke in the second half, with two late goals sealing victory for the Mariners. I don’t get a vote, but if I did, Mark Jackson would get the nod for Coach of the Year. He’s taken a Mariners outfit that was decimated last winter and lost their opening four fixtures to the brink of more silverware, while working within one of the league’s stingiest budgets.

(Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Giancarlo Italiano and Wellington Phoenix did their part to keep their faint hopes of a first-ever trophy alive, downing Macarthur 3-0 at Sky Stadium. Whatever happens from here, it’s been a season to remember in Wellington and Italiano has done a magnificent job building on the foundation laid by his mate Ufuk Talay.

There’s still a championship title in the Nix’s sights – I’m sure plenty of A-League fans whose sides are already eliminated will be cheering them on.

Is Rudan safe after Wanderers miss finals?

In the end it came down to a Jamie Maclaren strike dooming Western Sydney Wanderers to another bottom-six finish, but Marko Rudan’s side should never have let their finals place slip. Wanderers showed fight to come from two goals down at AAMI Park to keep their season alive but it was to be in vain as Melbourne City handled their business, beating Western United 1-0 to scrape into the playoffs.

This is a failure from a Wanderers perspective, plain and simple. They dropped a stunning number of points since the calendar flipped over to 2024 amid rumours of dressing room disharmony and Rudan’s alleged antics behind closed doors. Rudan is backed by Paul Lederer so the situation is likely not so grim as to force the CEO into letting the former centre-half go with a three-year contract extension still yet to kick in.

Assuming Rudan is still in the dugout come Round 1, how many of the current squad will also be there? No doubt his unconventional methods work for some players, but this kind of coach will always alienate some of his charges. Younger players, still in their formative years, are especially susceptible to catching Rudan’s ire, as Marcus Younis discovered after the last-minute derby defeat.

Sky Blues humiliate Glory, earn home final

Demolishing Perth 7-1 to seal fourth place and a home elimination final, it was a good afternoon for Ufuk Talay’s side at Allianz Stadium. Consistency has been the question mark on the Sky Blues all season long, but if they’re able to ride some form, their frontline is stacked with talent, and they could plausibly cause some damage in the playoffs.

A shaky start to the campaign led to club legend Steve Corica’s departure but Talay has done an admirable job in Moore Park. An ageing squad has seen revitalisation in the form of youngsters like Hayden Matthews, Corey Hollman and Jake Girdwood-Reich but visa signings Fabio Gomes and Gabriel Lacerda’s output hasn’t met expectations in the Harbour City.

Conversely, another painful campaign in the west has, mercifully, come to an end. A couple weeks ago Perth were beaten so badly by Melbourne City the powers that be felt compelled to issue a press release confirming just how embarrassed the club as a whole was by that effort. They conceded eight that day; I wonder if another press release is being prepared as I type, because ’embarrassing’ is a good way to describe Sunday’s hammering.

Ross Pelligra certainly has a job on his hands to restore some pride in the club. It’s got to start with a significant recruitment drive because, as much as they should still’ve been more competitive than they were, the squad is miles away from the better sides in the competition.

Mustafa Amini of the Glory and Anthony Caceres of Sydney contest for the ball during the A-League Men round 12 match between Perth Glory and Sydney FC at HBF Park, on April 03, 2024, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Finals week 1 locked in

A couple of interesting fixtures to kick off the finals, with Sydney hosting Macarthur on Saturday night, and a Melbourne Derby at AAMI Park, 3pm Sunday. Both elimination games have the potential for plenty of goals and chaos. I’ll say the Sky Blues and Victory move on, but it’s difficult to pick a winner in both games.

Quick hits

-Concerning news this week of Angel Torres’ arrest. How much of a disruption will it be to the Mariners?

-Was the F3 Derby loss the Newcastle Jets’ farewell to the A-League? I sincerely hope not, but if the club does fold I don’t think anyone will be too shocked at this point.

-Congratulations to the players hanging up the boots at the end of 2023-24, including one-club man Leigh Broxham. The versatile utility made his first appearance for the club in 2007 and finished just shy of 400 appearances in the Victory jersey.

-Thank you to everyone who read these pieces throughout the season and contributed in the comments section. It’s been a lot of fun covering this competition again.

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