Week one of the A-League final series has failed to produce a clear frontrunner in pursuit of domestic football’s ultimate prize, the fabled silver dunny seat.
With the return legs of both the major and knock-out semi-finals to come this weekend, none of the four participating clubs can be confident that they have found championship winning form.
Defending the trophy they won last year, Sydney FC started their finals campaign against the Newcastle Jets in a menacing mood.
The ease with which Alex Brosque was carving holes in the Jets’ defence served notice to Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory that Sydney can still pack a killer punch up front. After Mark Milligan added to Brosque’s opening goal inside 30 minutes it was official – the Bling Boys were serious about a title defence.
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Newcastle was winless until Round 8 of the season and so they’ve learnt a thing or to about climbing off the canvas. Milton Rodriguez’s outstanding solo effort gave the Jets a precious away goal which means a 1-0 result at home this Friday night will be enough for them to progress.
Sydney will hunt an away goal to kill the tie off. With oblivion beckoning for the loser, expect a fast, physical encounter.
In the battle to see who hosts the Grand Final, Adelaide and Melbourne’s phoney war at Hindmarsh Stadium sees neither side in a position to claim the ascendency going into Sunday’s Telstra Dome square-off.
United monstered Melbourne for long periods of the game but for all their industry failed to worry the Victory back four let alone find the back of the net.
John Kosmina put a brave face on it, but he will know that to leave home empty handed in a two-legged tie such as this is a failure.
He’ll be reminding his players that their last trip to Telstra Dome saw United burst Melbourne’s early season bubble with Greg Owen’s goal making the Reds the first team to beat the Victory this season.
The best thing going for United is that Victory’s swashbuckling mid-season rampage is a distant memory right now.
Melbourne’s midfield generals Grant Brebner and Kevin Muscat are struggling. Without these two using their superior passing to bring strikers Archie Thompson and Daniel Allsop into the game, the Victory look tame.
Ernie Merrick continues to insist all is going to plan but pressure will build on his team to produce something special in front of an expected 50,000 people at the Telstra Dome on Sunday.
Francis Leach is the match day MC at Melbourne Victory home games.