The A-League holds its own over the festive period
A-League crowds were better than given credit for over the festive season09 January 2018 | Stuart Thomas
Last Wednesday night saw the most polished display of A-League football we have witnessed this season.
The Newcastle Jets looked deep inside themselves and their roster and almost produced the unthinkable against the Sydney FC juggernaut.
Newcastle gave as good as they got and whilst missing key personnel, had the champions under immense pressure.
Despite some concerned press around the runaway leaders of the competition and the potential eleven point lead they would claim with a win, the encounter proved anything but predictable.
In reality, we have seen runs like this before.
When Adelaide United sat bottom of the table after ten rounds of the 2015-16 season they appeared doomed. Sixteen wins from their last twenty one matches saw them march to an astonishing Grand Final victory against the Wanderers.
All runs end, that much is certain and it might just be that another streak bit the dust on Friday night in Brisbane.
The Western Sydney Wanderers are back and not just because they have finally strung wins together and moved into the six.
There was a swagger about their football in the second half against Brisbane, a swagger that has been absent all season. Despite the utter dominance of the Roar in the first half, the home side had made one fatal error.
Committing too many eggs in the first half basket; playing with huff and puff and risking fatigue late in the game is a dangerous approach in the A-League. Possession statistics and momentum are all too often reversed in the second period as teams adapt tactics and plot their comebacks.
An unexpected Wanderers lead after Oriol Riera found the net was doubled by a goal from Mark Bridge just prior to the break and the shattered Roar would never recover.
Undoubtedly, the Roar were unlucky again with some dubious decisions and the amount of luck they have had this season could be written on a postage stamp, however, Western Sydney created chance after chance in the final quarter of the game.
It was an impressive response by the players after the dismissals of Jacob Melling and Jumpei Kusukami. No decent person would take any satisfaction from professional people losing their livelyhood in any walk of life, however the dismissal of Jumpei was the most important and necessary decision made by Josep Gombau since his arrival.
Whilst often looking a million bucks on the ball, Jumpei’s style stifled attacking options elsewhere and the service to him seemed tokenistic and detrimental to the combination between Alvaro Cejudo and Riera.
The Wanderers always appeared better bringing Raul Llorente into play on the left rather than slinging the ball wide to the Japanese on the right, whose goal scoring production has never lived up to expectations.
Lachlan Scott showed again just how good he could be if given more opportunities in Western Sydney or a role at another club, desperate for a strong nine and an attacking presence.
A tip of the cap to Adelaide United whose slow and steady rebuild under Marco Kurz has defied the logic of many pundits, who were skeptical after a slow start to their campaign.
Even considering dropped points thanks to some rather unfortunate VAR intervention, the reds have now built the basis of a solid season and sit fourth on the ladder.
The 3-0 drubbing of the inconsistent Perth Glory was emphatic and the Adelaide fans will be out in force for their upcoming home matches.
Despite a slip-up against the gritty Mariners on Saturday, the steady rebirth of the Victory is almost complete after an uncharacteristic start to the season. Just as many completed the death-knelling of the Victorian superpower, they began stringing wins together, Besart Berisha looked more like his old self and they moved deeper into the six.
With both Victory and Western Sydney rebounding, there will be an undoubted boost in their home attendances, something that has drawn the attention of much commentary over the last month.
In reality, the festive numbers have been solid.
Looking at matches in Australia over the December 23rd to January 5th period, the A-League has coped rather well.
Without a massive clash such as the Sydney derby that could potentially distort the numbers significantly, the A-League attracted 12,889 per match, an increase of 12% on the season average of 11,503.
Through the corresponding period, the BBL, a league on which I blog and support, has continued to struggle in terms of bums on seats. An average crowd of 25,783 translates to a minimal 0.05% decrease on the overall season average.
The football figures are testament to the quality of play throughout the festive period and fly in the face of much anecdotal commentary.
More broadly, A-League attendance is down around 11% on 2016-17 figures, whereas BBL figures indicate a drop of closer to 14%.
In a competitive sporting environment with a multitude of options for the modern consumer, these figures seem consistent with a general fall across most major codes.
What strikes me as odd is the reluctance in the media to tell the BBL story yet something of a keenness to write the football one.
It has been a wonderful two weeks for the A-League and the next few days promise even more. Don’t be hoodwinked by those intent on bringing football down.
a-league, a-league attendance