A-League round 1: force or farce?
Round 1 of the A-League was either a force or a farce - but Stuart isn't quite sure which one23 October 2018 | Stuart Thomas
Former rep tennis player & golfer, former high school teacher & now full time sports writer
Differences of opinion should be celebrated. They enhance public debate and open the minds of those more rigid in their thinking.
One of the universal beauties of life itself is perspective and what people see through the lens with which they view the world.
Such was week one of the A-League, with scope for a rather rose coloured summation or a more cynical and negative view of the action.
Both lines of thought appear to have weight. Social media has been busy in response to the drama and excitement of what was a wild weekend of football.
The question remains, was it really a triumphant start; blessed with solid attendances and compelling drama on the pitch or just a farcical opening to a competition struggling for identity and professionalism?
Friday night at Coopers Stadium was flat. As flat as a stubborn gluten free pancake that just won’t rise. Sydney FC looked slow and stodgy and Adelaide weren’t much better. Indeed, until the stunning strike to Scott Galloway just before the break, many would have snuck in a quick channel surf, so unlikely did both teams appear.
Quite bizarrely, Adam le Fondre scored his debut goal for Sydney late in the game to equalise, despite Sydney looking frazzled and disjointed in attack throughout.
It was a poor start but as we all know, that is football and the Melbourne Derby would surely make amends.
In front of more than 40,000 passionate fans, the match looked Messianic early on. My kids were cheering ‘Honda, Honda, Honda’, after I had well and truly talked up the Japanese champion for the entire day.
They loved his hair as much as his football.
He obliged with the opening goal and memories of Friday were erased. It was something of a mulligan and many fans probably hoped A-League critics had been out to dinner the previous evening.
Sadly, and despite the Samurai saviour trying his best, it didn’t take long for disaster to kick in. Kurt Ams’ use of the VAR system to inform his free kick decision on the edge of the box was a train wreck.
Bruno Fornaroli went to ground too easily. There was a hand in his back, yet the force imparted would have struggled to injure a mosquito and the referee made things worse by advancing the free kick to the penalty spot.
I was well into a bottle of red by that stage; head in hands, I waited for the inevitable social media notifications. ‘Ping, ping, ping’, it didn’t take long, as my anti-A-League friends and relatives let rip with, it must be said, fair criticism of the decision.
It was all turning to farce before half-time in the second match of the season.
Mark Bosnich did little to promote the game; slamming the desk and losing all perspective on the situation as he vented on FOX Sports. City fans suggested that Victory return their championship trophy from last season, claiming it too was won on the back of VAR controversy.
On Sunday morning, I hid. I felt so dirty.
Whilst the derby attendance was impressive, was the game to be belted from pillar to post all day amidst the perception of ineptitude and stupidity that Saturday night had fuelled?
Perhaps the Phoenix could save us?
Wow, there is an unexpected sentence. The match over the ditch was a quality couple of hours of viewing. The fans soaked up the spring sun on a balmy 17 degrees Wellington day and the home side did the business.
An own goal sent them to the lead and with around five minutes remaining and around 10,000 topless fans in the house, the A-League finally looked assured of the Phoenix pulling at least two decent crowds this season.
Then, it struck again. VAR. It is starting to read like a horrific disease. ‘Yeah, we lost Uncle Bob last week, he got VAR.’
Mitch Nicholls was deemed to have been tackled/pushed/massaged to the ground and the spot kick was awarded to the home side after the technology played its role. The utter distrust of the system was clearly evident in the Newcastle players, as they protested passionately.
It was all to no avail and Roy Krishna eventually found the net to seal the game for the Phoenix.
Dimi Petratos did produce a stunning strike with just seconds remaining, yet the Jets must be wondering if the entire VAR system was implemented in a last ditch attempt to entice human emotions from Ernie Merrick on the bench. How he stayed composed, I do not know.
The highlight of the weekend was the Sunday twilight encounter between the Roar and the Mariners. Connor Pain produced another cracking goal early yet the Roar could have had five in the first half.
That is no exaggeration. Eric Bautheac and Tobias Mikkelsen were superb and time and time again Adam Taggart had chances to score. It just wasn’t his day. When it is, look out!
He did eventually find the net and the fact he scored on such a clunky and disappointing day spoke volumes about the up-front quality at the Roar.
Taggart was denied another, once again thanks to VAR intervention. It was a line ball off side decision that should have been referred back to the original on-field non call. Brisbane manager John Aloisi just laughed, I think that says it all.
In the end, Central Coast held on for a gallant 1-1 draw and the Glory and Wanderers also shared the spoils with a goal each in Perth.
Late Sunday, news came through of a supposed contract offer to Usain Bolt in Gosford. Combined with a raving Bozza, the mystifying decision at Marvel Stadium on Saturday and the 84,000 plus who attended the five matches, it was hard to make sense of the weekend, although the cynics will undoubtedly connect VAR and Bolt; labelling the competition a joke.
Part of me loved the drama and there was much quality football on display. Contrastingly, there is always a sense of embarrassment when officialdom botches situations so badly.
Maybe it is far more simple and primal? Perhaps that was as good as it gets for the A-League and far from being a farce, it may have been exactly what we needed to get the season up and running?
I’m still not sure.