Stirring fightbacks by Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners this weekend will not only galvanise their own supporters, but give hope to fans all around the country that there is blue sky on the horizon for the national team. Most of the brickbats aimed at the Socceroos in recent weeks have centred on their lack of fight. The issue was not the successive defeats – Brazil and France are two of the games real heavyweights and results in their backyards are hard for any side to come by – but the supine nature of the performances, and 6-0 scoreline, on both occasions cost Holger Osieck his job. The two men in the frame to be his replacement, Ange Postecoglu and Graham Arnold, stared down two-nil deficits and inspired their teams to salvage a share of the spoils this weekend. Both sides showed the sort of backs-to-the-wall spirit and passion for the contest numerous former Socceroos claim is missing in their successors.
In front of vociferous Adelaide supporters at a sold-out Hindmarsh stadium celebrating their club’s tenth anniversary, the Victory had to overcome their own wayward finishing, and the referee. After Conor Pain blasted over the United bar when barely six yards out, the home team swept forward and striker Jeronimo Neumann was one-on-one with the Victory goalkeeper. Nathan Coe looked to have got a firm had on the ball as he dived to push it away from the striker’s feet, but arbiter Alan Milliner ruled Coe’s only contact was with the Argentinian’s ankle and awarded the penalty. Minutes after that gift was converted by Sergio Cirio, Neumann got his own name on the scoresheet, tucking away a rebound off Coe when the keeper failed to hold an Awer Mabil shot. Then came Milliner’s second error, incorrectly adjudging Pain to be offside when he slotted home an Archie Thompson cross from close range.
Adelaide manager Josep Gombau earned his stripes coaching the Barcelona youth team, and is adamant United will pay play pass-and-move football irrespective of where they are or what stage the game is at. This makes for an attractive spectacle, with his team always looking to get forward in numbers and, in so doing, leaving space behind them. Postecoglu’s team repeatedly exploited that space in the second half, but they were thwarted by a combination of more poor finishing and good goalkeeping by Eugene Galekovic, before Gui Finkler halved the deficit with ten minutes remaining. The Brazilian swept home from the edge of the box after Adelaide failed to clear a corner, and will be delighted with the goal in only his second game back from a ten month injury lay-off. When Archie Thompson’s effort came back off the bar with only five minutes left Victory must have thought it wasn’t to be their day, but they kept pushing and a James Troisi shot from an Adama Traore pull-back bounced over the line from the underside of the bar deep into injury time and earned them the point they so richly deserved and fought so hard for.
The Mariners travelled to AAMI Park in Melbourne and they and the Heart produced an open, entertaining game. The surprise at half-time was that the game remained goalless, but Heart striker David Williams scored twice before the hour mark to seemingly give the home side the points. Some over-enthusiastic defending at a corner by Patrick Kisnorbo, however, saw Marcos Flores bring the Mariners back into the game from the penalty spot after 70 minutes. Five minutes later another infringement in their own box, this time a handball by Patrick Gerhardt, gave Flores the opportunity for a repeat performance and he sent Heart keeper Andrew Redmayne the wrong way to bring the Mariners level. Their keeper Justin Pasfield confirmed a point was earned with a instinctive save from point blank range to deny Williams his hat-trick in the closing minutes.
Sydney FC never recovered from the loss of Alessandro Del Piero to injury early in their trip to Brisbane. Although the Roar also lost their chief attacking weapon, Besart Berisha leaving the field minutes before the Italian, they adapted much better and were always on the front foot. Sydney held them at bay until late in the first half, but two goals in as many minutes and another before the break finished the game as a contest. Sydney’s defenders were culpable for all three, giving Brisbane players far too much time and space in the box. Ivan Franjic scored the third, having also netted in the season opener last week, and he created what turned out to be the icing on the cake for Thomas Broich with ten minutes remaining to see the Roar to a comfortable 4-0 win. Brisbane are the only team with maximum points after the first two rounds of the season and will travel to Melbourne to face the Victory on Friday night brimming with confidence. It remains to be seen whether they will come up against their former boss – Postecoglu may well be confirmed as an international manager by then. Sydney FC will face their next task with more trepidation, they play their derby against last season’s bolters the Western Sydney Wanderers and may well have to do so without talisman Del Piero, the calf injury suffered at Suncorp likely to keep him out at least one week.
On Sunday the Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory played out a goalless draw at Hunter Stadium, giving both sides their first point of the season. Western Sydney Wanderers took a first half lead in a pulsating atmosphere in Parramatta but were pegged back by an enterprising Wellington Phoenix, the one-all draw a fair result in another entertaining game of free-flowing football. A weekend of big crowds and plenty of goals leaves Brisbane alone at the top with two from two, and all ten teams on the board with at least one point.