‘What becomes of the broken hearted?’ The missing four from the A-League finals


Adelaide have finished top in the A-League securing an Asian Champions League spot and last year’s grand finals winners, the Melbourne Victory have finished sixth on the ladder. In between are the Wanderers, Roar, Melbourne’s light blues and Perth, but what of the missing four?

7th. Sydney FC (34pts)

An oft-injured skipper and the push for Asian Champions League progress combined to see Sydney FC, grand finalists last season, miss the top six this time around. Graham Arnold has coached in two of the last three A-League grand finals so this is new territory to a degree for the Sky Blues boss but he has an ACL campaign still to focus on before looking fully at squad changes for 2016/17. After finishing 16 points worse off than last season, Sydney’s funk can largely be put down to a lack of finishing and a struggle to actually get players gelling up front. An injury to skipper Alex Brosque, initially misdiagnosed, meant other strikers needed to step up and that simply didn’t happen. One particular game against the Phoenix in November saw the Sky Blues profligate in front of goal and drop two points at home. Defender Jacques Faty has already left the club (more on that shortly) so Sydney will have an extra visa place to utilise and will be able to recruit with a focus on a key position.

Not their fault (should be in line for the club Player of the Year and maybe a performance bonus)

Vedran Janjetovic. The Sydney ‘keeper kept eight clean sheets in 27 games which was the second best amongst A-League ‘keepers all season – in 20 games, Eugene Galekovic had 12 clean sheets, so Janjetovic’s effort is very notable. Elsewhere for the side from Moore Park, Filip Holosko did show marquee quality striking at times compared to some other A-League marquee recruits but it still wasn’t enough.

Shuffle the decks (where we grab another A-League player from the vanquished four to improve a key area of weakness)

Arnold could do worse then look across the Tasman and give off-contract Hamish Watson a run. The former Hawke’s Bay United striker is yet to be retained by Wellington and provides a bustling striker role, which would be a good back-up for their current under-performing striking core.

8th. Newcastle (30 pts)

The only side of the bottom four who improved on their 2014/15 season points total, and that’s a good effort given the circumstances. The Jets didn’t reach the heights of my bold pre-season prediction which had them in the finals, but they offered some glimmers to prove them can improve again next season. However, until the ownership sale from the FFA to the USA or Chinese owner is confirmed, they will continue to be hamstrung by the level of off-field investment the club can make and any marquee purchases. The Jets lost Milos Trifunovic late in the season but the work of Ryan Kitto and off-contract import Morten Nordstrand showed enough that with added competition for places it could be a burgeoning partnership. Trifunovic’s great start stalled and, had he hung around, he would have struggled for a starting eleven spot next season. The ham-fisted running of the club under Nathan Tinkler means a host of key players, such as Mark Birighitti and Serbian Enver Alivodic, are coming off contract at the same time, but hopefully those two are amongst the first retained for the one-time grand-final winners.

Not their fault

Coach Scott Miller. The Jets boss entered the season as not just a young face in coaching terms but on the back of massive ownership upheaval in the club, and still he guided the side to a finish 13 points better than last season, not to mention he lost his best player, David Carney halfway through the campaign. January acquisition Nordstrand might not have reached the heights of Andy Keogh, but the Dane was probably the second-best mid-season recruit in the whole competition.

Shuffle the decks

Tomislav Uskok was among the first players cut loose by the Mariners this week, but the former Melbourne Knights defender would be a handy pick-up for the Novocastrians who logged only three clean sheets all season.

9th. Wellington (25 pts)

Ernie Merrick’s side finished 21 points behind their total of last season and had their campaign interrupted by questions over their future (raised in October, not resolved until February). With the A-League’s version of the ‘sword of damocles’ hanging nearby and injuries to two internationals, it was a season to forget for Wellington. The most galling thing for ‘Nix fans will be that their seven wins made up triumphs against every side playing finals, so it was their abject effort amongst sides like Newcastle and Mariners that sees them consigned to the sidelines in early April. It seems almost a distant memory that Jeffrey Sarpong arrived from Holland with the hopes of some Merrick magic turning the midfielder into an out-and-out striker, it didn’t pan out and he had left before the season was out. Albert Reira was a positive influence but lost he way late in the season getting sent off in round 26 was not his greatest footballing moment.

Not their fault

Roy Krishna. The Fijian frontman missed a key part of the season due to injury and, bar the odd game, goals dried up for Wellington as a result; the side often benefitted from the space he gave others. Roly Bonevacia also gets a nod here, but it’s got to the stage were teams are kicking the Dutchman out of games which sees him getting frustrated and conceding needless free kicks.

Shuffle the decks

In keeping with the theme of recruiting players from Victorian teams, I’d suggest Ernie Merrick give Daniel Heffernan a one-year deal. The former Heidelberg United striker had an odd season at the Mariners, featuring in only seven first team games (of which he only started two) and was part of the group of players ostracised from team training before he was brought back into the fold. In November, I saw him dominate a youth team game (I know, I know) where he scored a hatrick against the FFA Centre of Excellence. The 28 year-old deserves an extended shot somewhere.

10th Central Coast Mariners (13pts)

October 10, December 31, and January 30 – the three dates of the Mariners only wins all season. They couldn’t even muster a victory in their FFA Cup round of 32 tie (lost to Wellington) after making the semi-finals in 2015, albeit with a favourable draw then. Mariners coach Tony Walmsley saw plenty of players come and go during the year, notably Spaniard Luis Garcia, who arrived to much fanfare but won’t be back next season, while mid-season departees Anthony Caceres, Nick Fitzgerald, and Liam Reddy will feature in squads for other clubs in the finals. It’s safe to say most people did not think the Mariners would open their season with a win over Perth and end it with a derby defeat in possibly Garcia’s final game of professional football. Walmsley has already acted quickly in the recruiting stakes, adding Faty but he has also axed Heffernan, Uskok, and midfielder Francesco Stella. A clean-out is clearly needed but those three are all players he signed during the season. Not every mid-season singing comes off but that’s a horrible conversion rate. A porous defence meant the Mariners needed to score plenty to win and never once registered a clean sheet all season. Even the equally awful Aston Villa in the Premier League has one clean sheet.

Not their fault

For the side that finished with two less wins than their five last season this is very hard, but Liam Rose impressed at times. The 19 year-old was often shuffled around to allow for tactical changes but gets a better than pass mark in a horrendous season for the Mariners. Mitch Austin also performed superbly. However, when the Mariners were successful they had buy-in from the players which extended to some upping sticks from their residence’s in Sydney. Possibly three hours a day in a car to and from training doesn’t seem efficient for an elite athlete.

Shuffle the decks

Jets midfielder Leonardo would be a like-for-like replacement for Garcia but the Brazilian did have injury issues and whether the Mariners would use a visa spot on a player with a history of injury issues when they had similar problems with Fabio Ferreira this season (who only started 18 games) would be the issue.



About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

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