Same Crap, Different Bucket
An Englishman's adventure in the land that Chocolate Digestives forgot.

Stale,mate.

Season six of the A-League kicked off last weekend with a slew of hard-fought draws and a Central Coast Mariners win that had the party-pooping qualities of a drambuie-soaked children’s entertainer crafting obscene shapes out of balloons.

Their 1-0 win at new club Melbourne Heart on Thursday night was deserved though, and came almost a year to the day of their comfortable win at Melbourne Victory in the opening fixture of last season. The Mariners contained Heart competently and rarely looked troubled after Alex Wilkinson had headed them into the lead – a goal that came while Heart keeper, Clive Bolton, appeared preoccupied by the Velcro on his gloves. What dark, unspoken,Velcro-related incident haunts his past?

Amidst the celebrations, the cameras cut to a small group of teenagers in Melbourne Victory shirts, celebrating the downfall of their newfound rivals. It’s the kind of action that results in you being fed your own shins in some countries, but nobody seemed to mind too much here. 

Despite pre-match fears of a sparse turnout, a decent-sized crowd of 11,050 made the effort (piss-taking adolescents included). This was also the case in Perth, where over 16,000 fans (an A-League record for Perth), witnessed an entertaining 3-3 draw with North Queensland Fury.  Those who were there simply to catch a glimpse of Robbie Fowler saw a largely anonymous display redeemed only by a couple of defence-splitting passes that deserved better finishes. After coming from behind, Perth looked to have sealed the points when Mile Sterjovski nodded them in front with 12 minutes left. However, Fury equalised in injury time with a Chris Grossman header from a free-kick near the corner flag. Their goalkeeper, Justin Pasfield, should take some credit, as his presence in the opposition area caused the kind of distraction only usually seen when a dog gets into a primary school playground. 

Another 3-3 was played out at the Sydney Football Stadium in a re-match of last season’s Grand Final between Sydney and Melbourne Victory. The home side appeared to be in complete control when Terry McFlynn put them 2-0 up after 53 minutes. Victory captain, Kevin ‘Muskie’ Muscat had earlier been at fault for Sydney’s first goal; dispossessed whilst attempting a Cruyff turn in his own penalty area.

At that point, I came as close as I probably ever will to feeling sorry for him – it was his birthday after all. Thankfully, my sentimentality evaporated as he reverted to type: kicking and shoving opponents and hectoring the referee for the rest of the match, spraying him with advice and scorn. It wasn’t long before I went back to wishing he’d fall into a volcano. 

In the space of seven calamitous minutes, Melbourne exploited the vast gaps in Sydney’s defence to score three goals. The youthful Mate Dugandzic (has there ever been a more appropriate first name for an Australian?) was a constant menace, neatly taking one goal and showing immense composure to set up the third. It took a late free kick from Shannon Cole to salvage a draw for Sydney, the real merit for which should really be attributed to my companion Simon who sighed, ‘he hasn’t scored a free kick in about two years’ seconds before the ball was whipped into the top corner. 

The surprise performance of the weekend came from Brisbane Roar. They limped to the end of last season and then lost a number of key players, yet were clearly the better team in their 0-0 draw with Gold Coast United – only negligent finishing prevented them from taking all three points. United looked jaded and lacked inspiration. Shane Smeltz loped around the pitch with the resentful air of Harold Steptoe – he’s had a glimpse of the bright lights, but now he’s stuck back at home and his dad’s having a bath in the kitchen sink. Fortunately for Smeltz, the transfer window doesn’t close for a couple of weeks, so there may still be time for him to secure a dream move to Plymouth Argyle or whatever.  

Finally, consummate entertainers Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets stuck to the old showbiz maxim ‘always leave the audience wanting more’ with a plain goalless draw only briefly lightened by the sight of Newcastle’s Michael Bridges and Marko Jesic performing a comedy double-take as a quick free-kick was taken while they formed a bickering two-man wall.

The real question is how long will I keep up these weekly updates? My prediction? Early September. Optimistic, I know.

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