ABC Newcastle's Phil Dando previews Round 3 of the Hyundai A-League; including the F3 Derby at Hunter Stadium.
Anyone out there agree with me that this has been the best-ever start to an A-League season? Big crowds attended Round 2 as they did for Round 1, two of the three big-name marquee players scored, two games had 5 goals scored in them and the glamour teams, Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory sit rock bottom with zero points between them!
This week has excitement written all over it! An F3 derby; the first-ever Sydney derby; and traditional rivals Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United going head-to-head. However, it's a nightmare for the tipsters! I could just about copy what one of the Herald "experts" used to do and tip a draw for all 5 games, that's how close I think this round is going to be.
Let's start with Saturday's F3 derby. The Jets were mighty impressive in their 3-2 defeat of Sydney FC in front of 35,000 last week. I think they will get even better too as they get used to playing with Emile Heskey, who I believe is in for a stellar season, as is the young man whose name is on everyone's lips at the moment, Craig Goodwin. With a little bit of luck, Goodwin could have had a hat-trick last week instead of just the one goal that he did finish with, a sublime chip. But, Central Coast Mariners coach, Graham Arnold, is no mug and he will look to stifle the supply of ball wide to Goodwin. That, however, could leave the way open to get the ball played into Heskey's feet and enable players to make runs off him, and if that happens, the new central defensive pairing of Sainsbury and Zwaanswijk could be in for a torrid afternoon.
The Mariners are always well organised, though, and will be a tough nut to crack again. They are lacking a bit of firepower this season, as evidenced by the tally of only one goal in their first two games. Usually, the Jets do well at home against the Mariners having won 6 and drawn 3 of the 12 meetings at Hunter Stadium, but they are now three games without a win at home (if you think that including last season is important - and I don't!), their longest streak since September 2010. The Mariners have only lost 1 of their last 7 against the Jets though, including 4 wins during this streak. Despite this, I think it's the Jets time, and I'm tipping them to get home in a tight one.
Round 2 commences on Friday night when Melbourne Victory host Adelaide United. Who would have thought that Victory would be pointless after two (the first time in their history) with new "mastercoach" Ange Postecoglou at the helm? I did write last week that if they defended as badly in Brisbane as they had in their first game that they'd get "murdered" And murdered they were! A lot of work for the coach to do to instil his philosophy on this team, and I think they will improve. They have to improve against the top-of-the-table Reds, who are ahead of most teams in their fitness levels due to their Asian Champions League campaign and have made some astute signings in Jeronimo Neumann (surely the "best name" in the A-League??!!), Ferreira and Carrusca. I'm tipping a draw for this one.
Parramatta Stadium hosts the first Sydney derby on Saturday night. What to make of this one? In an unwanted record, the Wanderers became the first team in A-League history not to score a goal in their opening two matches, while Sydney FC have lost their first two matches for the first time in club history. A full house of 22,000 is expected and I just don't think the Wanderers have enough in attack to win this one. Their best chances have fallen to former Jet, Labinot Haliti, and he has squandered them and I don't know where else their goals are going to come from. They look quite solid at the back though, and may just have enough to hold Del Piero and co. Sydney will be hoping speedy striker Joel Chianese is available again after missing the Jets game through injury, as he could be the one to really profit from the guile of the Italian maestro. A tense affair this one and I'm taking the draw here, as well!
After thumping Victory by five last week, Brisbane Roar's reward is the long hike to Wellington to face the Phoenix who will have their All-White players back from international duty. Two games in a week may have had the effect of flattening those players, although Phoenix did prove they have strength in depth now in their 1-1 draw at Melbourne Heart. Phoenix are looking to go undefeated in their first three for the first time in their history, however they have only beaten the Roar twice in fifteen attempts (Roar have won nine of them), but are turning the "Cake Tin" into a fortress. Roar look to be playing a bit more direct under their new coach, but still have the ability to pass teams off the park and produce goals from anywhere as we saw in last week's demolition of the Victory. Berisha, Broich and Nichols are all danger men for the Roar, but I think Phoenix have enough to get something from this game. Put me down for another draw!
Melbourne Heart faces the daunting trip to Perth to face a Glory team that has really grown in confidence over the last season and a bit. Kiwi striker Shane Smeltz has taken a liking to the Heart having scored 6 goals in 4 matches against them! The Heart have only recorded one victory over Perth in seven attempts, but look well-organised and quite a potent attacking force with Williams and MacAllister already on the scoresheet. Rookie coach and Socceroo hero, John Aloisi, has done a good job with them. Looking through the Glory roster, they are a real "hard-nosed" team and I think they'll be challenging again this year. I feel they'll have a little bit too much for the Heart in this one.
Tune into ABC Newcastle 1233 to hear Aaron Kearney and Phil Dando's call of the Jets' game each week.