R25 Talking Points: ‘Almost identical’ pattern points to Aussie football’s next great ‘rebuild’

These are the key talking points from Round 25 in the Isuzu UTE A-League as Melbourne City moved into the top six, the wooden spooners were confirmed and there was another twist in the Premiership race.

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Perth Glory handed 2023-24 wooden spoon: Where to from here?

For the second time in three seasons, Perth Glory will finish bottom of the Isuzu UTE A-League after a 4-3 loss to Western United on Sunday evening confirmed Alen Stajcic’s side will receive this year’s wooden spoon.

It has been an odd season for Glory, who are the equal third-highest scorers in the competition and boast the Golden Boot leader heading into the final round, but now find themselves stranded at the bottom with 22 points from 26 matches.

Their defence ranks as the worst in the Isuzu UTE A-League having conceded 62 goals.

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Although, this campaign has been played under extenuating circumstances as the club secured new owners in a lengthy process that ended in February.

“It’s not a good feeling. Not a good feeling at all,” head coach Stajcic said in his post-match press conference.

“It’s a pretty disappointing and deflating moment.

“I’ve been in these shoes before and know how hard and tough it is to lift the ship up off the ocean floor; I’ve used that same analogy many times.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and leadership and courage to do that. It doesn’t come easy, that’s for sure.

“We really need to rebuild this team and this club and give it a new positivity and identity. It’s got to start from me, the front office and flow on through to the whole staff and club. 

“It’s pretty clear we need a rebuild.”

He added: “It’s not easy. We’ve had a lot of positives this year. We’ve scored a lot of goals, Taggs (Adam Taggart), a lot of kids have played a high level of minutes, probably the most in the A-League, the kids have been up and down as they normally are, inconsistent.

“The fact that they’ve got A-League minutes under their belt is irreplaceable.

“On the negative, we’ve shown that we don’t have the capacity to hold teams out. That is something that has to change within this team. Really defending should be the easier part of the game, it’s without the ball, and we just didn’t have a strength, fortitude, leadership and communication to be able to hold teams out.

“That’s pretty clear that has been the story of the whole season.

“… there’s a lot of reflection that has to start with me on things we need to do better. Ultimately, whatever we did this year is not good enough.”

It is now four seasons since Perth Glory played finals football and their most recent league finishes do not make for pretty reading: 9th, 12th, 9th, 12th.

However, Stajcic points to the Central Coast Mariners, who are the reigning Champions of the competition and are currently in position to be crowned this season’s Premiers as proof that things can be turned around quickly.

Indeed, the Mariners claimed their fourth wooden spoon in five seasons in Stajcic’s first full season at the helm in Gosford, before he led them to a third place finish in 2020-21, launching a new era in which the club has enjoyed extraordinary success.

“It’s almost identical, to be honest,” he explained.

“The club wasn’t in receivership at the Mariners, but we were working off the salary floor for seven or eight years even before my arrival and I think they picked up five or six wooden spoons in the previous seven or eight years – even when they weren’t last, they were second or third last.

“I think this club now has the same pattern; four or five years now of similar positions on the ladder. Not enough has changed.

“I believe we have put in a good foundation. I’m not sitting here saying its enough, it’s a foundation and there is a lot of things that need to happen to grow and ensure that its strong and we’re really building – and we have to build quickly.

“No one wants to sit through another 12 months and saying ‘oh yeah it’s a five-year plan’, well it’s not a five-year plan. We have to get going and ensure that we do everything we possibly can next year to give hope to the people of Perth and Western Australia and know that this club is really representing them in the way they want to be represented.”

Western United’s kids are arriving in the A-Leagues

From a Western United perspective, the highlight of that 4-3 victory was the performance of the club’s academy graduates as young guns Matthew Grimaldi, Abel Walatee and Oliver Lavale all scored to seal the victory.

Grimaldi, 20, now has five goals to his name in his debut A-Leagues season and continues to impress for John Aloisi’s side.

For Walatee and Lavale each netted their maiden goals in the competition in promising signs for the future of the club.

“Abel Walatee, he’s a player that was in our system for a period then he went overseas to Denmark and played lower division there, and he’s just come back,” Aloisi said.

“He hasn’t had a pre-season with our NPL side because he got injured, so he’s still finding his fitness. But he’s someone that’s got talent and we’ve known about.

“I went to go watch him only two weeks ago with our NPL side and he won the game virtually by himself, so we thought it was a good time now to give him that opportunity – and he did well. When he came on he caused problems, he got his goal, he held up the ball well, he combined well, and he worked well with his teammates.

“We know there’s still a lot of work to do, but he’s exciting.

“… Really pleased for those younger boys. This is going to help them develop for the future.”

Will the Newcastle Jets decide the Premiership?

Who had this on their bingo card?

The way the Isuzu UTE A-League draw has played out, it seems that Newcastle Jets may actually decide who walks away with the Isuzu UTE A-League Premiership.

Robbie Stanton’s side has already had a say, taking points off Wellington Phoenix in a dramatic 1-1 draw on Friday night as Alex Rufer’s missed 94th penalty made it very much advantage Central Coast Mariners heading into the final round of the season.

JETS 1-1 PHOENIX: 96th-minute penalty MISSED as Phoenix hand advantage to Mariners in Premiership race

However, Round 26 actually sees the Jets hosting the Mariners in a mouth-watering F3 Derby that looms as a massive moment in the race to finish top.

As fate would have it, that game will be played simultaneously with the Phoenix’s home clash against Macarthur – and depending on results, we may know the Premiers by the time the full-time whistle goes on those matches.

Right now, Wellington sit top of the table by a point, but the Mariners boast a game in hand after their clash with Adelaide United was postponed following delays in their flights back from their AFC Cup semi-final first leg in Kyrgyzstan.

TeamWellington Phoenix (1st)Central Coast Mariners (2nd)
Games Won1415
Goal Difference1318
Remaining Fixturesv Macarthur (H)v Newcastle Jets (A)
v Adelaide United (H)

Central Coast will host the second leg of that tie on Wednesday, before turning their attention to the F3 Derby where a Jets side who have endured a tough season could play a key role in producing one final twist of what has been a wild regular season.

“We’re going to be ready for it,” Stanton said.

“Wellington and Central Coast, we’re playing each other three times this year. That was our third game against Wellington and they’ve been exceptional this season, and the same for Central Coast.

“We’ll treat it the same as we’ve done today. We’ll be trying to get three points. We’ll have a really good look at them.

“Being a derby just adds that little bit extra. A great way to finish the season off for everyone.

“It’s going to be a tough match. We want three points. We want to get more points than we got last year, we want to finish a bit further up the ladder, that is still open.

“It will set up for us to try and get three points and move up the ladder as well.

“There’s a lot to play for. For them, there’s heaps to play for. There is a lot for the fans to see, the potential of maybe knowing who wins the title as well. It should be an exciting game.”

Rudan’s passionate defence as City leapfrog Wanderers into top six

It was Melbourne City who came out on top in a match billed as a Grand Final for both teams, beating Western Sydney Wanderers 2-1 on Saturday afternoon to leapfrog them into sixth spot and, as it stands, into the last finals berth on offer.

Heading into the final round of the season, City are now on 36 points ahead of a clash with 11th-placed Western United, while Wanderers are on 34 points and will face third-placed Melbourne Victory needing a win to sneak their way into the post-season.

Meanwhile, Macarthur’s gutsy win over Sydney FC means they are into fourth and could secure a home final with a win over the league-leading Wellington Phoenix.

This is how the finals race looks heading into the final round:

TeamPointsGames WonGoal differenceFixture
3. Melbourne Victory421011v WS Wanderers
4. Macarthur FC41110v Wellington
5. Sydney FC38115v Perth Glory
6. Melbourne City361011v Western Utd
7. Western Sydney Wanderers3410-5v Melb Victory

This is only the third week of the season that the Wanderers have found themselves outside the top six.

Head coach Marko Rudan was asked in his post-match press conference if he felt that missing out on the finals would be a failure for his team.

His answer laid out a much bigger picture.

“Not from my perspective. It’s clear we want to play finals, but you can define whatever you want,” he explained.

“I’ve answered it before. I’m not sure why that same question keeps coming up. It’s a different team from last year, that’s all I’m going to say. We’ve got a lot of young players this year. You guys can determine what that looks like. 

“Could we be better? Yeah. Could we be more consistent? Of course. Did we want to play at a bare minimum finals football? Yeah we did, but there are things that happened this year that didn’t happen last year. That is reality. That is for many to see. 

“I’m really proud of how we’ve brought a lot of young ones through this year. They’ve got a lot of experience. I don’t think it’s also fair to rely on young ones to win you games, that’s where you’ve got senior players and you’ve got foreigners. We just haven’t been able use them week in week out. 

“That’s where you’ve got a (Nicolas)Milanovic and a (Lachie) Brook who are top goal scorers and righly so now representing our national team. On the back of last year, Lawrence Thomas deserved to be in the Socceroos squad, but gets his chance and goes away, you miss the number one keeper in the country. It’s not easy. 

“Daniel (Margush) comes in and it just felt like we were always plugging holes this year. 

“Even at the start of the year, Ninko (Milos Ninkovic) didn’t play for the first three months. We were good, but we can always be better because our depth was tested. We can always be better. We had a lot of depth last year. It is a different year this year. 

“No one is happy about the position we are in, but I’ve been in the game long enough to know there are no guarantees in football. Absolutely no guarantees. We’re going to fight until the end. We’ve got another week to go. As far as I’m concerned, it ain’t over.”

‘That’s character’: 18-year-old’s perfect response

One bright spot for the Wanderers in that loss was a first Isuzu UTE A-League goal for young gun Marcus Younis.

During the week, Rudan apologised for his comments regarding the 18-year-old following the Sydney Derby, and the teenager responded strongly against City.

Asked about Younis’ performance, the Wanderers boss said: “I thought he did well when he came on last week from an energy point of view as well.

“We had a good chat the next day. A test of character is when something like that is done. I didn’t blame him at all for what happened last week, it was just that he could have done something a bit better. 

“The next day he went on and got three assists and a goal in the NPL, that’s character. That’s what you want from these young kids. 

“The young ones have to learn to get through tough moments in their careers. I talk about it quite often. Have they got enough resilience built up in them? It’s certainly something they need to acquire if they want to do well here and then potentially and hopefully go overseas.”

Will the Olyroos be back?

Overnight, Tony Vidmar’s Olyroos were knocked out of the AFC Under-23 Asian Cup, meaning that a swathe of young talent could return for the final round of the Isuzu UTE A-League to add even more jeopardy into the mix.

16 players have been missing on national team duty while Australia’s Under-23s competed for a spot in the Olympics, but they are now free to head home after finishing third in their group behind hosts Qatar and Indonesia.

Could Jacob Farrell and Alou Kuol help to swing the Premiership race for the Mariners?

Will the returns of Nicolas Milanovic and Lachie Brook give the Wanderers a boost to push for an unlikely top six finish?

It all depends on when they return from Qatar and in what condition. Watch this space.

Red cards continue VAR conversation

Macarthur beat Sydney FC 1-0 in extraordinary fashion on Saturday night despite two red cards, but the referee’s decision to send off Ivan Vujica despite protests from opposition players has sparked plenty of discussion.

“We thought it wasn’t a red. If you know the stats, I think every time the referee goes to review a yellow card it’s 97% of the time they come back with a red,” Sydney FC boss Ufuk Talay said.

“The second one was too far away to see what happened there.

“Even us on the bench, we thought it wasn’t a red card, but we don’t make those decisions on the park unfortunately.

“When you go over to look at it and slow it right down, it always looks a lot worse than what it is. I think they should review it at game speed possibly.

“I don’t know, the call comes from VAR for the referee to review it and they make a decision. We’ve had five this season, I think three have been contentious whether they were a red or not, but we don’t make those decisions… the referee makes the final call.”

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