Two brutally honest verdicts to start season: ‘home truths’ & ‘look, I’m struggling a bit with the group’

A-Leagues reporter James Dodd takes you through all the fixtures from round three of the Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24.

Round 3 of the Isuzu UTE A-League season is upon us! Ahead of the action getting underway, previews all six of the contests.

Friday, 7:45pm (AEDT) – Melbourne City v Sydney FC

Melbourne City and Sydney FC will be looking to turn around their stuttering starts to the 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League season, when they lock horns at AAMI Park on Friday night.

City come into the contest fresh off a humiliating 6-0 defeat at the hands of Adelaide United on Sunday evening and a major coaching reshuffle, with Rado Vidosic’s contract mutually terminated in mid-week.

It’s only the second time in the club’s history that they have started the season with back-to-back defeats, last coming in the 2011-12 season.

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“To be honest, Rado came to me after the loss against Adelaide and said ‘look I’m struggling a bit with the group, what are you guys thinking?’ and we sat down and had a good chat about things, and we came with the decision that it was best for Rado to stop and bring in a new coach with this group,” City Director of Football Michael Petrillo said on SEN’s Dwayne’s World on Wednesday.

“He’s still welcome at the club and he will probably pop up with another role in the City Football Group but it was a mutual decision to part ways.”

Petrillo added: “Unfortunately, in two of the last three A-Leagues games, we’ve had our two worst losses in the club’s history so that was certainly the catalyst for the decision and the way Rado was feeling, and we were feeling, to be honest.”

Former Reds boss Aurelio Vidmar will take up the role for the remainder of the season, beginning with Friday’s contest against the Sky Blues.

The first port of call will be finding a remedy for City’s leaky backline, which has kept only one clean sheet in their last 19 Isuzu UTE A-League matches and only four in their last 26 matches in all competitions (including the Australia Cup and AFC Champions League).

Meanwhile, Sydney are also looking to get off the mark this week, after consecutive losses to Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar to begin the season.

Steve Corica’s side are the only Isuzu UTE A-League outfit that’s yet to score a goal this season, failing to back up the solid form shown en route to winning the Australia Cup in the A-Leagues off-season.

Sydney should regain Joel King from injury after missing the opening two games of the campaign, due to an injury sustained in their Cup semi-final against Sydney last month.

“We had a defeat against Brisbane as well, and that hurt a lot, it really hurt, so we are going to be very hungry to get the three points and the boys are ready for it,” King said.

The Sky Blues won the semi-final 2-0 at the same venue, thanks to a double from Patrick Wood, who could be an option to rectify their scoring woes after starting from the bench in their opening two games – despite solid Cup form.

Opta stat: Sydney FC have lost their last three Isuzu UTE A-League games, failing to score a single goal in that period; the last time they went longer without scoring a goal in the competition was a four-game stretch from December 2014 to January 2015.

Melbourne City v Sydney FC
Friday, November 3 2023
Kick-off: 7:45pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+

Saturday, 3:30pm (AEDT) – Wellington Phoenix v Brisbane Roar

Alex Paulsen has been the talk of the town after an impressive start to the season for Wellington Phoenix.

The young goalkeeper’s heroics helped Phoenix claim four points to start the campaign, including a brilliant showing in their 0-0 draw with Western Sydney Wanderers and 2-1 win over Perth Glory last week – where he saved an 88th-minute Adam Taggart penalty to preserve the three points.

Paulsen was rewarded with a new long-term deal until the end of the 2026-27 season. His current contract was set to expire at the end of this campaign, which would have made him a potential option for new A-Leagues franchise Auckland – the city he has ties to.

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However, Paulsen never entertained a move elsewhere, wanting to repay the faith shown in him by the ‘Nix to be crowned Oli Sail’s successor after winning the battle to claim the number one jersey from off-season arrival Jack Duncan.

“It didn’t really cross my mind at all, the Auckland expansion team,” Paulsen said.

“I thought, first and foremost, Phoenix have invested a lot in the facilities that allow us to train and improve and they have invested in me too, so I wanted to repay the faith.”

The ‘Nix will be looking to continue their impressive start to the A-Leagues season under new coach Giancarlo Italiano when they face fellow undefeated side Brisbane Roar on Saturday.

Wellington are unbeaten in their last five Isuzu UTE A-League games against Brisbane Roar in New Zealand (W2 D3), scoring multiple goals and conceding at least one in each of those five games.

It’s a homecoming of sorts for Roar boss Ross Aloisi, who was Wellington’s inaugural captain when they came into the league in 2007.

Opta stat: Brisbane Roar have won only one of their last 10 Isuzu UTE A-League games when playing as the away team on the day (D3 L6), scoring more than one goal in only two of those 10 fixtures.

Wellington Phoenix v Brisbane Roar
Saturday, November 4 2023
Sky Stadium
Kick-off: 3:30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+

Saturday, 5:30pm (AEDT) – Macarthur FC v Western United

After a promising round-one win, Western United were sent crashing back down to earth in a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Western Sydney Wanderers.

John Aloisi’s side were jumped out of the blocks by a swashbuckling Wanderers outfit who put all five of their goals past Western inside the opening half. Western were able to steady after half-time, but the damage was already done.

The 2021-22 Isuzu UTE A-League champions will be hoping to bounce back this Saturday when they head back to western Sydney to face Macarthur FC at Campbelltown Stadium.

Western have actually won three of their last four games as the away team in the Isuzu UTE A-League, and are also unbeaten in their last four A-Leagues games against the Bulls (W1 D3) despite being kept goalless in the first halves of three of those four games on the day.

Macarthur, on the other hand, will be looking for back-to-back wins in the league for the first time since December 2022, after knocking off Central Coast Mariners 2-1 at Industree Group Stadium.

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The Bulls have taken four points from their opening two games to the season, either side of a disappointing 3-0 defeat away to Phnom Penh Crown in the AFC Cup.

The contest with Western kick-starts a busy week for the Bulls, who return to continental action this Thursday against the Cambodian outfit at home, before facing Melbourne City on Sunday at AAMI Park.

Opta stat: No player has created more scoring chances in the 2023-24 A-League Men season than Lachlan Wales (eight); in fact, six of those have come from set plays which is two more than any other player.

Macarthur FC v Western United
Saturday, November 4 2023
Campbelltown Stadium
Kick-off: 5:30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+

Saturday, 7:45pm (AEDT) – Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United

Two of the league’s high-fliers Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United will renew hostilities this Saturday night at AAMI Park.

The old rivals meet in the first incarnation of the ‘Original Rivalry’ of the season, fresh off super impressive starts to the campaign, that’s seen both sides take maximum points from their opening two games.

Victory have bounced back after a difficult campaign last season, with back-to-back wins along with scoring seven goals in said contests against Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets.

Bruno Fornaroli has scored five of those goals, including four in the first-half of their 5-3 win over the Jets, taking his tally to 94 career A-Leagues goals.

Adelaide – on the other hand – have been the team to watch in the early going of this season, defeating both of last season’s Grand Finalists Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City by an aggregate score of 9-0.

The Reds have outpaced their Expected Goals by 4.3 this season, no other team has outperformed their xG by more than 2.71 goals this season, and have the highest shot conversion rate (24%) and shooting accuracy (67%) of any team in the league.

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Victory trail Adelaide in second place in shot conversion rate at 19%, showcasing just how impressive both sides attacks have been to begin the campaign.

Teenage attacker Nestory Irankunda has continued to shine to start this season as well, taking his career tally to nine goals with a stunning long-range free kick in their 6-0 win over City.

He now has the joint-most goals of any player before turning 20 in the history of the competition alongside former Reds striker Nathan Burns (nine).

While this game promises plenty of goals, three of the last four meetings have ended in 1-1 draws, with the exception being a 3-0 Adelaide win in November 2022.

Opta stat: Melbourne Victory have not won against Adelaide United at AAMI Park in the Isuzu UTE A-League since a 2-1 triumph in April 2018, picking up two draws and a loss in such fixtures since that day.

Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United
Saturday, November 4 2023
Kick-off: 7:45pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: 10 Bold & Paramount+

Saturday, 9:45pm (AEDT) – Perth Glory v Central Coast Mariners

Alen Stajcic will face his former side Central Coast Mariners for the first time since departing the club in 2021, when Perth Glory host the reigning Isuzu UTE A-League champions on Saturday evening.

Stajcic took the Mariners to the finals for the first time in seven years in the 2020-21 season, before leaving the club that off-season. He has since returned to the A-Leagues with Glory after a stint as Philippines’ women’s national team coach, taking them to an historic first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup.

His Glory side has taken one point from a possible six to start the season, conceding a stoppage time equaliser in their 2-2 draw with Newcastle Jets and a late winner, along with having a penalty saved in their 2-1 loss to Wellington Phoenix last week.

“Everyone is still positive,” Stajcic said.

“We know that there have been probably one-and-a-half good performances.

“The first 20, 30 minutes of the first half the other day [v Wellington] probably wasn’t our best, but we know that we can improve throughout a game which we have done both times now.

“And the fact that we’ve created as many chances as we have throughout those matches just shows that we do belong towards the top, but we’ve just got to make sure that we execute those important details at crucial moments in the games.

“We know that it’s a results-based business and we can’t ever forget that, but we know that we were in the match and probably dominated in terms of chances created versus how many we’ve given up.

“But ultimately football comes down to crucial moments and on that ledger, we haven’t been good enough to this point. I’m still pleased with how we’re tracking.

“We knew it would be a bumpy start and you always hope that you can get results during that period, but we are certainly going to have to work hard to earn every point that we can.”

This weekend’s clash will also be David Williams’ 200th A-Leagues game.

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They welcome a Mariners side to town who are yet to take a point this season. The reigning champions fell to a 2-1 defeat to Macarthur FC in round two, after dropping points to Adelaide United in their season opener.

“We’ve addressed some big things in the dressing room with the players,” Mariners Football Manager Mark Jackson said.

“We took a lot of time to do that and we think we have done that really well.

“There were some home truths said in the dressing room and we are always there to support the players, that’s the main thing. We know we are here to have good performances and get results as well and we have to understand that, but sometimes with a young group, inconsistency comes.

“Certainly with a new group learning to play together under a new coaching regime as well, it takes a little bit of time.

“It was a good response from the players.”

Jackson’s side have had a busy start to the campaign, juggling the rigour of league and AFC Cup duties, which they will have to contend with again this week as they head on the road to face Bali United next Wednesday evening.

“Our focus is just on the next game in Perth and that’s all we can focus on, because that’s the most important thing,” he said.

“Yes, there’s a lot of logistics we have to think about with the travel and things like that, and we have fantastic staff here who will make sure we have covered in all aspects. There’s going to be challenges with that, it’s a new thing for me with the challenge in Australia and with the AFC Cup.

“But we have fantastic support staff in place for the players to make that trip away and the challenge of the two games doable and as smooth as possible.”

Mikael Doka and Max Balard both received knocks in the last week and Jackson is hopeful of they will be available, although he admitted the latter is “touch and go”.

Opta stat: Central Coast Mariners have begun their 2023-24 Isuzu UTE A-League campaign with back-to-back losses; only once in the history of the competition has any defending champion begun a season with more consecutive defeats (Brisbane Roar – L4 in 2014-15).

Perth Glory v Central Coast Mariners
Saturday, November 4 2023
HBF Park
Kick-off: 9:45pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Paramount+

Sunday, 3.00pm (AEDT) – Newcastle Jets v Western Sydney Wanderers

It’s fair to say Western Sydney Wanderers made a statement in their 5-0 drubbing of Western United last week.

Marko Rudan’s side scored five goals against Western within the opening 45 minutes, putting the result beyond doubt before half-time.

Leading their attacking charge is Lachlan Brook, who has a whopping seven goals in all competitions to begin the campaign, including five in their victory over Floreat Athena in the Australia Cup.

Incredibly, Brook only had one goal in his previous 29 games in the A-Leagues and Australia Cup combined.

They now head north to face the Newcastle Jets, who have had some defensive issues to begin the campaign, conceding seven goals in their opening two games.

It’s the first home game at the helm for new coach Robbie Stanton, who is still looking for his maiden A-Leagues win since taking over in the off-season from Arthur Papas.

Despite their defensive fragilities, the Jets have been impressive going forward and showed enormous resilience to create a tense finish against Melbourne Victory last weekend.

Clayton Taylor impressed with two second-half goals, continuing a bright start to his senior career since joining the Jets this off-season from Sydney FC’s academy.

Opta stat: Western Sydney Wanderers have lost only one of their last eight Isuzu UTE A-League games against the Newcastle Jets (W3 D4); though, the Wanderers have won only one of their previous seven games against the Jets at McDonald Jones Stadium (D2 L4).

Newcastle Jets v Western Sydney Wanderers
Sunday, November 5 2023
McDonald Jones Stadium
Kick-off: 3.00pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: 10 Bold & Paramount+