Isuzu UTE A-League R6 Talking Points: Aloisi responds to ‘curse’; Jets boss admits ‘putting my head on the chopping block’

These are the key talking points from Round 6 in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Melbourne Victory star Bruno Fornaroli scored a Goal of the Season contender as he firmly put his name forward for a Socceroos call-up ahead of next month’s AFC Asian Cup.

Giancarlo Italiano’s Wellington Phoenix continued their unbeaten start to the season, while the son of a Socceroos legend made his debut on a weekend that saw mother nature take centre stage.

There was also a return to form for the reigning premiers, and another win for Macarthur FC in a seven-goal thriller over Adelaide United.

With a lot to dissect, here are the key talking points from Round 6 of the Isuzu UTE A-League.

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Unsung hero continues impressive goalscoring streak

Matt Millar’s brilliant scoring run continued on Monday night, scoring in his third consecutive game during Macarthur FC’s 4-3 win over Adelaide United.

Millar marked his 100th Isuzu UTE A-League game by scoring the Bulls’ second of the game at Campbelltown Stadium – extending an incredible scoring streak from one of the club’s unsung goalscoring heroes.

“He’s having a good season to date,” Bulls coach Mile Sterjovski said post-game.

“He started the season not in favour, and to come back and now he’s started two or three in a row and been on the scoresheet quite a few times. He’s doing well and I hope he keeps going.”

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The 27-year-old astonishingly finished equal-first as the club’s equal leading goalscorer in the league with five goals alongside departed striker Bachana Arabuli, doing so playing primarily at right-back.

However, this year, he had to work his way into the lineup after starting the regular season out of favour. Millar only played 11 minutes in the opening three games of the season, before coming on and scoring in their 3-3 draw with Melbourne City.

A week later, he was thrusted into the starting lineup against Melbourne Victory, scoring the opener in a 1-1 draw, before once again playing from the first minute in their clash with the Reds.

Millar – who is a right-back by trade – has also played further up the field this season on the right-wing, slotting in alongside first-choice full-back Yianni Nicolaou and allowing the former Newcastle Jet more freedom to get forward and showcase his best traits in attack.

Stanton’s defiant Jets message: ‘I’m putting my head on the chopping block

Newcastle Jets slipped to a second straight loss, going down 2-0 at home to three-time reigning premiers Melbourne City on Sunday.

City were too good for the Jets at McDonald Jones Stadium, where 18-year-old academy product Benjamin Mazzeo scored on his starting debut while Socceroo Jamie Maclaren was also on target.

Newcastle had some chances in the first half against City – Trent Buhagiar hit the crossbar against the run of play.

However, the youthful Jets crashed to a second consecutive defeat and third loss of the season as the team’s winless run against City continued.

Former Sydney FC youth coach and assistant Stanton is in his first season at the helm in the Hunter after replacing Arthur Papas in the off-season.

He was passionately defiant in his belief when asked about Newcastle – who handed 19-year-old Justin Vidic his A-Leagues debut on Sunday – and what they can do to avoid a further slide.

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“You have to keep going back to what you want to do on the pitch. Keep driving that belief,” said Stanton on Network 10.

“It’s a young, young, young team. You saw Justin Vidic today. They’re not going to be spot on straight away. I thought a kid like him did well and it gives you encouragement.

“Everyday you have to keep working and look at the big picture. We have to expose players. I’m willing to do it. I’m putting my head on the chopping block. I’m okay with that.

“I know everyone wants to win but if you don’t expose players and develop them, where are they going to come from?

“In the end, that’s what we’re going to do. Yes I’m disappointed we didn’t win today. Yes, we can do better and that’s what you do every day and train.

“I’m confident with this group of players at some stage we’re going to get on a roll and evidence suggests to me we can. Again you need to accumulate experience and exposure to be able to gain that experience.

“It’s a vast difference in experience in the teams you saw today. It showed with two mistakes from us and we got punished for it.

“On another day we might get away with it with other teams but against a quality team you won’t. So there’s a lot of lessons to be learnt.

“You either drop your head or you get on with it. If you want to be a professional footballer or a coach, you gotta get on with it and that’s what I’m going to do.

“I’m not worried about that. I’ll continue to give opportunities and continue to try to make a difference with those players because I believe we can do good things. We’ve had a solid start, we’ve been on the road a bit. It’s time to stand up when the moment comes.”

City counterpart Aurelio Vidmar revelled in the victory, which snapped a seven-game winless streak outside of Victoria in the A-Leagues.

Mazzeo broke the deadlock in the 12th minute before captain Maclaren made it 2-0 approaching the hour-mark as City capped a taxing week of travel by clinching just their second league win of the season.

Vidmar’s side had to navigate a challenging schedule, which saw the 2022-23 Grand Finalists travel to New Zealand for the Round 5 match against Wellington Phoenix in Auckland before flying to Japan via Brisbane for the midweek AFC Champions League fixture.

It ended with another away trip, away to the Jets in Newcastle on Sunday. But, City got back to winning ways on the road.

“It was crucial for us because without the three points tonight, it would’ve started to become a very difficult season,” Vidmar told reporters.

“Certainly since I’ve been here, we’ve been building without being able to train a lot and we’ve had a fair few games and travel.

“To respond the way we have over this period, it was a massive effort from the players.”

Bruno thrusts himself into Socceroos contention

Bruno Fornaroli’s case for a Socceroos recall at the Asian Cup in January is becoming more and more difficult to ignore.

Fornaroli continued his brilliant start to the Isuzu UTE A-League season with a stunning long range strike in Melbourne Victory’s 2-2 draw with Central Coast Mariners on Sunday afternoon, firing home his seventh goal in six games.

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The 36-year-old is arguably in his best form since bursting onto the scene in the 2015-16 season with Melbourne City – where he scored 25 goals in 29 games.

And because of this, there’s every reason to suggest the Uruguayan born No.9 should be considered for a place in Graham Arnold’s Socceroos squad for the upcoming tournament in January – after last being called up in March 2022.

Fornaroli was asked post-game if the Asian Cup was in his sights on Network 10, responding: “Oh look, I work hard, I don’t close the door.

“I’m happy, if it comes, of course. I was happy to represent before in two big games for Australia. It wasn’t easy that time. But why not?

“If the phone rings, I will be happy to come back to the Socceroos.”

His goal tally is among the best of all out-and-out Australian No.9s and with an attacking spot opening up as a result of Western Sydney Wanderers’ Brandon Borrello’s injury, the path could be set for him to earn a recall.

Only Machida Zelvia’s Mitchell Duke (10 goals), Melbourne City’s Jamie Maclaren (eight goals) and Mohun Bagan’s Jason Cummings (eight goals) have scored more goals than Fornaroli in 2023.

Time will tell if he’s left his run too late, or if Arnold opts elsewhere, but there’s not much more Fornaroli can do to push his case.

His boss Tony Popovic was certainly happy with the veteran’s performance in Gosford.

“He was very tired towards the end,” Popovic told reporters. “But he is a real warrior. He works extremely hard for the team and scored a wonderful goal.”

Curse of Ballarat

Mars Stadium has been far from a happy hunting ground for Western United.

John Aloisi’s side fell to a third successive defeat at the Ballarat venue against Wellington Phoenix on Saturday evening, and their fifth straight in the Isuzu UTE A-League, meaning Western are rooted to the bottom of the standings after six rounds.

Western once again had plenty of chances to get something from the contest, but couldn’t turn them into goals as they fell to a 1-0 loss to Phoenix. Head coach Giancarlo Italiano stayed undefeated in his first six games as coach – joining Rini Coolen (11), Carl Veart (seven) and John Kosmina (also six) as the coaches to enjoy unbeaten starts of six matches or longer.

“You know what, there must be something wrong with Ballarat,” Aloisi said.

“It’s hard to find words for the players because if the players weren’t playing or trying everything possible to win football games or a little bit nervous about the way that we’re playing.

“Which is easy when you haven’t been winning or that we’re not dominating, especially, in certain periods of the game and we’re not getting the rewards but they don’t drop their heads.

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“So it’s hard to say we have to do this so much better and have to do that so much better. We know we have to improve because there’s certain things that we can do better, but our general play and performances have been better than the opposition in the last four games.

“It’s just that we’re coming away with zero points in those four games, but that’s gone now and we just have to move forward.”

But finding gold at the ground formerly known as Eureka Stadium has been difficult throughout Western’s history, using it as one of their many makeshift home grounds.

Western have only won three of 13 games at the venue, with their last win coming against Perth Glory in March last year.

In fact, they also lost their sole game at another Ballarat venue in Morshead Park – a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Wellington in their Championship winning season.

Western’s Liberty A-League side also lost both of their matches at Morshead last season, showcasing it’s not just the men’s side that are copping the brunt of the curse.

But their time as the A-Leagues’ nomads are set to come to an end at some point this season, when their mooted move to the Regional Football Facility in Tarneit comes to fruition.

It’s part of the reason why Aloisi is remaining defiant about Western turning around their fortunes – starting with a road trip to Gosford to face Central Coast Mariners on Friday.

“If I believe or the club believes that we’re not on the right track, then there’s an issue,” he said.

“But we are working towards [something], we know where our end goal will be. We know the players, how they will keep on improving and gelling. We know that eventually we’re gonna go into a home so we’re not having to travel everywhere and go everywhere.

“We haven’t used that as an excuse because we’re performance has been good. But once we get into Tarneit and once we start to have a home [things will be better].

“So this is a journey for this club, then this is these are issues that we’ve had to deal with as a club as a whole.”

Not one… but TWO lightning delays!

Mother nature wasn’t kind to A-Leagues fans in Brisbane and Sydney this weekend.

Both Brisbane Roar’s clash with Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium and Sydney FC’s match against Perth Glory the following night at Allianz Stadium had lengthy delays due to lightning being within the vicinity of the venues.

Friday night’s kick-off was delayed by almost an hour, but the fans who waited around were rewarded with a tremendous 2-2 draw – which saw the Wanderers come from two goals down after half-time to secure a point.

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Then on Saturday, lightning strikes in the Moore Park area meant a significant delay for the restart to the second half – and it led to some entertaining antics at the ground as fans and the broadcasters on Network 10 joined the players and coaches in scrambling for ways to pass the time.

Some fans in the stands found interesting ways to keep busy…

With Sydney holding a 2-0 lead at the break, the A-Leagues competition rules summary states that the Sky Blues would have earned all three points had the game failed to resume.

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Luckily, for the fans who braved the wet and lengthy pause between the two halves, the game was back underway nearly two hours after it began – and those watching on in the stands and at home were treated to a dramatic three-goal second stanza which ended with Sydney winning by three goals to two.

Almost a debut to remember for son of Aussie football legend

The Cahill legacy continued on Friday night, as Shae – the son of Aussie football legend Tim – made his A-Leagues debut for Brisbane Roar, who became the fourth A-League Men team to score 700 goals.

The 18-year-old came off the bench late on against the Wanderers to cap off a special day for the Cahill family, following his father Tim’s induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

In the aftermath of the Wanderers’ late equaliser, the teenager won a free-kick for his side in a dangerous area. He then put himself in the mix to meet Jay O’Shea’s swinging delivery – and after a deflection in the six-yard box, a chance presented for Cahill to win the game for his side on his league debut.

His first-time attempt was a good one, struck sweetly toward the bottom-right corner. Only a sublime diving save from Thomas kept his name off the scoresheet.

“He was very good and he had a massive chance to score that goal. It was an amazing save by Lawrence Thomas,” Roar coach Ross Aloisi said.

“He got himself into a goal scoring opportunity that we see in training quite a bit.

“Shae is a very good finisher and I am pleased for him. I am pleased for all players that come in and try and do their best within our playing style.”

Cahill is the latest Roar youngster to be handed an opportunity under Aloisi this season, following in the footsteps of the likes of Thomas Waddingham, Quinn MacNicol and Rylan Brownlie who have all seen minutes to varying extents this season.

Brownlie – who is the son of former Roar player, Royce – had the ball in the back of the net when he swept home a Tom Aldred header from close range – but his celebrations were cut short as an offside flag wiped the goal from the scoresheet.

Despite dropping two points, Roar remain near the pointy-end of the standings after an impressive start to the season, with 11 points to their name.

Aloisi credited the fight and determination of his squad, particularly from their younger players.

“This is where I say it’s important that we have players from Queensland, not just Brisbane but Queensland, who have followed the Brisbane Roar, that want to bleed for the Brisbane Roar,” he said.

“There’s one thing I remember saying to them at the beginning of the season, the one thing that really impressed me last year, no matter if they were playing good football or bad football… they were fighters.

“I’ve asked a lot of them since day one of pre-season and Henry Hore is one of those players. He’s a Queenslander. Waddingham: Queenslander. MacNicol: Queenslander. Brownlie: Queenslander. These are kids.

“Then you have Taras Gomulka who is still 21, our third choice goalkeeper George Plusnin, 15 years of age, Queenslander. This is pretty exciting and I know it’s the beginning of the season and I know we didn’t get the three points but you know we’re doing something right here.”

Talay provides insight to formation change

Sydney FC went back to their roots on Saturday night, switching formations from a 4-3-3 and returning to the patented 4-2-2-2 system that brought them plenty of success in years prior.

Both Graham Arnold and Steve Corica used the latter formation en route to winning three Isuzu UTE A-League Championships between 2017-20, before Corica shifted to a 4-3-3 last season.

New Sky Blues boss Ufuk Talay used the formation throughout his tenure at Wellington Phoenix, but had stuck with the 4-3-3 in the opening two games of his stint as Sydney coach.

However, with Jaiden Kucharski missing, Talay moved back to the 4-2-2-2, bringing Pat Wood into the starting XI to partner Fabio Gomes up front, which worked well as they came away with a 3-2 win over Glory.

It was the first time the duo had played together from the first minute, a move which may be here to stay even after Kucharski – who was impressive prior to his injury – returns to the side.

“The way we play now, we want to get the left side to come in and create two No. 9s,” Talay said. 

“Patty’s a No.9 anyway, and he does that well.

“It’s good when they’re closer together and not as a sole striker trying to deal with two central defenders on their own.

“Fab had a good game, especially in the second half and pressed really well.”