Flaw so ‘obvious’ coach just straight up told everyone: Isuzu UTE A-League R3 Talking Points

Catch all the goals from a blockbuster Round 3 of Isuzu UTE A-League action.

These are the key talking points from Round 3 in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Matchday three in the Isuzu UTE A-League did not disappoint, with goals, comebacks and plenty of drama.

From a fiery Original Rivalry between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United, to Oskar Zawada and Wellington Phoenix’s big day out.

Macarthur FC’s resurgence under Mile Sterjovski continued as the reigning premiers opened their account for 2023-24.

With a lot to dissect, here are the key talking points from Round 3 of the Isuzu UTE A-League.

No wonder Popa’s pleased – Victory are back

All night the drums were beating, the teams were attacking, and the atmosphere was pulsating – who says that draws can’t be hugely entertaining?

Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United played out a 1-1 draw that was festooned with Original Derby feistiness but also soaked in quality football – enough to suggest these two teams are title contenders this season already.

Victory though will be kicking themselves at not turning domination for the first hour into more goals and ultimately a win, but the manner of this performance spoke volumes for the rebuild that Tony Popovic has done in the off-season.

DEADLOCK: all-square in Original Rivalry as Victory and Adelaide both see red

Zinedine Machach in particular has laid down a marker to be seen as a star import already, while Bruno Fornaroli is in spectacular form at 36 – and Jake Brimmer, crowned Johnny Warren Medallist 18 months ago, has barely featured yet thanks to injury.

Popovic was arguably under pressure to offer quick evidence that things are on the up after the disappointment of last season, and the Victory boss was pleased with a draw that has his side in second place with seven points from three games.

“A lot of work was put into pre-season,” Popovic said. “We were very particular in the type of players we wanted to bring in.

“We worked extremely hard on improving our football, improving with the ball. Today was probably the most we’ve shown [across] the three matches.

“We won’t lose any confidence from what happened today. We’ve got to build on it.”

The clouds on the horizon were a red card for Roderick Miranda and a possibly severe hamstring injury for Adama Traore. Popovic said he was “disappointed” with Miranda’s red card, believing his first yellow was undeserved, though footage of the tackle that earned a second yellow was fairly damning.

Traore, meanwhile, believed he had torn his hamstring but will await the result of tests on Monday. “We’ll get scans and see,” said Popovic. “We’re hoping it’s not too bad.”

The ‘mad’ target that triggered Wellington’s talisman

Wellington Phoenix are off to their best-ever start after three Isuzu UTE A-League rounds and Oskar Zawada has played a key role.

On Saturday, Zawada put on a show with a hat-trick as the high-flying Phoenix rallied to crush previously unbeaten Brisbane Roar 5-2 at Sky Stadium.

It was the Polish striker’s first three-goal haul in the A-Leagues, having arrived at the start of last season. It was also his first multi-goal performance for Wellington, who are still undefeated with seven points from a possible nine.

HAT-TRICK HERO: Zawada fuels Wellington’s best-ever Isuzu UTE A-League start after three rounds

Zawada overcame a difficult start to life with the Phoenix to become their talisman. The former Wolfsburg forward went five matches without a goal in 2022-23 before finishing his maiden campaign with 15 goals.

Through three rounds this season, he already has four goals as Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano hailed the 27-year-old.

“If you look at Oskar’s work rate and something wasn’t known, he suffered a bit of an injury two days ago at training. He was doubtful. He had a problem with his back,” Italiano told reporters post-match.

Italiano, who was assistant to Ufuk Talay last season, continued: “Probably a story I’d like to share is last year, after the Melbourne City game (Round 4), we had heaps of chances in that game. He hadn’t scored, he hadn’t come close to scoring. He was getting on the end of a lot of things but didn’t have that confidence.

“I actually said to him, ‘a realistic target for you is 14 or 15 (goals for the season)’. He thought I was mad. He hit the mark in the last game of the season.

“The thing is, he just needs some belief. Now I think he is going to be formidable. It’s just a matter of keeping that mindset and carrying it through for the rest of the season.

“Hopefully he keeps going like that because he could be the best striker in the league.

“Teams are scared. It’s just a matter of us getting him in positions where he can score and not taking away from his qualities.”

A manager’s plea to his misfiring team

As Mark Jackson fronted up for his post-game press conference, the Central Coast Mariners boss was left wondering one thing: Who will score his team’s goals?

Central Coast were beaten 2-0 away to Perth Glory – the defending champions’ third consecutive defeat to start the season.

After three games, the Mariners have scored just one goal.

‘EXCEPTIONAL’: Glory youngster stars after surprise selection in win over 10-man Mariners

A lot has changed since Central Coast reigned supreme in June’s Grand Final.

They lost Socceroo and talisman Jason Cummings, who scored 20 league goals en route to the Championship. Fellow forwards Sammy Silvera (eight goals) and Beni Nkololo (eight goals) also departed, as well as head coach Nick Montgomery (Hibernian), Nectar Triantis (Sunderland) and James McGarry (Aberdeen).

Jackson has since replaced Montgomery in the dugout, while Alou Kuol returned to Gosford from Stuttgart to try to fill the attacking void, along with former Porto attacker Angel Torres.

Asked what was missing following Saturday night’s defeat at HBF Park, Jackson told reporters: “It’s obvious, a goal scorer.

“Someone to put the ball in the back of the net. Lets not go away from it, the team have lost significant players who were scoring goals. Jason Cummings being one of them.

“We have to replace that. We have to have players to step up and fill that mantle. That’s a challenge for those players in the squad now. I’m still waiting to see that from the forward players.”

Jackson added: “I’m trying to figure out who is going to come in and score goals because no one is stepping up at the minute.

“I’m still waiting to see someone step up and want to take that Jason Cummings mantle and go score some goals. We have to see that quickly. If not, we have to look to get that into the team somehow.”

Asked whether he had those options within his squad already, Jackson replied: “At this moment in time, my answer to that is no because we’re not scoring goals.

“We’re not looking a threat from that (number) nine position. I always believe in players within the squad. I have full belief in them. We give everything to the players and I’m sure they’re trying but we need players to step up.

“I challenge every forward player in the squad, they should want to be the next one to come up and take that number nine shirt. We have to be honest, we’re not seeing it at the minute. I’m still waiting for that.”

For the Glory, there was a notable omission pre-game as star recruit and goalkeeper Oli Sail was dropped by Alen Stajcic.

After a challenging start to life in Western Australia for Sail, Cameron Cook was called upon between the sticks to face the Mariners.

Asked about the decision, Glory boss Stajcic told reporters post-game: “We told him during the week he wasn’t going to start and he’s taken it really well.

“He’s a professional, and he knows he’s going to have to fight to get his spot back now.

“Cooky has done well now, but that’s part of football and it’s good we’ve got two good goalkeepers fighting for that No. 1 spot.”

Worst-ever start heaps pressure on Sky Blues

Two listing ships limped into AAMI Park on Friday night and by the final whistle, one seemed back on course. A win under new coach Aurelio Vidmar gave Melbourne City the chance to draw breath and think about rebooting their season – but for Sydney FC there was an unwanted record and more soul-searching.

Never before have the Sky Blues lost their first three games of a season, and there was no attempt to sugar coat the predicament Steve Corica’s side is in. “Dire straits” was Rhyan Grant’s bleak summation, and most concerning for Corica was the way his team fell away after a promising early start – and conceded twice at crucial junctures.

Steven Ugarkovic’s opening goal, just before halftime, was a fine strike but he had time to line up a shot with minimal pressure – worse from Sydney’s point of view though was the way their back four was sucker-punched by City straight after halftime for Jamie Maclaren’s goal.

“If you look at the game, there’s just individual errors,” Corica said. “Right before half-time we concede the goal, there was no pressure on the ball. Then straight away as we come out, they score their second.

“You have to fix those mistakes. Especially when things aren’t going your way, you can’t concede chances like that.”

“The senior players aren’t doing enough,” said former Sydney fullback Luke Wilkshire on Paramount+’s post-match show. “They’re not performing to the standards they need to. The young players came on with energy and enthusiasm but Luke Brattan, Rhyan Grant, (Joe) Lolley and (Robert) Mak were non-existant. They need to step up.”

The question is how Sydney fix those mistakes and turn things around, with a daunting fixture list – when you’re bottom clearly every team is above you, but their next quartet of games are against four of the top five.

The first of those is a testing trip to Adelaide, currently top of the pile, though Nestory Irankunda’s red card on Saturday at least means Sydney won’t have to face his particular threat.

But Corica, having overseen an Australian Cup win just weeks ago, knows well how quickly pressure builds in football. Sydney need a positive response on Friday night.

Sterjovski braced for interest in ‘quality’ young Aussie

Mile Sterjovski’s Macarthur FC are enjoying their best ever start to an A-League campaign and there’s a young Aussie at the heart of their early success.

Ali Auglah’s 93rd-minute strike downed Western United to hand the Bulls their second win of the season but it was young midfielder Jake Hollman who caught the eye of his coach.

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“Jake gives us a lot of energy you know,” reflected Sterjovski in his post-match media conference. “He’s another one who is still very young and I think with more game time and more experience he’s going to show his qualities.”

“The way he’s going, if he continues this way I don’t think he’ll be with us for too much longer. He’s a quality player.”

The 22-year old Australia youth international has featured in all three of Macarthur’s Isuzu UTE A-League games this season as well as in two of their AFC Cup matches.

Hollman’s versatility is undoubtedly a quality which Sterjovski has utilised so far, with the young midfielder having already been deployed in numerous positions within the team and excelled as a more attack-minded midfielder during the 1-0 win over Western.

The missing piece that could make a Jets forward a Socceroo

Newcastle Jets and Western Sydney Wanderers played out an entertaining 2-2 draw on Sunday, but the home side were left to rue missed opportunities.

Apostolos Stamatelopoulos’ brace had given the Jets a 2-0 half-time lead before the visiting Wanderers clawed back the two-goal deficit thanks to Josh Brillante and Swedish import Marcus Antonsson.

In the thick of the action was Jets speedster Trent Buhagiar, who provided both assists for Stamatelopoulos in the opening 45 minutes. He had a couple of golden opportunities himself but the 25-year-old was unable to find the back of the net.

He burst clear on goal but Western Sydney goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas sprinted out of his box and managed to deny Buhagiar approaching the half-hour mark.

There was also an opportunity to kill the game off with 16 minutes remaining, after the Wanderers had reduced the deficit, however, he miscued his attempt after lobbing the ball over Thomas.

Speaking on Paramount+ post-game, analyst and former Jets star Roy O’Donovan said: “Buhagiar’s movement was good. His ball delivery is very good.

“His finishing – the ruthless part is what let him down.”

FOUR-GOAL SHOOTOUT: Wanderers overturn two-goal deficit in entertaining draw with Jets

Former Socceroos full-back Luke Wilkshere added: “That’s why he is where he is at the moment. I think he has so much quality. Pace in behind.

“Marcelo is no slouch but his pace and the timing of his runs… just the execution. If he can bring that to his game, he could’ve had a hat-trick.”

O’Donovan concluded the discussion by saying: “By the way, he could be anywhere. Across Europe, playing for the Socceroos. His movement is that good.

“His pace is that good. His touch isn’t bad. It’s just that finishing. That bit of a ruthless streak and it’s the hardest part of the game.

“People talk about Antonsson and (Jamie) Maclaren scoring tap-ins. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”