‘We have a new beginning… this is big’: Isuzu UTE A-League R22 Talking Points

These are the key talking points from Round 22 in the Isuzu UTE A-League as football returned following the international break with a record-breaking hat-trick and a statement win in Sydney.

Western United’s ‘new beginning’ arrives this week: ‘This is big’

Western United’s four-game unbeaten streak came to an emphatic end on Friday night, dispatched 4-1 by a Nestory Irankunda-inspired Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium.

Irankunda became the youngest player in Isuzu UTE A-League history to score a hat-trick as the 18-year-old handed bottom side Western their 13th defeat of the season.

It was a difficult night for John Aloisi’s Western and it summed up their 2023-24 campaign. However, the mood is good and excitement is building as they prepare to make history when they play their first Isuzu UTE A-League match at their new home in Tarneit, where Macarthur FC loom on Saturday afternoon.

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“We have a new beginning,” Aloisi said passionately post-match.

“We’re in our home. We have three games at home now. It’s going to be massive for our club. This is the start of something new for us. This is big.

“I know it’s a negative result and we’re disappointed and it hasn’t been the season that we would’ve wanted, but we’re in our home and it’s big for the club. That’s our focus, we have to put this behind us quickly.”

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Later in his press conference, Aloisi told reporters: “The lift we will get from having a home ground, we will look to sign players, we will look to improve our squad, the younger players will come on even more so.

“(Matthew) Grimaldi, this is his first season in the A-League. (Kane) Vidmar this is his first season in the A-League. Jake Najdovski is starting to find minutes. We have a lot of young boys coming through.

“Don’t forget, Irankunda aside, Adelaide have had a sort of academy with the NTC program for 20 years. This is taking us time. We will improve, there’s no doubt about that.”

Pressed on the Regional Football Facility in Melbourne’s west, Aloisi added: “It’s been on the cards since day one that we want to go out west. That’s our area and heartland. That’s going to be the fasting growing corridor in Melbourne.

“I’m from Adelaide but that area there is going to be bigger than Adelaide in 10 years time. That’s a no-brainer to go out there.”

It has also been a challenging season for Adelaide, who started the season by beating defending champions Central Coast Mariners 3-0 before routing three-time premiers Melbourne City 6-0 in Round 2.

But the Reds have only won five games since then to sit ninth in the table and nine points outside of the finals places.

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Adelaide boss Carl Veart had a message for the club’s fans after recording back-to-back wins, having gone seven matches without a victory prior to that.

“We’re very fortunate that our fans have stuck by us. It’s easy to jump off the ship when it’s not sailing that well, but we’re very fortunate here that we’ve got good fans who stick behind the team,” said Veart.

“That is when the true fans stand up, when your team is going through a difficult period. Our fans have stuck behind the team this year.

“The team will keep fighting right to the end of the year for them.”

Maclaren’s absence from Melbourne City’s starting XI explained

For the third consecutive Isuzu UTE A-League fixture, Jamie Maclaren was named among the substitutes by Melbourne City.

The league’s all-time leading goalscorer and City’s captain, Maclaren was again on the bench with young forward Max Caputo preferred up front in Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park.

It marked the first time Maclaren had found himself outside of the starting XI for three straight league matches since playing for Scotland’s Hibernian in 2018.

Maclaren came off the bench as City chased a winner and the Socceroos forward nearly broke the deadlock in stoppage time.

After the match, City assistant Ralph Napoli – who was deputising for Aurelio Vidmar due to illness – was asked about Maclaren’s absence from the line-up.

“Maxy’s (Caputo) done not much wrong,” Napoli told reporters. “Macca (Maclaren) is our captain, he trains really, really hard and prepares really well.

“Maxy hasn’t done a lot wrong. He’s done really well. It was just based on his performance and competition for spots is healthy. Maxy tried hard tonight, had that header which was unfortunate.

“We put Macca on and he did really well. He tried hard and had a couple of opportunities. He worked the line and pressed well. It’s good to have that competition amongst the group.”

Maclaren has scored eight goals in 22 A-Leagues appearances this season. However, he has only scored in one of his last 12 games.

“Macca is captain and his record and performances for this club speak for itself,” Napoli continued.

“But we felt at the time it was an opportunity to give Max a chance. Macca was working really, really hard and wasn’t getting rewarded for effort.

“At the time, it was trying to take the pressure off him. Come off the bench and looks to have served him really well. He scored (in Round 21) – a typical Macca goal.

“He always works hard, whether it’s training or a game. But we will assess it day by day and pick the best team accordingly.”

Sydney coach left in ‘awe’ after statement win

It was relentless and it was dominant as Sydney FC overpowered defending champions Central Coast Mariners 2-0 on Saturday night.

From the opening whistle, the Sky Blues dominated but for 73 minutes they were frustrated by the second-placed Mariners until Anthony Caceres and Joel King broke the stubborn resistance and sent a statement to the rest of the competition.

Premiership-chasing Central Coast had only lost one of their past 23 matches in all competitions, while they tasted defeat for the first time since going down to Sydney in February.

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Fifth-placed Sydney cemented their spot in the top six and head coach Ufuk Talay told reporters: “(I’m) currently in awe of the group of what they produced. It’s something we need to do week in, week out.

“… I thought from start to finish we were very good with the ball, and very good without it.

“That’s been our best performance since I’ve been here. Actually, in all of our players at the moment of what they produced and they did it for the full 90-95 minutes.

“We didn’t reward ourselves in the first half with the dominance with the ball. In the second half, we didn’t stop.”

“We changed it tactically in how we were going to press,” Talay said when asked about how Sydney lined up against the Mariners. “The boys adapted to that quite well and they were excellent.

“We won a lot of balls and counter-pressed. We kept them in their half. We nullified them in every aspect of the game. We dominated from the first whistle to the end.”

The ‘target’ ticked off by Chiefy’s high-flying Phoenix

Giancalo ‘Chiefy’ Italiano has hinted at targets set by his Wellington Phoenix throughout this season – and he revealed the one that has been met after Round 22.

The league-leading Phoenix consolidated top spot thanks to a 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar at Sky Stadium on Sunday.

Wellington moved six points clear of the Mariners having equalled their highest regular-season A-League Men’s points tally of 46 after also reaching that total through 27 matches in 2014-15. The high-flying ‘Nix have managed it in 23 this term.

Reflecting on the result, which was overshadowed by a red card to captain Alex Rufer, Italiano said: “I’m delighted we got the three points like any other game.

“One thing I can safely say – that was our target for the year, to get 46 points. That was after the Newcastle game. Some of the boys spoke about it. I’m happy. So now every other point we get is a bonus.”

While the Phoenix won, one reporter highlighted the fact Wellington allowed 19 shots, with eight of those on target against the Roar.

The journalist asked Italiano if Wellington were “second best” at home to Brisbane to which the ‘Nix boss replied: “Do you think we were second best?”

Italiano added: “I would say the majority of their clearer chances were from our mistakes and we had the better chances, so I felt we were the better team.

“Was it our best? No. We can play better than that. But if you factor in the big one, half of our squad came back from Egypt and we had one day to prepare for this game. I’ll take that performance.

“There’s nothing wrong with defending well. It’s worked for us all year. Our blocked shots and defensive effort is all done by design. I don’t think we were second best. Not at all.”

Towards the end of his press conference, Italiano was also asked if he had texted former Wellington head coach and current Sydney boss Ufuk Talay to say thank you for beating Premiership rivals the Mariners

“I always thank him for whenever he beats anyone close to us,” smiled Italiano, who worked as Talay’s assistant at the Phoenix. “I thought they played exceptionally well. I thought that was one of the best performance all year from an A-League team.”

Victory star impresses after completing a near two-year first

Bruno Fornaroli took control in the Isuzu UTE A-League’s Golden Boot race after scoring twice in Melbourne Victory’s 2-1 triumph over Perth Glory on Sunday.

Fornaroli’s match-winner was teed up by Daniel Arzani, who ticked off a significant milestone.

Not only did Arzani reach a joint league-high seven assists, but he completed 90 minutes for the first time this season. The last time he ran out a full match in the A-Leagues was back in October 2022 for Macarthur FC.

“Very good (performance),” Victory head coach Tony Popovic said. “The most complete game in terms of his periods of not being involved are getting less. They’re not extending to long periods of 10-15 minutes where he doesn’t really get involved, with or without the ball.

“He was involved in a lot of good actions. He had that final ball for Bruno. There were many other opportunities where the final ball wasn’t quite there but he seemed to be enjoying himself out there.

“What we want is the all-round game. In the 90th minute where he runs back and makes a tackle on the edge of the box and wins a foul, that’s football. That’s how the game needs to be played.

“He is getting better. What we thought of him in pre-season is the same now. Very talented. We love having him here and we have to keep pushing him to fulfil the talent he has.”

Rudan’s reaction to resurgent Wanderers

Western Sydney Wanderers’ season was at a crossroads after an historic 7-0 humbling at the hands of Melbourne City and three straight losses, but the club have responded with back-to-back wins.

The Wanderers overcame Macarthur FC 3-1 thanks to goals from Nicolas Miloanovic, Sonny Kittel and Jorrit Hendrix on Monday.

Western Sydney are four points inside the top six and head coach Marko Rudan provided an insight into how the Wanderers have turned their form around.

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“We went through a phase, a lot of teams do that in a lot of codes. It just so happens with our club, a lot more attention is put on us. That’s what happens but my job is to protect my players from the noise,” Rudan told reporters.

“The beauty of that game was that we all stayed together and travelled to Perth. then it became a management type of situation. If my players saw me isolate myself or be down, you’re not going to achieve much from that. That was important.

“A lot of time reflecting on post-game and then travelling. I took the boys out, we had dinner the whole staff, got the wine out. We were relaxed.

“We started well. The thing in sport, people in sport forget the good moments very quickly and like to harp on the negative stuff. Yeah, we went through a bad phase and blip. But the character is there. Now we just have to show each other how quickly we can get back on that horse. We did that and that was a good side.

“Everyone goes through adversity. We stayed together and didn’t listen to any outside noise. We won for the first time in a long time, won another game away from home for the first time in the history against Macarthur. I can guarantee you this team is very tight. We’re all together. There’s a lot of connection and care.

“The only way I said to them is through your effort and getting back to who we are. Lets get back to who we are and our values at the very least. I can handle losing but the manner in which we lost some of those games disappointed me but that’s back.”

Asked if the tough stretch had created stronger bond within the squad, Rudan replied: “Absolutely.

“That’s all you can do in sport. You need to show we’re all together and are still buying in. They showed that in Perth. That was a terrific away performance. Then the two-week break, sometimes it’s not good because you have that momentum and you want to keep it going.

“We had a great two weeks – the energy, positivity, the togetherness, effort and fight, it was all there. I didn’t see it in the 30 minutes in the first half that’s what disappointed me but it was there. We know it’s there and it came in the second half.

“The key is we don’t get carried away with ourselves too. We have a big important test at home. Our away form has been a lot better than our home form this season. We want to make amends. Our home is our home. Last season we were fantastic at home. Since that Perth trip, there’s a real sparkle in their eyes, the edge is back for me. They showed it in the second half. It’s not easy to come here and get a result. Now it’s about focusing and moving on.”