Isuzu UTE A-League Round 24 Talking Points: ‘Naive’ moment exposed by ‘Premier League striker & two $1m wingers’

These are the key talking points from Round 24 in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

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City make history with Premiership three-peat

Melbourne City became the first time in Isuzu UTE A-League history to secure a Premiership three-peat, after cross-town rivals Western United defeated Adelaide 1-0 on Sunday evening.

City had the chance to wrap it up a day earlier against Central Coast Mariners and led thanks to Jordan Bos’ early strike, but were pegged back by a late equaliser from Josh Nisbet – meaning it was in the hands of Western the following day.

And Western delivered in spades, with Connor Pain scoring the winner just before half-time, which not only kept the reigning champions’ finals hopes alive but handed the Premier’s Plate to City.

PREMIERS: Melbourne City claim historic three-peat after Western United end Adelaide’s unbeaten run

It caps off an incredible few seasons for Melbourne, who have well and truly dominated the league for the best part of three campaigns.

They are also on track to break their own points tally record from the last two seasons (49) having reached the mark with two games remaining.

Now, the focus turns to the finals, where they will aim to secure their third ever Championship.

Have off-field distractions impacted Wellington?

Wellington’s winless streak extended to four matches after they surrendered a late lead in their 2-2 draw against Brisbane Roar.

The ‘Nix looked to be on their merry way after Yan Sasse gave them the lead, but missed chances – namely to David Ball – came back to haunt them as Scott Neville pulled back an equaliser in the dying moments.

As a result, Wellington remain only three points inside the top six heading into the final two rounds, where they face Western Sydney Wanderers and Macarthur FC.

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It’s been a difficult patch for Wellington, who are set to lose a number of key individuals in the off-season including head coach Ufuk Talay, goalkeeper Oli Sail (to Perth Glory) and midfielders Clayton Lewis and Steven Ugarkovic.

Post-game, Phoenix legend Paul Ifill asked Sky Sports NZ commentator Jason Pine if he believes off-field departures have been a distraction for the ‘Nix heading into the final stretch.

“You’re probably in a better position than me given you were in a professional environment. I take things on face value,” Pine said.

“Clayton Lewis has said to me a number of times, ‘I’m only playing for Wellington. Oli Sail, ‘I’m only playing for Wellington. We don’t care the coach may be leaving and is now leaving’.

“I think there is professional pride here. I think teams and players, from what I’ve observed anyway, want to do as well as they can every time they get out onto the grass.

“I hope that is what will carry this group of players forward into what I hope is a run to the playoffs.”

‘Premier League striker and two $1 million wingers’ put ‘naive’ Perth to the sword

At half-time, Perth Glory were right in the hunt for all three points against Sydney FC.

Adam Zimarino’s goal late in the first-half had just brought Perth level and the visitors went into the sheds with the wind in their sails. However, things changed immensely from that point on.

After Adam Taggart missed a great chance to give his side the lead, Sydney punished Perth with three goals of their own as Joe Lolley, Robert Mak and Rhyan Grant all hit the scoresheet to seal a resounding 4-1 win.

REACTION: Taggart’s honest Glory assessment after Sydney rout: ‘We need to have a long, hard look at ourselves’

The loss shattered Glory’s finals hopes, who now need to essentially win out in their last two games and rely on a lot of help to book a place in the post-season.

Perth coach Ruben Zadkovich believes naivety cost them in key moments, as they struggled to cope with the ferocity of Sydney’s attack which overpowered their defence in the second-half.

“Goals change games. I know it’s a cliche, but it definitely felt like that,” Zadkovich said post-game.

“I felt we played ourselves back into the game in that first half once we settled a little bit, conceded a pretty soft goal from an area that we’d spoken about with our first goal… I said before the game, it’s one thing to know, but it’s a second thing to see the picture quick enough and stop it.

“So we were a little bit naive to give them that zone and that space for the first goal.

“Let’s be honest, they’re a really good team. Their front three, you’re talking about a Premier League striker and they’ve got a million dollar wing on one side and a million dollar wing on the other side.

“I thought that their wingers were probably the best players on the field and we just didn’t deal with that well enough.

“The goal in the second half… took the wind out of our sails and from that moment, I felt like we chased it a little bit too much and we were a bit impatient.

“That comes down to a little bit of naivety, I think, and probably wanting it a little bit too much, which is disappointing in the end.”

A worldie for his first Jets goal, but O’Neill’s interview showed family will always be no.1

Not since January 22, 2021 had Brandon O’Neill scored in the Isuzu UTE A-League but the two-time A-Leagues champion ended that drought, opening his account for Newcastle Jets in dramatic fashion on Friday night.

O’NEILL: Jets keep finals hopes alive but to their tearful 95th-minute hero, it means so much more

O’Neill’s last goal came during his brief stint with Perth Glory last season – a relationship which was ended mutually due to “family reasons”. The 29-year-old lost his father in 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former Sydney FC midfielder had lost his “best friend”.

Against Macarthur FC at McDonald Jones Stadium, O’Neill scored his first goal in Jets colours – his stunning 95th-minute winner securing a chaotic 2-1 victory.

It not only snapped a six-game winless run, but kept Newcastle’s finals hopes alive.

But for the emotional Australia international – who was in tears post-game – the goal and result went beyond football.

“It means a hell of a lot,” the two-time Championship-winning midfielder told Paramount+ as he became visibly emotional. “For me personally, the last couple of years have been pretty tough.

“There’s been a lot of sacrifice, from my family and from all of us really. To be in this moment now, where something like that pays off and keeps our season alive, I know someone up above will be looking down pretty proud right now.

“We’re people first, and footballers second. We’re so lucky to be able to be paid to do something that we love.

“But family will always be, and is number one. When big life family stuff happens, sometimes football takes a backseat. On the pitch, getting injured, there’s a lot that goes against you.

“I tell you what, for 20 seconds of that, it makes all the hard work worth it.”

Popovic: ‘Our performance is not the problem

Melbourne Victory’s season is over.

After a 2-1 defeat to Western Sydney Wanderers, Victory’s fate was sealed when Sydney FC saw off Perth Glory the next day – meaning Tony Popovic’s side are the first team to be mathematically eliminated from the finals race.

READ: The ‘moment of madness’ that cost Victory dearly: ‘It’s put them out of finals contention’

Victory were right in the fight against the Wanderers, levelling things at 1-1 early in the second-half, but went down to 10 men minutes later after Roderick Miranda was given his marching orders.

In the end, Western Sydney took control and punished them with Amor Layouni scoring a lovely winner to wrap up the three points.

Despite the results not going their way this season, Popovic believes the performances aren’t the problem, instead singling out missed opportunities in-front of goal that cost them not only on Saturday, but throughout the season.

READ: How Wanderers ‘flipped the whole thing around’ to end six-year finals drought

“I think the first half was good from us, we had numerous opportunities that weren’t taken, and I think that sums up our season. At the end, with 10 men Bruno has a wonderful chance as well – and we don’t take it,” Popovic said post-game.

“I think our performance is not the problem. You come here, and you perform that way, it’s fantastic. But obviously, we haven’t taken enough opportunities when they’re presented, and they punished (us) just before half-time.”

Victory legend Archie Thompson weighed in on Victory’s struggles this season post-game as well: “For Victory, I haven’t seen them put a 90-minute performance in all year. It’s always these (little) patches.”

Jordy continues to Bos the opposition on historic weekend

Jordan Bos is making a habit of scoring some incredible goals, while Melbourne City are celebrating the first Premiership three-peat in Isuzu UTE A-League history.

The City left-back continued his breakout season on Saturday evening, scoring a second goal of the season with an inch-perfect finish on his non-preferred right foot to give his side the lead over Central Coast Mariners.

Bos skipped past a few defenders before firing the ball right into the top corner, giving Mariners keeper Danny Vukovic no chance of stopping.

READ: City secure first piece of club silverware despite slip in Premiership race in Mariners draw

You would be forgiven if you feel like you have seen this goal before, having done something similar against Perth Glory earlier this season at Macedonia Park.

“A great goal by the young boy Bos. He’s an outstanding player. The whole City team are incredible,” Vukovic said post-game.

In fact, a great goal like this is something that he perfected at home years ago, telling KEEPUP about how his dad used to tie towels in the top corners of a goal in their backyard, creating targets on each side.

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“My dad bought this big goal and put towels in the top bins. We’d just curl it in, out the back,” he said in the KEEPUP original.

While Bos and his team-mate were unable to wrap up the Premier’s Plate in a 1-1 draw with the Mariners on Saturday, they did get their hands on the Premiership on Sunday thanks to Adelaide United’s 1-0 loss to Western United.

In the aftermath of the young gun’s goalscoring exploits, he was lavished in praise.

“He’s exciting. He brings that energy every single game, he’s a big powerful full-back… he’s such a dangerous threat in attack as well as being excellent defensively,” Alex Brosque said on Paramount+.

“He gives them such a great dynamic as a full-back, and I love watching him play. I can’t wait to see where his future takes him.”

O’Shea joins esteemed company after yet another goal

Jay O’Shea’s incredible run of form continued on Sunday afternoon.

The Brisbane Roar midfielder took his scoring run to six consecutive games, after firing home a first-half penalty, which made it nine goals for the season.

His run of goals in six straight games equalled a club record set by the league’s all-time goalscorer Besart Berisha, who did so in February 2012.

O’Shea has played like a man possessed under interim coach Nick Green who has released the shackles on the talented Irishman to play further up the field and do what he does best around goals.

“Jay wanted to add goals to his game and he’s done that this season, I think he’s on nine this year,” Roar captain Tom Aldred told Sky Sports NZ post-game.

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“Obviously, Jay has been brilliant in the four years he’s been at the club, but I think equalling a club record with someone like Berisha is something that you can cherish.”

Now, he will look to break the record when they face Sydney FC next Monday, in what shapes as a must-win game for the Roar if they are to stay in the finals hunt.

Two goals from two for ALF as Sydney close in on finals berth

In two games, Adam Le Fondre has shown just how important he is to the Sydney FC frontline.

The Englishman has roared back into form in his last two matches, scoring decisive goals against Adelaide United and now Perth Glory to help his side get much-needed points at the tail-end of the season.

Le Fondre opened the scoring inside the first 10 minutes, before getting an assist for Joe Lolley’s go-ahead goal in the second-half.

MATCH REPORT: Sydney FC on the brink of finals berth after sizzling second-half performance sees off Glory

The 36-year-old striker missed close to two months with an injury, but returned on April 1 against Western United off the bench.

Prior to his return, the veteran striker was in some form, scoring three goals in two games in the contests leading into the Sydney Derby 1-0 win over Western Sydney Wanderers where he got injured.

“I’m really excited to be back in the team,” he told Network 10 post-game.

“It’s been a long time out for me… (I) scored last week at Adelaide and now I’m really happy with the performance we put on today, rather than myself.

“It’s nice to score but I think a resounding win was what we needed for our confidence and it firmly gives us a chance to cement out place in the finals.”

His return to form may be exactly what the doctor ordered as Sydney ended a four-game winless run in the process and bolstered their position inside the top six.

And it was all the more sweeter that it came at their home deck, considering their struggles at Allianz this season.

“It’s been no secret our home form has been nothing short of atrocious this season,” he said.

“Coming into the crucial part of the season where we need points at home, it’s great to get a good result.”

Pierias continues to shine in extended run

Dylan Pierias is taking his opportunity back in the starting XI with both hands.

The Western United winger continued his solid form on the right-wing with a Man of the Match showing in their huge 1-0 win over Adelaide that kept their finals hopes alive.

Throughout the 90, the speedy Pierias caused all sorts of headaches for the Reds defence who struggled with his enormous pace.

REACTION: Melbourne City claim historic threepeat after Western United end Adelaide’s unbeaten run

It’s been a tough season for one of Western’s foundation players who has played primarily as a substitute throughout the campaign.

In fact, it was only a few weeks ago, that Pierias was sent down to play for Western’s Academy side in NPL2 Victoria against Pascoe Vale to get more match minutes – after only playing 56 minutes between the end of January and mid-March.

However, with Lachie Wales shifting centrally, the door has opened for Pierias to earn a reprieve in the lineup.

“Every time, I get put in there’s a bit of a focus with my pace to try and just get me in behind,” he told Paramount + post-game.

“I’ve always been a player that just likes to go for it. So every time I get the ball, you’ve always got to play to your strengths so I just try and run at defenders which I love doing and try make something happen.”