These are some of the biggest talking points after Round 16 in the Isuzu UTE A-League, headlined by a new Golden Boot leader and a mad 30km dash in Wellington.
“People told me don’t sign him!” – Stanton sings Stamatelopoulos’ praises
A double from Apostolos Stamatelopoulos wasn’t enough to secure all three points for Newcastle Jets against the Wanderers but his head coach Rob Stanton believes his decision to sign the striker has been well and truly justified.
The 24-year-old took his tally to 13 goals for the season after netting a brace in the 3-3 draw at CommBank Stadium but Stanton has revealed he was warned against signing the striker following his difficult spell in Greece.
“I didn’t even watch any video of him when I signed him,” revealed Stanton when discussing the performance of his star striker.
“I just spoke to him. I knew of that player because of the way he spoke to me,
“I knew that he wanted to come back and prove himself and he had aspirations.
“People told me ‘don’t sign him’ but I had a feeling about this guy… and he has not disappointed me. He’s a leader.”
Stamatelopoulos now leads the race for the Golden Boot alongside Bruno Fornaroli with 13 goals this campaign and has proven himself to be one of the signings of the season since he was lured back to the Isuzu UTE A-League from Greece sparking more talk about whether a national team call-up could be on the cards.
“Conversations, whether it’s national team or go back overseas, that will happen in time,” continued Stanton when discussing a possible Socceroos call-up.
“I think he’s in a really good headspace and it’s got to be consistent.
“If its national team it’ll be, maybe, a bit later but he is showing consistency and that goes with how he prepares, his process – he asks for everything, he does all the extras – and when you do all those things, good things happen to you.”
After spells with Greek second division side Rodos and then first division outfit PAS Giannina, Stamatelopoulos received an offer to come back and play for the Jets and it’s a move that’s seemingly been a success on every front.
“I had seen him play before and I knew there was talent there,” said Stanton.
“Looking at his record in Greece he actually did some good things and then went to a bigger club and it didn’t work out.
“The thing about him, he had changed his lifestyle, he’d changed the way he conducted himself, he matured basically.
“I just saw a guy that was desperate to prove a point.”Rob Stanton on his decision to sign Apostolos Stamatelopoulos
The draw for the Jets leaves them sat in 10th spot on the ladder, five points outside the top six.
They’ll now be hoping Stamatelopoulos can continue to fire in Round 17 when they face bottom side Western United on February 16.
Kit chaos in Wellington as Nix boss makes ‘football nation’ comment
Wellington Phoenix stayed top of the Isuzu UTE A-League standings thanks to a 2-0 win over lowly Western United on Saturday, but it was not without chaos.
Kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes after Western only brought their home kit for the trip across the ditch and it clashed with Wellington’s dark jersey, which they had elected to play in.
It meant the Phoenix kitman had to make a 30km dash to the club’s training base to retrieve Wellington’s yellow home kit.
But this was not the first time a match between Wellington and Western has been impacted by kits.
Asked if it threw the Phoenix into internal chaos, head coach Giancarlo Italiano told reporters: “No, I’ll tell you the story.
“Last season, the same scenario but the other way around so it worked in reverse this time. The superstition worked.”
On that occasion, Western emerged 3-2 winners. This time around, the ‘Nix soared thanks to Nicholas Pennington and a James Donachie own goal.
When one reporter asked Italiano if he had trust in the kitman Jack Mapp making it to Upper Hut and back in time, the Phoenix boss replied: “He does a great job of working to a timeline, so it’s just another day in the office [for him].”
Italiano’s Phoenix remain the team to beat through 16 rounds, having been tipped by some to finish bottom of the standings following the appointment of the former assistant to his first senior head coaching role in the A-League.
Wellington have just tasted defeat twice in 2023-24, but don’t ask Italiano about the Championship.
“I’ll answer that in May. I’m not looking that far ahead,” he answered.
“We’ve set our own targets within the group internally. Realistic targets. We will try to apply ourselves to those goals. I’m not going to tell you what they are but there’s a sense of realism we can get those targets now.
“But winning the competition, there’s so many variables… There’s a lot of things that factor in and sometimes it can even be a little bit of luck.
“… but the one thing we can control is our performances week in, week out.”
Italiano added: “The thing is we’ve always taken the mindset, not an underdog mindset but it’s more to do with everyone wrote us off.
“We had something to prove. Its not that we said we are going to win the league. We want to win the league – it’s a given. It’s more about putting respect on the shirt and making sure people respect the team.”
Pressed on whether the Phoenix deserve more respect from the mainstream New Zealand media, Italiano replied: “I’d always love more exposure for what the boys are doing, they deserve (it).
“I hope no one takes offence to this but New Zealand is not a football country. It’s rugby union predominately. The mainstream media would be concerned if the All Blacks do well and so it should be.
“In order to gain that respect, we need to reach a milestone or a big moment that turns the narrative which we are trying to do at the moment.”
Caceres’ career now at a critical juncture according to Talay
Sydney FC put in one of the most dominant first half displays of the season to defeat Central Coast Mariners 3-1 in Gosford and key to it all was midfielder Anthony Caceres.
Not only did the 31-year-old leave the Central Coast with a goal to his name but he also played a key role in his side’s other two goals; first setting up Rhyan Grant for the opener before cutting the ball back across the box only for defender Dan Hall to turn into his own net – all within the first 20 minutes of the match.
“When we go through things and the way we’re going to play and the way we set up the team, we try to put the players where they can use their best attributes more often than less,” said Sydney FC boss Ufuk Talay when discussing Caceres’ performance.
“Cas is one of those ones, like you said, he’s a very versatile player.
“I think he knows that he’s at a point of his career where I think his game needs to lift and I think every game, slowly, he’s getting there.”
Having initially joined Sydney on loan in 2019, Caceres has gone on to become a fan favourite at the club but with just two goals and one assist to his name from 13 appearances this season, it’s clear Talay wants more from a player who, on his day, can unlock any defence in the competition.
“When he’s in this kind of form you have to ask the question why is he not mentioned for national team selection because he’s top notch on his day.”Former Isuzu UTE A-League striker and Paramount+ pundit Roy O’Donovan discussing Anthony Caceres.
After being awarded the Player of the Match award having topped the Paramount+ Player Index, the Sydney FC midfielder said his individual performance came as a result of the team buying into the ideals of head coach Ufuk Talay.
“We want to be the protagonists,” said Caceres when speaking to Paramount+ after the game.
“By setting up the way we did it gave us an opportunity to get on the ball, dictate the pace of the game and dictate terms.
“We are getting an identity now and buying into the ideas, it’s just about building. I still think we’ve got improvement left in us.”
The impressive win saw Sydney FC leapfrog Melbourne City into sixth on the ladder after securing what was their seventh victory of the season.
Tale of two strikers as Brisbane exact revenge over Melbourne City
Brisbane Roar certainly got their revenge over Melbourne City in Round 16, banishing the memories of their 8-1 drubbing back in December by dishing out their own thrashing at Suncorp Stadium.
Goals from Kai Trewin, Jay O’Shea, Keegan Jelacic and a double from youngster Thomas Waddingham ensured the Roar went home 5-1 winners over Melbourne City and acting head coach Ruben Zadkovich praised the role his young centre forward played during the win.
“He’s got the athletic profile for a number nine,” said Zadkovich when discussing Waddingham’s performance.
“He’s a little bit of an old fashioned number nine, his presence and his size.
“He’s still learning how to use that and how to use his body in different ways and different moments. We’ve been giving him some information and ways that we can try and help him as coaches and what’s nice about Tommy is that he gives you everything he’s got.
“It’s just nice to see players go out there and perform on the big stage and get the rewards, especially the young guys.”
The emphatic win for Brisbane moves them up into eighth spot on the ladder, level on points with Melbourne City in seventh and just two points outside the finals places.
As for City, Aurelio Vidmar’s side have suffered four losses in their last five matches and now sit two points behind Sydney FC in the race to secure finals football.
“We’ve been training really well over the last couple of weeks, so that’s quite a shock,” said Vidmar during his post-match press conference. “It really wasn’t there today.
“We prepared really well over the last weeks and always hit a few patches but today was pretty poor. Very disappointing for everyone.
“We’re not the first team to get battered and we probably won’t be the first team who will have to try to respond. That’s how it is.”
What will be of greater concern for Vidmar will be the form of club captain and reigning Golden Boot winner Jamie Maclaren, who has now gone six games without a goal.
“You know what strikers are like,” said Vidmar when discussing his star striker.
“They’re going to hit a purple patch and sometimes they go through periods where they’re not scoring.
“He’s had quite a few chances over the weeks, a couple again tonight – it is like that for the strikers.
“Sometimes the goal looks like a mouse hole and sometimes it looks like the goal is double the size.
He continued: “It is what it is, we can’t put our head in the sand at all. We’ve got to face up to some realities and accept a lot of things and continue to move on.
“It is painful but there’s no other way.”