City boss’ huge update on star winger’s status after Derby stalemate: Isuzu UTE A-League R9 Talking Points

Catch all the goals from an action-packed round nine of Isuzu UTE A-League action.

These are the key talking points from Round 9 in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

The spoils were shared in the Melbourne Derby, which had a moment of controversy late that denied City all three points. However, one of their best may be set for a quicker than expected return from injury.

Wellington Phoenix retained their spot atop the Isuzu UTE A-League standings heading into Christmas with a dramatic 2-0 victory over Western Sydney Wanderers, led by an in-form veteran.

Central Coast Mariners came away with a big win over Brisbane Roar, and Perth Glory snatched a dramatic come-from-behind victory against Macarthur FC.

With a lot to dissect, here are the key talking points from Round 9 of the Isuzu UTE A-League.

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City boss’ encouraging update on return of absent star

Melbourne City could be set for a major boost in the new year, after coach Aurelio Vidmar provided a promising update on the injury status of Andrew Nabbout.

The City attacker suffered an Achilles injury in a behind-closed-doors friendly in September, which was set to rule him out for the entire Isuzu UTE A-League season.

However, Nabbout has made promising strides since and could – according to Vidmar – return at some stage this campaign, but acknowledged there’s still a “fair way to go” before he can take the field again.

“He’s a big chance [to return] this season,” Vidmar said in his post game press conference.

“He started training a little bit more now this week with the group. He’s doing really well. He’s in really good shape.

“He’s going to be still some weeks. Only this week, three times he’s been training with the group, so he’s done a little bit more every day and he’s still got a fair way to go.

“I’m not sure exactly how many weeks, but he’s in our possession drills without any contact, in our passing exercises without any contact.

“So he’s going get to a point where he can join in our competitive exercises with contact. That’ll be his next step over time and he still needs a little bit more conditioning and then obviously he’s going to be having a lack of match conditioning because he can’t play anywhere.

“I can’t put a date on it, to be honest, but certainly at some stage he’ll be involved this season for sure.”

His impending return would be a major boost for City’s attacking stocks, who are currently without both Nabbout and Mathew Leckie – with the latter sidelined for the next month by a hamstring injury.

Vidmar elaborated on how Nabbout is defying his initial recovery period and making such a speedy return, despite the seriousness of the injury sustained a little under four months ago.

“He’s a monster… Part of it is genetic and he’s got an incredible work ethic,” he said.

“Sometimes when you’re injured, you’ve got time to reflect and work on different parts of your game of your body and he’s certainly been doing that.

“He will definitely be rusty when he comes back. That’s normal.

“But hopefully in time we can start giving him minutes and get him to a situation where he can start to play 90 minutes. I think that’s going to be a huge benefit for us.”

Coaches weigh in on Maclaren’s disallowed Derby winner

It was the moment which for a second had seemingly won the Derby for Melbourne City.

With minutes remaining, Jamie Maclaren thought he had scored the winner, but as he wheeled away in celebration at the death, he was deemed to have committed a foul before finding the back of the net.

Tussling with Victory duo Leigh Broxham and Damien Da Silva, the Isuzu UTE A-League’s all-time leading goalscorer managed to poke the ball into the back of the net.

City coach Aurelio Vidmar weighed in on the incident in his post game press conference.

MATCH REPORT: Sold-out Melbourne Derby ends all-square after ‘strange’ 90th-minute drama

“We were having that discussion whether that should have just been allowed and then checked from the VAR,” Vidmar said. 

“We thought there was probably worse tackles in the middle of the pitch which he let go. 

“Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very good referee. There’s a lot harsher tackles that were let go and play continued and that one looked pretty soft.”

His counterpart, Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic had a different view.

 “We thought there was a foul earlier, which we were told there was. I think there was an arm raised well before the action but the referee played on,” he said.

“So had he blown at that time, we wouldn’t have got to that.”

The A-Leagues veteran enjoying a new lease of life

Kosta Barbarouses looks like a player reborn under Giancarlo Italiano.

For the second time in a week the 33-year-old produced a match-winning display, this time providing a goal and an assist to fire the Phoenix to a 2-0 win over the Wanderers and with it securing their spot on top of the Isuzu UTE A-League ladder.

“We’re making really big strides,” said Barbarouses following the 2-0 win over Western Sydney Wanderers.

“This is probably the best I’ve felt in a Phoenix shirt just collectively and probably individually as well.

He continued: “We just want to keep going and believing in ourselves. We’ve got a good mix of experienced and younger boys so we’ve just got to keep going and keep grounded at the same time.”

In the absence of injured star striker Oskar Zawada the Wellington local has stepped up when his side needed him most, taking his tally to three goals and three assists for the season. However it’s his feverish work rate and infectious team-first attitude that is seemingly driving him and the group forwards.

MATCH REPORT: Stoppage-time drama as Isuzu UTE A-League leaders Phoenix stun Wanderers

“I’m just always threatening, looking off the shoulder,” said Barbarouses when dissecting his own performance.

“I was probably getting a little bit frustrated because it wasn’t happening on the other side. Sometimes that happens, in the break of play I ended up on the right hand side. But as soon as someone is on the half-turn, I’m going.”

Initially operating on the left of the attack, the New Zealand international’s runs both short and in-behind proved to be a constant thorn in the Wanderers’ side as Italiano tinkered with his team’s formation, enabling Barbarouses to continually change positions with teammates Bozhidar Kraev and David Ball.

“He’s been great,” said Wellington Head Coach Giancarlo Italiano when asked about Barbarouses. “but he’s been great since our first pre-season game against Newcastle.

“Every week he’s always on the end of a chance or it might be just a loose touch or just a mis-timed run and it was just more about him getting an opportunity, once he scores that first one.”

It may still be early days in the race for Isuzu UTE A-League silverware but the way the ‘Nix are currently playing, you wouldn’t bet against them and their 33-year-old Wellington local challenging for major honours come the end of the season.

‘Very vocal challenge’ to Mariners attack leads to ‘close to perfection’ performance

Central Coast Mariners Football Manager Mark Jackson has been vocal in his demands to his forwards to show a greater clinical edge in front of goal – and of late, the constant reminders have paid off in spades. 

Four rounds into the Isuzu UTE A-League season, the Mariners were without a point, with just two goals on the board. But five games, 15 goals and 11 points later, Jackson’s attack is operating like a well-oiled machine.

On Friday night, a clean sheet in a 3-0 win on the road against a strong Brisbane Roar outfit led Jackson to label his side’s performance “as close to perfection as you can get” – with his vibrant attack gelling to lead the reigning Champions into a purple patch.

MATCH REPORT: Champions continue return to form as Torres, Túlio excite in win over Roar

Post-game he was asked whether the combined goalscoring prowess of Ángel Torres  – who scored twice against Brisbane to take his tally to six for the season, and five in two games – was helping to take the load off Marco Túlio and Alou Kuol in the final third.

“And Jing (Reec) as well, as a forward,” Jackson replied.

“I have challenged the strikers, and I was very vocal in challenging the strikers to score goals but  as a team, we knew we needed to do better in that. 

“It’s really, really positive that we’re starting to see the goals come in now. I still think we can be even more clinical in front of goal, but to come away against a good team like this in Brisbane in the conditions we had to play in, and get a clean sheet and three goals, that’s as close to perfection as you can get really. 

“I know you can never get perfection, but to get a 3-0 away win against such a tough opponent, we have to be really pleased.”

Jackson was a man under pressure after four rounds, guiding the Mariners through plenty of turbulence in the early stages of their Championship defence, but recent results have turned the tide. After defeating the fifth-placed Roar, the former Leeds United first team coach took a moment to thank his players and staff for showing unwavering faith in his processes, even against the gloomy backdrop of that rocky start.

“At the start of the season we had to stand in front of the players, analyse the games and asked them to trust in us to stick to the process, what we’re saying and how we want to play,” he said. 

“When results don’t come it’s difficult to do that – but credit to the players, they stuck to the task – and even the staff as well – believing in what we’re trying to do.

“We knew that, even from those games we had defeats, there were lots of positives within there… there were genuine positives we thought were coming from the games, and just didn’t quite get the rub of the green, or we were making individual errors here and there.

“Now we’ve started to be more consistent with what we’re going with our defending and our attacking. We’re starting to see the fruits of that – and that’s wins.”

Glory finally flip the script

Perth Glory have more often than not been on the end of late heartbreak this season, but finally the tide turned this weekend.

Glory came back from two goals down to defeat Macarthur FC 3-2 on Saturday night, with David Williams scoring the winner in second-half stoppage time at HBF Park.

Alen Stajcic’s side have dropped four points from winning positions in their two meetings against Newcastle Jets, with both equalisers coming in second-half stoppage time in the respective fixtures.

But this time it was Perth causing the chaos in the dying embers, snatching all three points to give themselves a much needed win going into Christmas.

MATCH REPORT: Glory come back from the brink to win five-goal thriller as coach sums up drama: ‘I need to lie down!’

“It was a rollercoaster of a game,” Stajcic said post game.

“It’s good that we could flip the script. We’ve been heartbroken a couple of times this year where we’ve conceded late goals

“It was good for the boys to get a little bit of confidence and know that we can do it the other way as well and come from behind and produce that kind of sort of comeback.

“I don’t think the performance was so bad even in the first half, but to just produce that kind of effort to maintain that motivation throughout the half.

“All they wanted to do is win, even it was two-all, we left ourselves exposed a couple of times at the back even too much, but just the desire to go forward and look for the winner was really the most pleasing part.”

Tactical switch provides the spark for Reds

Adelaide United returned to the winners list on Friday night with a huge victory over Newcastle Jets and it was a change in formation which helped provide the much-needed spark.

Reds coach Carl Veart opted to change from his tried and tested 4-3-3 to a 4-2-2-2, bringing in Hiroshi Ibusuki to occupy Luka Jovanovic up front, along with Isaias and Jonny Yull into the midfield, opting to go with “more control” over wingers Ben Halloran – who was dropped from the XI – and Nestory Irankunda.

Isaias, Yull, Zach Clough and Ryan Tunnicliffe occupied the four midfield slots; with Yull and Clough essentially playing as two No.10s, while Isaias and Tunnicliffe sat further back.

MATCH REPORT: Adelaide roar back into form with comprehensive victory over Newcastle

The move paid enormous dividends and Veart explained post-game why he looked to change things up.

“It was a complete change in our formation. I think we needed something a little bit different,” Veart explained.

“We’ve been playing this season with the wingers and at times they just weren’t causing enough trouble and getting into good enough opportunities for us.

“Hiroshi and Luka worked well together. I think it’s the first time they played as two nines; it was good.”

“I think with extra midfielders on the pitch, it just gave us that little bit more creativity, that little bit more balance with the way we wanted to play.

“When you’ve got Zach (Clough) and Jonny Yull, and Isa (Isaias) and Tunners (Ryan Tunnicliffe) in there, they’re all very good on the ball and comfortable to take the ball in those tight areas.”

Encouragingly for Veart, both Halloran and Irankunda had enormous impacts in the second-half, providing a spark when the Jets started to ramp up the pressure after half-time.

Halloran found the net, scoring Adelaide’s third goal of the game, while Irankunda played a role in the former’s goal and created havoc down the right-flank.

“The way we went about it tonight, it gave us more dynamic coming off the bench,” Veart said.

“A lot more speed coming off the bench so it allowed us the opportunity to stretch the game when Nestor and Benny came on and went back into their wide positions; they got us those extra goals.”

Back to the drawing board for Western

It was another frustrating evening for Western United on Saturday.

Western were unable to build off their much-needed win over Brisbane Roar, falling to a 4-2 loss at the hands of Sydney FC, which was once again marred by poor finishing from the visitors.

Their expected goals (xG) was 3.30 at the final whistle, compared to Sydney’s 2.61, despite creating 15 less shots (29-14 shots).

And after Perth Glory won later that day against Macarthur FC, it leaves Western sitting bottom of the table of Christmas, seven points behind sixth place Adelaide United.

“At the end of the game, everyone kind of fell on their knees,” Western assistant coach Hayden Foxe said, stepping in for suspended head coach John Aloisi.

“The intent and the application and the intensity of the game was very, very high which you’d always face against a Sydney FC team like that.

“It was crazy, wasn’t it, in the end? It could have been 3-3. We created some really good openings.

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“When you play a Sydney FC team like that, they create big opportunities today, we limited them to creating their opportunities and unfortunately, we conceded from set pieces.

“We have to as a collective be better in those moments.

“Yes, we’re frustrated from the results, but from the performance aspect of the game, the boys are giving us everything and what we’re asking of them. The only disappointing thing is we’re not finishing the opportunities that we’re creating.”