Isuzu UTE A-League R10 Talking Points: Defender’s ‘year of pain’ revealed after out-of-position masterclass

These are the key talking points from Round 10 in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Central Coast Mariners and Perth Glory played out a New Year’s Eve classic in Gosford, with the reigning Isuzu UTE A-League champions coming away 4-2 victors. However, the match wasn’t without controversy, which left Perth boss Alen Stajcic scratching his head.

Melbourne Victory continued their unbeaten start to the season in a 2-0 win over Adelaide United and their archrivals Melbourne City recorded the equal-largest win in competition history in their 8-1 dismantling of Brisbane Roar.

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Meanwhile, Wellington Phoenix lost to Sydney FC, but one of their young stars stood out again and Newcastle Jets head coach Robbie Stanton delivered a promising update on the club’s ownership situation after their 2-0 win over Western United.

With a lot to dissect, here are the key talking points from Round 10 of the Isuzu UTE A-League.

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Popovic hails unsung hero: ‘Talk about adversity’

Bruno Fornaroli and Zinedine Machach grabbed the headlines after leading Melbourne Victory past Adelaide United 2-0 on Saturday night.

AFC Asian Cup-bound Socceroo Fornaroli scored his league-leading 13th goal of the season after Machach broke the deadlock in the 73rd minute in the Original Rivalry at AAMI Park.

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But there was another assured performance from defender Jason Geria, who was deployed as a left-back in the absence of Adama Traore (concussion).

Victory boss Tony Popovic praised the 30-year-old while revealing the extent of his injury struggles which limited the veteran to just 15 league matches last term.

Asked to talk about Geria and whether he felt he was underrated, Popovic told reporters: “He’s not underrated by anyone here, certainly not me or anyone at this football club.

“Talk about adversity, he went through a lot last season. Basically a whole year in pain with a hip injury. In the first 10 games, I think he’s been involved in five or six. He is still finding his way.

“We’re trying to help him navigate that and get stronger with his body.

“I don’t know if he’s ever played left-back before and against that type of opposition, I thought he was outstanding. We’re very happy.

“We have to keep getting him stronger physically but I’m hoping in another 10 games time he will be in even physically better shape than he is now.”

Stajcic weighs in on three moments of controversy in Glory loss to Mariners

Perth Glory boss Alen Stajcic was left disappointed with a host of decisions that went against his side in their 4-2 loss to Central Coast Mariners on New Year’s Eve.

Glory took the lead through Adam Taggart, before three goals prior to half-time from Jacob Farrell, Marco Tulio and Alou Kuol gave the Mariners the lead.

Stefan Colakovski pulled one back to set up a grandstand finish, but Tulio wrapped up the win, scoring his second of the game from the spot – either side of red cards to Glory defenders Mark Beevers and Aleksandar Susnjar.

However, there were moments of controversy sprinkled throughout the contest, which Stajcic and his Glory charges were left frustrated with after the full-time whistle.

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The first, was a potential foul in the lead-up to Kuol’s go-ahead goal. Storm Roux and Salim Khelifi clashed in the middle of the park, with the contact sending both players spinning to the ground, and the loose ball fell to Tulio to launch an attack.

A VAR check occurred in the aftermath to ensure no foul was committed by Roux on Khelifi in the build-up, but play was allowed to resume.

“I thought the second goal, Salim was clearly fouled. So how can I tell my player to recover or make a recovery run when he’s fouled and on the ground and they counter attack and score?” Stajcic said post-game.

“We’ve just had a look at the video, clearly got kicked by Storm Roux, so there’s not much else you can do. We can defend the next actions and try and do better, but it’s not easy when you’re in possession of the ball or you’re trying to get the ball when one of your key players gets fouled.”

Stajcic also took issue with another incident between Susnjar and Max Balard in the lead-up to the Mariners’ second penalty of the game.

Susnjar was breaking forward down the left-flank, but went to ground after having the ball taken away from him by Balard. Despite staying down following the contact, referee Jack Morgan waved play on, which in the same counter attack resulted in the aforementioned penalty.

“I think Maxy (Balard) might have nicked the ball, but either way you tripped him after, so I don’t think it really matters whether you touch the ball or not if you trip someone even after the action,” he said.

“For me, two of their goals came possibly controversially, but ultimately, we can only control what we can control.”

Then, in the dying minutes, substitute David Williams capitalised on an error from Dan Hall and was pulled off balance by the Mariners defender before he put his effort wide of the goal.

“For me, it was a clear cut pen,” he said.

“Dan Hall pulled him back. (NRL star) Nathan Cleary would have been disappointed if he missed a tackle like that. He dropped off him two times after he tried to tackle him, so if he was one of my Panthers, Ivan (Cleary) wouldn’t have been very happy.

“For me that’s a clear cut red card. Dan Hall lost the ball, footy tackled him two times. Fell to the ground, Willo misses the goal, so because you don’t fall over, you don’t get a pen like it’s just a clear pen and red card.”

‘Exceptional’ Phoenix star puts on a show in defeat to Sky Blues: ‘He’s different’

In a 3-1 loss to Sydney FC on Friday night, 21-year-old Wellington Phoenix midfielder Ben Old had a night to remember as a standout performer in a losing side.

On a night when Sydney stifled Wellington with relentless pressing, dominating possession and shots on goal as a result, Old showed time and again his ability to withstand pressure in tight spaces and launch Phoenix attacks with a combination of neat footwork and devastating pace.

Old set up Wellington’s solitary goal of the night – a Kosta Barbarouses equaliser in the 80th minute which, at the time, looked likely to net the ‘Nix a share of the points.

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After watching Old show out in a 3-1 defeat to the Sky Blues, Paramount+ presenter Daniel Garb was joined by former A-Leagues strikers Grace Gill and Daniel McBreen in heaping praise on the young Phoenix talent for his mercurial display.

“Wasn’t he fantastic, Ben Old? He Just seems to be a player who expresses himself with so much freedom,” said Garb.

“He’s exceptionally quick off the mark,” McBreen replied.

“He can just swivel the hips, and all of a sudden he’s gone in the other direction. Then he just runs away and leaves people in his wake. He was fantastic tonight, was obviously their best, had a hand in their goal… in tight areas, he’s so good.”

Old is quickly becoming one of Wellington’s key offensive contributors off the back of a three-game starting run.

His seven prior appearances this season all came off the bench, but Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano has seen something in his creative midfielder of late that has resulted in a greater share of minutes and a stellar run of form.

“You see class players and sometimes they’re only good in space, when they’ve got green grass in front of them,” added Gill.

“Ben Old, he’s different. Different gravy. Really good in tight spaces, great with the ball at his feet and running at pace which is a rare skill. For a young guy, he’s a super exciting player.”

Ben Old tangles with Sydney’s Gabriel Lacerda in Friday night’s clash at Allianz Stadium.
The kids get it done in Western Sydney

Western Sydney Wanderers boss Marko Rudan turned to the kids again on New Year’s Day and it was the young brigade that helped them over the line in a 3-1 victory at CommBank Stadium.

Seven of Western Sydney’s starting line-up against Macarthur FC were under the age of 22, which included regular starters Nicolas Milanovic, Lachlan Brook and Aidan Simmons, alongside debuting goalkeeper Jack Gibson, Alex Bonetig, Oscar Priestman and Alex Badolato.

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Priestman and Bonetig made their second successive starts and Badolato was in his first of the campaign, and impressed on the wing, coming close to scoring a wonderful goal in the second-half.

Meanwhile, Gibson was handed his debut in Wanderers colours ahead of Daniel Margush, due to Lawrence Thomas being away on international duty with the Socceroos.

Gibson wasn’t called into action much throughout the 90 minutes, and couldn’t do much to deny Jake Hollman’s wonder strike in the first-half, but looks set to assume the mantle of No.1 goalkeeper while Thomas is away for the next month due to the AFC Asian Cup.

“He’s (Gibson) been good ever since he came into our environment,” Rudan told Paramount+ post-game.

“In pre-season he’s been great. I always tell players, you’ve got to be ready for the opportunity. The opportunity only arises when you’re ready.

“You look at Badolato as well. It was his first start and I thought he was really good. There’s a lot of young kids out there today and they understand their roles and responsibilities and then you feed them with confidence, and they don’t let you down.

“I’ve always said that we’ve got a really good bunch, that the plan is moving forward at this football club, as long as I’m here, is just to continue to inject this youth and to continue to develop them because they’ve got what it takes and you’ve got to back them in.

“But they’ve got to take their chances as well and today I thought the majority of them took their opportunity.”

How City rout can be a ‘turning point’ in their season

Melbourne City head into the new year with a pep in their step after demolishing Brisbane Roar 8-1 on Thursday night.

It was City’s best performance of the campaign by a country mile, carving through Brisbane with ease, as the likes of Jamie Maclaren, Tolgay Arslan, Aziz Behich, Leo Natel and Marin Jakolis took over at AAMI Park.

The win catapulted the reigning Isuzu UTE A-League premiers back into the top six, while simultaneously sending a statement to the rest of the competition that they’re well and truly back in business after an inconsistent start to the season.

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City’s opening few months of the campaign have also been jampacked, juggling league, AFC Champions League and Australia Cup commitments, playing primarily off short turnarounds and a heavy travel schedule throughout the last few months, while also juggling a mounting injury toll among a mostly brand new team.

They’ve played 20 matches in all competitions already.

But now, they’re coming out the other side of their hectic schedule, with a seven game unbeaten run in all competitions in their backs heading into 2024.

City boss Aurelio Vidmar was asked if the win over Brisbane could be seen as an example of what they can do when they perform at their best, as they look to close the gap on the early season pace setters.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a catalyst for the season, but it’s a good turning point,” Vidmar said.

“I would say we’ve done work, but it’s just been in short blocks because we’ve never been able to have a long week in terms of preparing.

“They’re smart players, so they get it and a lot of the concepts that during the course of our game, we’ve been doing at training, but in short blocks.

“Last week we spent a bit of time in the front third… That is one area that we’ve spoken about with the coaching staff, about just having some more concentrated moments and sessions in the front third.

“But even the last… four or five days, even the players now, because of, no travel, no backup games, they’re spending even just 10 or 15 minutes at the end of training, just doing the finishing by themselves.

“I think that’s a good sign as well that they’re hungry for it.”

Stanton’s ‘encouraging’ Jets ownership update

Newcastle Jets finally celebrated a home victory on Saturday evening following a 2-0 win over Western United despite Apostolos Stamatelopoulos’ red card.

A Trent Buhagiar brace guided the Jets past Western for their first home win of the season at McDonald Jones Stadium, where Newcastle scored more than one goal against John Aloisi’s side for the first time in their history.

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But there was more promising news in the aftermath of the youthful team’s third triumph of the campaign as head coach Robert Stanton provided an update on the ownership situation.

The Jets are in the process of finding a buyer for the Isuzu UTE A-League club. The current owners of Newcastle are a consortium of parties linked to other A-Leagues teams who stepped in to support the Jets amid the COVID-19 crisis in 2021.

In his post-match news conference, Stanton told reporters: “I’ve had talks with potential owners. They’ve listened to me, I’ve listened to them.

“It’s making sure we’re on similar pages with what their vision is and what I’ve been working on.

“There’s some positive things there. Until it’s done and it all happens, we will just wait and see. I’m focused on laying some foundations.

“We have some really good kids coming through. They’re not ready yet but they’re getting training sessions with these boys and they’re from Newcastle. We will try to find some of the best talent and develop the best boys we have too. We’re trying to organise that and get that ready.

“That’s an important foundation we’re trying to lay. It’s sort of work no one sees but hopefully down the track it will come to life.”

Pressed on whether the talks were “encouraging” for fans after the Jets condemned Western to an eighth defeat in 10 games, Stanton added: “I think so. They have a vision and whoever buys it will explain what they want to do.

“I found it encouraging. Their look at what they want to do is good and a bit different. It’s forward thinking.

“If we can make the team reflect that as well, it’ll be good. In the end the fans buy in to what they see on the pitch. We’ve been trying to do that since day one.”