Hyundai A-League season highlights so far

As we move into Round 9 and a third of the way into the regular season, New Zealand based Hyundai A-League expert Jason Pine (@pineyzb) looks at the season highlights so far and picks the unsung heroes who are powering their sides.

How are the teams travelling?

Sydney FC have come charging out of the blocks, winning their first six matches and going unbeaten through their first eight. Consistency of selection has been key, with Graham Arnold using just 12 players in his starting eleven, ten of who have started every game.

Arsenal inspiring Sydney FC’s Hyundai A-League run

Of the chasing pack, the two Melbourne sides look most likely to mount a challenge. 

City are starting to flex their muscles and have the firepower to decimate any side, while Victory have won their last two without conceding and also boast an impressive strike-force.

Brisbane and Perth have had moments of promise and both have proven goal-scorers. Despite winning just once in their first eight games, Western Sydney can never be discounted.

The Jets, Mariners and Phoenix have had some high points, but must find greater consistency to threaten the top six, and while Adelaide United have endured a miserable start to their title defence, we don’t need reminding of their remarkable run from last to first in the 2015/16 Season. 

Adelaide United players celebrate their equaliser against Brisbane on Friday night.

Best games?

The opening weekend provided plenty of action with a record Hyundai A-League crowd of 61,880 watching Sydney FC thrash the Wanderers 4-0 in the Sydney Derby.

Sydney Derby analysis: huge night for football

Out west, there was a classic comeback as Central Coast recovered from a 3-0 deficit after little more than half an hour to snatch a share of the points against Perth Glory in a six-goal thriller, also in the opening round. 

Two weeks later, Glory were again involved in a see-saw battle, taking the lead three times against Melbourne City to eventually win 3-2 courtesy of an Andy Keogh hat-trick, despite coach Kenny Lowe being sent to the stands for his reaction to a penalty given against his side.

The highly-anticipated first Melbourne derby also didn’t disappoint (unless you’re a Victory fan) as a Tim Cahill-inspired City humbled their cross-town neighbours 4-1 in front of over 43,000 fans at Etihad Stadium. 

But Victory did put six past Phoenix in their traditional pre-Melbourne Cup clash, winning 6-1. And the Big V’s 2-1 win away to the Reds on October 22 was pulsating entertainment. 

Melbourne Victory players celebrate one of their six goals in the rout of Wellington Phoenix.

Best goals?

Tim Cahill announced himself less than half an hour into his Hyundai A-League debut with an audacious long-range strike in the Melbourne derby.

Top 10 Hyundai A-League long-range screamers

Marco Rojas’s consolation goal in the same game was almost as impressive – maybe even better – as the “Kiwi Messi” wriggled past three defenders before calmly slotting home. 

Adelaide’s Tarek Elrich can always be relied on to score at least one cracker per campaign and he delivered early in the 2016/17 Season, curling in an eye-catching left-footer against Victory in round three, while Sydney FC midfielder Josh Brillante busted the net with a pile-driver in the Round 7 clash with Brisbane. 

Tim Cahill silenced the Victory crowd with his stunning first-half strike.

Who’s caught the eye?

Sydney FC’s Milos Ninkovic has been the undoubted star for the league leaders, mixing goals and assists in some dominant midfield displays. The free role afforded the Serbian by Graham Arnold is paying huge dividends.

Reigning Golden Boot holder Bruno Fornaroli has quickly picked up where he left off last season, netting seven goals for Melbourne City to lead all scorers and presenting a constant menace to opposition defenders.

Across town, Marco Rojas has reminded us just what we’ve been missing these last three seasons, recapturing the form which earned him the Johnny Warren Medal in the 2012/13 Season.

Hyundai A-League talking points: Round 8

Sydney FC's Milos Ninkovic celebrates scoring against the Pohang Steelers on Matchday 4 of the ACL.

Unsung heroes?

Sydney FC’s midfielder Brandon O’Neill has provided the perfect foil for Ninkovic with some exceptional performances, while behind him, Matt Jurman proves week-in, week-out what a valuable defender he has become (his Terry Butcher-esque bloodied and bandaged head last Saturday night just adding to sky blue admiration for their big stopper). 

Roy O’Donovan has been a tireless worker for the Mariners, banging in four goals and dragging his side somewhat unexpectedly into the top six. 

Neil Kilkenny’s form at Melbourne City hasn’t attracted the headlines, but he’s certainly been effective, as has Sydney FC’s Michael Zullo down the left side of defence, likewise Jack Clisby over at Wanderers. 

And while the Phoenix are languishing near the bottom of the table, Glen Moss has been among the best shot-stoppers in the Hyundai A-League. 

His teammate, Wellington’s Roy Krishna with five goals, has quietly continued his fine form from the Rio Olympics, where he scored Fiji’s first goal at the tournament. He’s just two goals behind Bruno Fornaroli as we head into Round 9.

Hyundai A-League results, video and reaction: Round 8