Liberty A-League Lessons: Glory and Adelaide look determined to secure a place in the Liberty A-League finals, writes Angela Christian-Wilkes.
The advantage of a finals series is that the battle to get into the top four of the Liberty A-League becomes just as exciting as the story of those sitting in the precious quartet of places.
A case in point was the intriguing pairing in the “distance derby” between Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix (in current COVID circumstances, “nomadic neighbour derby” may be more fitting but it doesn’t really roll off the tongue as well.)
The meeting between the current holders of the wooden spoon and this season’s bottom-placed side proved to be a litmus test for each team’s progress – and a thoroughly entertaining game of football to boot.
Wellington claimed a 2-1 lead in a high-intensity first half, before Glory rallied to pull off a 3-2 win. The result is reason enough for Perth to celebrate, even before the fact it sees them enter the top four for the first time since 2019, as they continue to rebuild.
In last year’s campaign, the odds were stacked against them. The last-minute appointment of coach Alex Epakis gave him little time to recruit anyone, let alone recruit effectively, and he had 10 days with the squad before their first game. In a season marred by COVID-19 logistics (Perth Glory were postponing games before it was cool!) the side secured a single point. While their efforts may not have been fruitful, they provided a foundation for the future – or the present, as it is now.
What is even more exciting to consider is how the focus of Epakis and the club stretches beyond making a feelgood comeback. Perth Glory are by no means an unsuccessful club in the ALW. However, over their lifetime, they haven’t demonstrated the consistency season to season of a Sydney FC; nor have they experienced the sudden falls and slow rises of a Melbourne Victory. Glory have been one of the most erratic clubs, alternating between finals appearances one season to dwindling mid-table the next.
Yet their current playing group hasn’t been assembled with just this season in mind, with Epakis working on a long-term vision for his side. This squad has layers of experience and development that could translate into sustainable, rather than combustible, success over the coming years. League stalwarts Sarah Carroll, Kim Carroll and Natasha Rigby all provide a scaffold of experience. Youngsters who built their own individual foundations last season, including Hana Lowry and Deborah De La Harpe, re-signed and have continued to impress, while new faces such as Sofia Sakalis – who opened the account early for Glory – Susan Phonsongkham, and Alana Jancevski joined from interstate. Stability has been built throughout with a number of these players penning long-term commitments to the club.
Of course, there are some important players who are here to impact right here right now – this round’s goal scorers, the American Cyera Hintzen and Dane Mie Leth Jans, are prime examples. Unorganised defending from Wellington saw the two internationals score past keeper Lily Alfeld in the last ten minutes of the game.
Perth’s euphoria was inversely matched by heartbreak for Wellington Phoenix. This was the second time that that have had a 2-1 lead swallowed by more experienced opposition. In playing the forthright football that had secured them the lead, the side fell to fatigue.
Beyond the more painful and immediate lessons the game will have imparted, Glory provide an important takeaway on resilience. Glory came into last season under similar circumstances: confusion as to whether they’d even field a team followed by a hasty preseason, COVID hanging over their fixture, young players being thrown into the deep end. On the field, they too spilt leads and collapsed in the final moments of games. At this point in time, Wellington have the same single point that Perth concluded last season with. While difficult to endure right now, Wellington only need to look to their opposition to see how good things come to those who keep plugging away.
Overall, caution is warranted when discussing ladder positions. In nine weeks of the Dub, Wellington is the only side to play nine games and with postponements upending the pecking order, it is hard to get a true sense of where other teams falls. Melbourne Victory sit in fifth place with two games in hand. Given their uneven start combined with the high expectations that follow reigning champions, they will be looking to maximise this advantage, especially with a game apiece against Adelaide and Perth. However, the spectre of a hungry Victory gnashing at their ankles could be just the motivator for both the Reds and Glory to stay focused and not drop points.
Last season was the closest the Reds came to finals football, with their absence not confirmed through a performance of their own, but instead by Victory’s win over Perth Glory which saw them leapfrog to third and push Adelaide out. A single goal was the difference between Adelaide and fourth-placed Canberra, making the miss all the more disappointing.
For debut coach Adrian Stenta, however, this is perhaps an ideal opportunity to make a mark and push a side who already have so much to prove. Thus far, Adelaide have been one of the most consistent attacking sides in the competition, scoring in every game bar one.
However, if last season taught them anything, it that some padding in the goal difference column can make all the difference. Luckily for Adelaide, their 3-0 result over the Wanderers on Friday night was their best win yet. Unluckily for Wanderers, it was their biggest loss, as well as their third running in what is becoming a campaign of attrition.
Brisbane Roar 2-1 loss against Melbourne City further highlights inability to close games early, as they created an abundance of chances from open play in the first half but couldn’t convert. Much in the way that Brisbane themselves sprung back against Wellington a fortnight ago, City returned rejuvenated after the break, with even a converted penalty from Katrina Gorry unable to stem their momentum. City’s win came thanks to a banger free-kick from Rhianna Pollicina and a goal from Hannah Wilkinson’s goal in the dying moments.
The most chaotic game of the round was Newcastle Jets hosting Canberra United. After entering the second half 1-1, the scoreline ping-ponged before Canberra caught back up with a goal from Allira Toby. This was Canberra’s third draw (and third point) of the season, and the second to feature a 3-3 scoreline.
Given their winless campaign, it’s hard to see how they can progress from here. Jets, on the other hand, may still be in with a chance as they too have two games in hand.