Isuzu UTE A-League R7 Talking Points: Irankunda reaction sparks ‘important’ conversation

See every goal from an action packed Round 7 of the Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 season.

These are the key talking points from Round 7 in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Bruno Fornaroli became the third player in A-Leagues history to reach the 100-goal milestone, scoring four goals in Melbourne Victory’s thrilling 4-3 win over Western Sydney Wanderers, while Macarthur FC’s undefeated start to the season continued.

Adelaide United fell to defeat against Brisbane Roar, but most of the post-game discourse centred on the performance of Nestory Irankunda.

Newcastle Jets have unearthed a diamond in the rough and Western United’s season went from bad to worse, heaping further pressure on coach John Aloisi.

With a lot to dissect, here are the key talking points from Round 7 of the Isuzu UTE A-League.

UNITE ROUND TICKETS ON SALE NOW: Get your tickets for the ultimate away day here

Bruno makes A-Leagues history

Bruno Fornaroli became the third player to reach 100 A-Leagues career goals after scoring four in Melbourne Victory’s 4-3 win over Western Sydney Wanderers.

The 36-year-old’s bag of four goals saw him join Jamie Maclaren (148 goals) and Besart Berisha (142 goals) as the only players to reach the milestone in the history of the competition.

Fornaroli is now up to 11 goal in just seven matches this season, comfortably sitting clear atop the Golden Boot standings.


Incredibly, he has scored more goals than Wellington Phoenix (10 goals), Melbourne City (10 goals), Sydney FC (eight goals), Perth Glory (nine goals) and Western United (three goals), and is also level with Central Coast Mariners.

“All the goals are great because they’re all different goals for Bruno,” Victory coach Tony Popovic said.

“I think that’s what’s most pleasing, that’s what he’s added a lot this year is his scoring inside the box.

“The goals he scores outside the box are because of his quality and talent and that will always remain, but he’s adding more.”

It continues an incredible start to the campaign that has Fornaroli sitting well clear atop the Golden Boot standings after seven rounds and right in contention for a call-up to the Socceroos squad for next month’s AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.

“It (a Socceroos recall) is not a question for me. That’s a question for the national team coach,” Popovic said.

“But we’re delighted with how he’s playing and not just his scoring.”

Since arriving in the A-Leagues in 2015, Fornaroli has gone on to become one of the competition’s deadliest strikers, firing home 48 goals for Melbourne City, 34 for Perth Glory and now, 18 with Victory.

Fornaroli came into the season with 89 goals to his name, but has managed to reach the 100 mark in only seven games, scoring a whopping 11 goals – including two bags of four goals against Newcastle and now Western Sydney.

Wanderers boss Marko Rudan had a simple message when asked about his performance post-game.

“I told you so.”

It came after the Wanderers boss spoke at length in his pre-game press conference about the quality of Fornaroli, ranking him alongside Berisha as the top two strikers in competition history.

Irankunda’s disappointment after tough afternoon

It was a tough afternoon for Adelaide United’s Nestory Irankunda on Sunday.

Irankunda was subbed off in the second half after a quiet showing in their 2-0 loss to Brisbane Roar on Sunday afternoon. The 17-year-old covered his face with his jersey and his hands as the cameras panned to him.

“Nestor’s just disappointed with his performance,” Adelaide coach Carl Veart said post-game.

“He’s just disappointed that we lost and that’s all it is. He expects more from himself. He’s still a young player that has got a long way to go and a lot to learn.

“Tonight he wasn’t at his best and it’s about us helping him to find the tools to get better and have an influence in the game when it’s needed.”

Meanwhile, on Network 10, A-Leagues legend Roy O’Donovan believes Irankunda needs “an arm around him” as he continues to grow as a professional footballer, suggesting a break from playing could also help him.

“He’s under huge pressure, right? He’s the great hope of Australian football,” he said.

“You have to remember he’s only 17. He’s still going through puberty. He’s got a lot of emotions and he’s got a lot of pressure to deal with now.

“He didn’t deal with it well, today. He didn’t deal with it well a couple of weeks ago.

“He needs an arm around the shoulder, most definitely, but, he needs maybe some time away from the pitch.”

Former Socceroo Luke Wilkshire thinks Irankunda has the support system around him to get his emotions back in check.

“At the moment, you can clearly see that he’s not ready to be, if we talk about Socceroos and things like this international football, because you’ve got be able to manage your emotions, because you’re gonna get it and that’s whatever age you are,” he said.

“But he’s got people there like Carl (Veart), Mark Milligan. Who’s there. Who’s been around it. That’s going to be very important in managing him now going forward because, we all want to see him at his best, but everyone knows to be at your best, you need to be happy. You need to be good and clear in your mind.

“Thankfully he’s got those people around him to help him through.”

MATCH REPORT: Brisbane’s red-hot start continues with impressive victory over Adelaide

Adelaide United legend Bruce Djite and Network 10’s Max Burford also weighed in on Irankunda’s situation.

“I agree with what Roy and what Luke are saying, about controlling your emotions,” Djite said.

“Yes, there’s there’s some pressure on him, not a lot of pressure, I mean, it’s not quite Craig Goodwin. I feel like ‘Goody’ had a lot of pressure on him last season because he really was the talisman. He was the captain.

“Of course, he’s a more mature player, but if you can’t control your emotions and I wonder why he’s crying when he gets subbed? Is he crying because the team’s not doing well?”

Burford responded: “The pressure that maybe he just puts on himself like he was the last one to walk off here from signing a lot of the autographs.

“A lot of these kids, they come to see Nestor and Nestor only is that is that the pressure that he might put on himself?”

Djite said: “Potentially. But look, Bayern Munich and Adelaide United, they’re another galaxy right, and that’s where he’s chosen to go.

“There’s other young players all around the world with much more pressure that are dealing with it that little bit better. It’s still a long way to go for Nestor. He’s lucky to be in this environment where everyone’s looking after him. Everyone’s got their arm around him and he’ll bounce back.

“But it’s a good showing to not just us but the public more broadly that this is a kid on a journey. We need to support that journey. Maybe we need to pump him up a little bit less, but an exciting talent.

“Let’s just hope that he can go from strength to strength.”

Macarthur’s hot streak continues

From the wooden spoon to top of the table in the space of a few months.

It’s been some turnaround from Macarthur FC, who sit top of the Isuzu UTE A-League standings at the end of Round 7 after a 2-0 win over Sydney FC. The Bulls are now unbeaten from their opening seven games, continuing an incredible hot streak.

They’ve incredibly been able to muster up this fast start despite juggling an intense AFC Cup campaign that will have seen them play four of their six group stage games outside of Australia by the time Thursday’s contest against Dynamic Herb Cebu is over.

Yet, they’re in pole position to progress to the knockout stages in their first Asian voyage too and Sterjovski believes they have the strength in numbers to continue this solid start.

MATCH REPORT: Macarthur go top of the table after road win over resilient 10-man Sky Blues

“With the scheduling we’ve had in the last couple of months we have to use a lot of the squad and rotate certain players,” Sterjvoski said.

“Everyone’s putting in a shift and each player that we put in we can rely on.

“They’re doing a job and it’s made a big difference for us this year.

“The players really believe and we’re heading in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, it was a disappointing loss for the Sky Blues, who sit 10th on the standings with only six points to their name.

Sydney’s job was made all the more difficult when goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne was sent off, and despite their numerical disadvantage, they still managed to create a number of quality opportunities which they were unable to convert throughout a frustrating evening at Allianz Stadium.

“The disappointing side is that we didn’t reward ourselves with what we created, as I believe we deserved something from the game. The way we wanted to play was important and I thought we did that well with 10 men,” Sydney coach Ufuk Talay said.

“Even with 10, in the second half we pinned them back – it’s normal that they’ll break at times with the extra player they have. The boys were aggressive, we created opportunities, but just didn’t reward ourselves in those moments.

“I need to see [the red card] again – I’ve only seen it live – it looked then as if the ball moved toward Redders’ arm rather than his arm toward the ball. Whether the ball’s going in the goal is a different story as well. The referee made a decision and we have to live with it.”

‘Penny drops’ for new Jets signing

The red-hot form of Apostolos Stamatelopoulos has been one of the surprise packages of the opening seven rounds of the Isuzu UTE A-League season.

Stamatelopoulos took his tally to six goals this season, after scoring a brace in Newcastle Jets’ 3-0 win over Wellington Phoenix on Saturday, handing Giancarlo Italiano’s side their first loss in the league this campaign.

The 24-year-old striker has been a man on a mission since returning to the Jets this off-season following a stint overseas in Greece after initially playing for Adelaide United, Western United and Newcastle prior to his departure from the A-Leagues.

MATCH REPORT: Phoenix stunned in Wellington as Jets soar to shock win over league leaders

Prior to this season, Stamatelopoulos had only scored 13 senior goals in 76 appearances, but he has just about scored half of that amount in only six appearances.

“He’s well prepared, he’s strong, he’s determined… he’s arrived here with a changed mindset,” Jets coach Rob Stanton said.

“He’s just settled, he got married. Everyone has periods in their life where you could go up or down, and I think pennies have dropped in his head … he doesn’t want to look back on his career and think what might have been.

“He’s going to be great for us.”

Return of Socceroo sparks City

Mathew Leckie marked his first start of the 2023-24 season with the winning goal in Melbourne City’s 2-1 win over Perth Glory on Friday night.

Leckie missed the opening month of the Isuzu UTE A-League season as he worked his way back from a knee injury suffered on international duty in September and a related setback.

The 32-year-old attacker returned against Ventforet Kofu in the Asian Champions League as a substitute, and in the league last week against Newcastle Jets, before returning to the XI in the victory over Perth.

MATCH REPORT: Socceroos star shines as City triumph over Perth on the road

It comes at the perfect time for City, who are still in the midst of a heavy schedule due to their commitments in Asia, but also for Leckie as he looks to earn a place in the Socceroos’ Asian Cup squad.

“Excellent,” City coach Aurelio Vidmar said about the performance.

“He has done a mountain of work during the time he has been injured, a fair bit of running and getting himself as fit as possible, but it’s the never same as the sharpness you need in a football game.

“I think what was really important just for his mind was the game against Kofu that he had a couple of minutes on the pitch and felt ok and then we build that in the game against Newcastle and he felt and recovered really well.

“Today’s a little bit different because he started, so let’s see how he recovered, but he’s a super important player for the team.

“We need a Lecks that’s fit and strong and ready to go. I think he’ll only get better.”

However, City could have easily been down to 10 players had Callum Talbot’s red card stood for bringing down Salim Khelifi in the first-half, with Daniel Cook’s initial decision being overturned by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

And Glory coach Alen Stajcic believed the decision should have stood.

“(Khelifi) was in on goal, Talbot was the last player,” the Glory coach said.

“I know Curtis Good was coming from an angle, and when you stop it and slow it down and give Curtis Good time to get back after the 55th frame of Salim being on the floor, then he was in behind.

“But he was 20 metres away to start with, and he wouldn’t have caught Salim.

“So for me it wasn’t a clear and obvious error, and the red card should have stood.”

But Vidmar disagreed.

“It was a surprise it was (originally) a red,” he said.

“There were at least a couple of defenders from memory right there. It was just a normal foul that could happen everywhere, so I was really surprised with the red.”

Western’s misery continues as they fall to sixth straight defeat

Western United’s season went from bad to worse on Friday night.

John Aloisi’s side fell to 4-0 defeat at the hands of Central Coast Mariners at Industree Group Stadium, which is their sixth successive defeat and has left them rooted to the bottom of the table after seven rounds.

During this spell, Western have only scored once but conceded 15 goals. Incredibly, in at least four of those games, Aloisi’s charges should have at least taken something from the game, having squandered a number of quality chances in each of those contests.

But they were completely outplayed by the Mariners, with Aloisi describing the performance as the worst of his tenure.

“No player wants to go out there and say they haven’t competed. But I don’t disagree with what he (Aloisi) said,” Daniel McBreen said on Paramount + after the game.

“Three set pieces. The last one, I think it was 11 Western United players in the box and Alou Kuol jumps up and wins a header above all of them, like not one person blocking, not one person jumping and leaping. It was a consistent theme throughout the game.

“We heard Harps (Andy Harper) say during the the the call that when the front line pressed, the back line wasn’t and there was too much gap in space between… These are the fundamental basics of your structure and your football in game, so I don’t disagree on that side of thing.

“What I can say is that after five losses, and I don’t know whether the players think they’re similar to us, that we think they should be playing a different style or formation, whatever you want to say or to some players in different areas.

“But after five losses, confidence can go, and sometimes you can start to see the cracks appear and go if we go now, we might get pinched off again and and we might concede on a goal, when we’re not quite in sync and then things can start to the cracks can get wider and wider.

“Six losses in a row. Questions now have to be asked of the team, the structure, the whole lot because it’s dire.”

Western’s next clash comes against Brisbane Roar on Friday night at AAMI Park, the first matchup between John and Ross Aloisi as head coaches. Another loss for Western and the pressure will only continue to mount on the 2022 Isuzu UTE A-League Championship winning coach.

“Well, it could also be one hell of a Christmas dinner at the Aloisi household,” Matilda Grace Gill added.

“I really agree with his comments as well and I think for a coach, when you see growth in your team, even if you aren’t getting the results, yes, you need to be winning, you need to be getting results.

“But across the last few results Aloisi reflected back and said, Yep, we’re playing reasonable football, we’re creating chances, we’re getting to the right areas. We’re just not getting that final pass.

“But week in, week out, you can see it. You have a level of comfort in that, but Aloisi reflected just then, tonight was not that at all and I think he was honestly reflecting on himself, on the team and I respect that about a coach when they can sit back and say, ‘Absolutely, that was not good enough… I’m not gonna make any excuses. We need to take a good hard look at ourselves’ and that’s exactly what they’re gonna have to do.”

MATCH REPORT: Central Coast heap further pain on Western United with resounding victory in Gosford

McBreen added that he has concerns about the current makeup of the squad that has undergone a major overhaul since they won the title just over a year-and-a-half ago.

“Well, Johnny said that team… that he’s got won the Championship less than a season and a half ago,” he said.

“There’s no (Aleksandar) Prijovic, there’s no Leo Lacroix, who was monumental in the back of that team. I remember back in the pre-season when they played in the in the Australia Cup against Edgeworth away, and they won that game quite convincingly and after the game, we sat down with a couple of people around and we said, ‘Who is going to be that Prijoivic? Who is going to be that leader at the back?’

“And you just sort of couldn’t quite see that quality in those two positions that are going to take them to that next level which won them the Championship and I think we’re starting to see that a little bit now.

“I’ve said it and I’ll say again, I think some of the players are playing out of position as well, which doesn’t help them for their confidence.”