Saturday, January 20, 2007


Come in Number Three...

Hearty congratulations to Gary van Egmond, and to the Newcastle Jets for becoming the third team to make the A-League finals.

They have certainly deserved it, given their performances throughout the season. Arguably the best side in the competition to watch, they brushed the premiers aside last night in an energetic display, aided by some woeful Melbourne defending.

I felt that van Egmond was taking something of a risk in restoring Paul Okon to central defence in such a crucial game, given his propensity for sudden brain-fades at times this season. Jade North, too, continues to look somewhat uncomfortable in the middle; Archie Thompson made a monkey of him in the first half, after he’d given the ball away. Luckily for van Egmond, Thomspon could only hit the outside of the post.

Yet despite their obvious deficiencies in defence (to which one can add Ante Covic’s often dreadful positioning), Newcastle can be devastating in attack – especially when Nick Carle gets into the groove.

Carle attracts plenty of breathless plaudits, but the hard truth is that he does not always “turn it on”. On difficult surfaces (v. Sydney in Round 18) or in stifling conditions (v. Perth in Round 20) he can struggle. Yet he has looked a re-invigorated player this season, after being deployed wastefully on the wing for much of last season by Richard Money.

Mark Bridge has been one of the season’s great success stories. When I’ve harked back to his indifferent recent spell at Sydney Olympic, my Well-Informed Covite friend (who always keeps me on my toes) has reminded me that Bridge did in fact score a fair few goals for Olympic, and that he had perhaps not the most congenial strike partner in Nick Bosevski, who had an abysmal state league season.

At Newcastle, Bridge has developed into a fine opportunist, a striker of both poise and power. His finish for the first goal last night was far more difficult than it looked, with Roddy Vargas still snapping at his heels and Michael Theoklitos advancing. The fact that Bridge made it look so easy says much about his progress this season.

So, can Newcastle go all the way? Much will depend on other Round 21 results, I feel. If Newcastle can indeed beat the odds and sneak into second place, they would be favourites for the title, in my view. But should they be forced to play off with a side other than the one they have recently humiliated, things won’t be so easy. For the record, I rate them as capable of beating either Sydney or Queensland over two legs…but not Adelaide.

On the matter of the other Round 21 fixtures, Gary van Egmond has become the latest of many to criticize the staggering of the final round of matches. He (and the others) certainly have a point.

Surely the A-League can strike some sort of compromise with Foxtel on this matter. It is absolutely standard practice to have final round games commencing at the same time; even the World Cup, which lives and dies by its TV revenue, follows the accepted procedure.

The whole question of fixtures is one for Matt Carroll to have a very close look at before next season. The demands of Foxtel (and of the other football codes, on shared grounds) are pressing, but surely there can be some improvement on the messy, unbalanced fixture list many clubs were forced to deal with this term.

Good luck in getting Carrol to budge on anything. He's proven himself absolutely immune to both international convention and common sense.

Consider the illogical, not to mention facile, excuses for not having 28 rounds, Carroll said that fans would get bored seeing the same teams play each other, and that scheduling is difficult yet the FFA holds a 6 week preseason contest amongst the same teams.

Watch what will happen with the FFA's finals ticketing fiasco where season ticket holders are not guaranteed the seat that they've had all season.

No effort has been made to accommodate the fans groups who bring so much atmosphere to games. The FFA say that they don't want to show favoritism.

So, in the games that really matter, the Cove, the BWB, the Gate and the Squadron will be spread around the stadium rather than being able to congregate as they usually do.

Both of these actions demonstrate a lack of comprehension of football culture and a shocking contempt for the people who put so much effort into supporting their teams week in week out.
28 Rounds?

Well, I reckon that would be fine if it kicked off earlier, but another 7 rounds in January and February heat?

I would not even watch it from the stands, let alone play in it.
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