Sunday, October 28, 2007
The Unlikely Entertainers
The answer is, I would think, that Perth have actually shown distinct signs of improvement over the last few weeks. Moreover, they have been involved in some of the most entertaining games of the competition.
Last night's battle with Queensland was a great slugfest; the football was not always for the purist, but there was plenty to keep the interest of a neutral spectator. And Perth certainly didn't deserve to lose, whatever their lapses in midfield in the second half; a good thing Jamie Coyne (the man most unlikely) popped up to provide the equalizer.
Smith has been something of a fan's punching-bag this season, but the difficulties he has faced should not be underestimated...nor should his modest achievements, at an individual player level.
To lose both of his first-choice centre-halves so early in the piece was a massive blow. The Stan Lazaridis affair has been an ongoing coach's nightmare; it's the sort of thing over which a manager has no control, but the lack of creativity resulting from the loss of such an experienced, incisive player was bound to have its effect on Perth's results (and quality of play).
Like Culina, he has lost a number of players to international duty, and has had to constantly re-shape his team accordingly.
Like Culina, too, he has made some misjudgements in his recruitment - Mate Dragicevic has been an expensive flop - and shown a curious disinclination to use some of his better players, notably Nick Rizzo and (until recently) Jamie Harnwell.
Yet some of the younger players appear to have thrived under his stewardship. Nikolai Topor-Stanley is playing more effectively than he ever did at Sydney FC; his lead-up play for Perth's second goal last night was outstanding. The Simpson twins have also shown some good signs; having seen plenty of Tyler at Sydney Olympic this winter, I can attest to his improvement under Smith. Dino Djulbic has been a real find: an intelligent, tenacious stopper in the Mark Rudan mould.
The side from the west are, it must be remembered, still without a win. If not for Anthony Danze's catastrophic injury-time error against Sydney FC, they would have gained a well-deserved one two weeks ago. But it surely can't be far off.
Tony Sage, Perth's part-owner, has given a pretty fair summary of the current situation at the club in this interview. Perth are on the mend, but the question of whether they can maintain the current level of improvement will surely decide Smith's fate come the end of the regular season.