Friday, August 07, 2009
There were, in fact, plenty of parallels with the Mariners' dogged first-up win over Sydney FC in the first round of the 2007/08 season. An early, demoralising goal (or two), followed by a lull towards the end of the first half; then, the hosts come out firing in the second, but can't quite deliver a telling final ball to break the Mariners' stern resistance.
McKinna won the tactical battle, without doubt. He may have had last season's grand final in mind; in that game, the early sendoff of Cristiano forced Adelaide into a defensive posture early on. But this stifled Melbourne, who prefer their opponents to commit plenty of men forward, so that they can pick them off with swift breakaways...often arising from canny through-balls from Kevin Muscat.
Cleverly, McKinna detailed Brad Porter and Adam Kwasnik to be "defending forwards", with both tracking back effectively and diligently throughout. This allowed the midfield three to become nicely compact, and Carlos Hernandez often found himself squeezed out of the action by a combination of Pedj Bojic and John Hutchinson. With the centre so well-buffered, it was left to Melbourne's wide men to make things happen; but, as so often, Melbourne's play out wide proved their weak point. For all his eager running, Evan Berger's use of the ball was very poor throughout, and the combination of Tom Pondeljak and Matthew Kemp on the other flank never clicked, largely due to the defensive efforts of Dean Heffernan and Kwasnik.
Having said all that, the Mariners were hardly magnificent. Danny Vukovic still looks far from confident following his Asian Champions League embarrassments, and there were some hesitant moments from Alex Wilkinson, another player whose reputation has suffered of late. On the plus side, Michael McGlinchey had a bright debut, and Pedj Bojic, although a tad too agricultural in his challenges at times, did add some much-needed mongrel to the Central Coast midfield.
Ernie Merrick, for his part, must be concerned at his side's pitiful use of the ball in the final third. Interestingly, it was Nick Ward, hardly a success in that department last season, who finally created a couple of half-chances near the end with two useful crosses. Many teams will operate with a packed middle against Melbourne this season, and they will need to be able to counter the strategy (not to mention the Mariners' tactic of falling back immediately as soon as Melbourne secured possession in the back third) if they are to emulate last season's achievements.
I also felt it was CCM's high pressing that gave them the majority of the possession in the first half and allowed them to play a more effective short passing game then mlb horrible Kevin Muscut long ball guff.