Sunday, August 08, 2010
Momentum and initiative are such important features in a football game, and a crucial part of a coach's skill is to discern just when the tide is turning against his team, and react accordingly. Last night, I felt that first Vitezslav Lavicka, then Ernie Merrick, missed the moment.
It looked for all the world, after Terry McFlynn's well-taken headed goal, that Sydney were headed for a smooth, relatively untroubled first-up win. But Merrick made a good substitution, replacing the ineffective Surat Sukha with Billy Celeski, and a subtle change occurred.
For one thing, Melbourne went to a back four, with Adrian Leijer switching to right-back. Not earth-shaking in itself. But Celeski joined Carlos Hernandez in the middle, allowing Tom Pondeljak to concentrate exclusively on the right flank, where Sydney are weakest. Mate Dugandzic, who had patrolled the right flank for much of the first period, was thus transformed into an out-and-out striker...and he responded to the show of confidence.
In the passage just following the hour, Lavicka failed to react, and Melbourne were allowed the run of the country. The first two Sydney goals can be put down to Pondeljak's domination of the right flank (Byun Sung-Hwan again showing that he needs to improve his positional play), but Melbourne were only allowed to exploit this because they were able to spread the ball around so easily. Well might Victory fans, seeing Dugandzic's sublime first touch just prior to the equaliser, think "Archie who?".
And so the game was turned on its head. But then Melbourne's temporary initiative died out, and as the minutes ticked down both Hernandez and Pondeljak began to look very tired. This time, Merrick was the one to take his eyes off the metaphorical ball.
Sydney's equaliser may have been a tad fortunate, given that the "foul" by Leijer on Mark Bridge seemed nonexistent, but it was not a surprise that they found a way through. Melbourne's increasing impotence in midfield had allowed Nick Carle (who found the going tough initially) to get into his stride, and the momentum shifted fully in Sydney's favour.
A coach's job is not just about shapes, formations, drills and set-piece preparation. The ability to read a game in real time, in my view, is what really separates the experts from the clipboard-holders.