Dissecting the tussle for top spots

Our stats superstar @AndyHowe_statto details why this season’s run-in to the Hyundai A-League finals is one of the closest in history.

Hyundai A-League Season 10 is set to see one of the closest finishes of any Australian national league season.

After Round 24, just three points separates first from fifth, and within the log-jam there’s just one point between Melbourne Victory at the top and Adelaide United in third.

VIDEO: Hyundai A-League Round 24 review

With a game in hand – albeit against the back-in-form Roar – Melbourne Victory have the edge for the coveted first place and 2014/15 Premiers Plate.

But with the first- and second-placed teams at the end of the regular season each only having to win a home semi-final to make the Grand Final, it’s the five-way tussle for the top two which holds the most interest leading into Round 25.

The battle between the Victory (44 points), Perth (44), Adelaide (43), Wellington (42) and Sydney (41) with three rounds remaining is one of the tightest top two end-of-season races on record.

The closest end to an A-League season (with three rounds remaining) was in 2007/08.

With 30 points apiece Brisbane Roar held top spot on goal difference over Central Coast, followed by Sydney FC on 27. It seemed fourth-placed Newcastle Jets were too far behind on 25 points.

However it was the Jets who almost stole the show, winning their remaining three matches while Brisbane hit a brick wall, only managing one point from a possible nine.

In the end however the also-spluttering Mariners finished on top albeit with a mere one-goal difference margin over Newcastle, both teams ending with 34 points.

When the National Soccer League kicked off in 1977, the promoters could not have wished for a more exciting ending to the first season of the fledgling 14-team national competition.

With three rounds remaining Sydney City held a one-point advantage at the top of the ladder over fellow Sydney club Marconi.

In those days whoever finished top of the NSL ladder were declared Champions – a bold move for the new league trying to establish itself in a finals-familiar Australian sporting landscape.

In the final round Sydney City could only manage a nil-all draw with rivals Sydney Olympic. This meant Marconi had to win their last match at lowly Footscray to finish level on points at the top.

A five-goal victory would secure Marconi the 1977 title on goal difference, a four-goal margin would lock Marconi and Sydney City on goal difference and require a play-off, while any lower winning margin would put Sydney City on top.

With 20 minutes remaining in Marconi’s match in Melbourne the score was 4-0 to the Sydneysiders, and an impossible dream seemed close to reality – until Footscray scored three in the final eight minutes to sink their opponents’ hearts and hand the inaugural NSL title to Sydney City.    

The most intriguing five-way finish in national league history happened six years later.

In 1983 there was a 16-team national league competition with still no finals series (a Championship finals system was adopted the year after).

With three rounds remaining the leading teams were St George (48 points), Sydney City (48), South Melbourne (47), Newcastle KB United (46) and Preston (46).

Ultimately it was St George, with an 18-year-old Robbie Slater in the frontline, who finished at the top - just one point clear of Sydney City (coached by the late and great Eddie Thomson) with Preston a couple more points behind.

The 1988 NSL season ended in a similarly exciting fashion. This was an era when the likes of Graham Arnold (Sydney Croatia) and Frank Farina (Marconi) were banging in the goals.

With three rounds to go, newly-promoted Wollongong Wolves (31 points) were just ahead of glamour clubs Sydney Croatia (30), Marconi (29) and South Melbourne (29).

Croatia hosted Wollongong in the final round, and with South Melbourne losing its last match to Adelaide City, a plucky draw in front of a packed Edensor Park was enough to secure the Premiership for the Wolves in their last round confrontation, on goal difference over both Sydney Croatia and South Melbourne who all finished the 1988 season with 34 points. 

With so many permutations possible for the last three rounds of Hyundai A-League season 10, this year’s climax could well be another one to reminisce about in future.

Follow Andrew Howe’s Aussie football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto

A-League finals