Some cracking finishes and surprise results in Round 18 of the Hyundai A-League. Here's your Monday morning wrap of the weekend action across the competition.
It was a goal-fest at Allianz Stadium for the second consecutive week as the Sky Blues came from a goal-down with less than 25 minutes left to win 4-2 over a brave Central Coast Mariners. Marquee man Marc Janko grabbed a brace, the amazing Shane Smeltz came off the bench to score again while Rhyan Grant hit a howitzer from all of 30 yards out. Sydney have now scored 15 goals in their last four matches and remain in fifth spot, but are closing in fast on the top four.
Central Coast Mariners
The Mariners produced their most eye-catching performance of the season in going down to the Sky Blues. While it ultimately ended in yet another defeat, there were some encouraging signs for coach Phil Moss, especially in the front third. New recruit Fabio Ferreira showed he is going to be a massive asset, scoring a double for his sixth goal against Sydney FC in just six matches for the former Red. Still in eighth spot and six points behind the top six, the finals are going to be a challenge for Central Coast.
There was late drama at Coopers Stadium as an injury-time goal to Sergio Cirio snatched a 2-1 win for the Reds over Western Sydney. Down 1-0 at the break Josep Gombau tinkered with his formation and it worked a treat as the Reds laid siege to the visitors goal, first equalising through Bruce Djite before Cirio broke Wanderers' hearts at the death. It was a crucial three points for Adelaide, who are now just two points off the top of the table.
Western Sydney Wanderers FC
The Wanderers tumultuous season took another hit on Saturday night as they conceded in stoppage time for the second straight week. This result will particularly hurt coach Tony Popovic, who saw his side put in a superb display which probably deserved more. Their cause wasn’t helped late on with defender Matthew Spiranovic shown red for a second bookable offence, ruling him out of next weekend’s Sydney derby. Brendon Santalab (shoulder) and Mateo Poljak (fifth yellow card of the season) are also both out of the clash with their fierce city rivals, which comes just three days after they begin their ACL title defence in Japan.
The home side will be wondering how they didn’t take all three points at Lower Hutt, forced to settle for a 2-2 draw with Newcastle Jets on Sunday. While Phoenix dominated most of the action, they found themselves down 2-0 at half-time after some sloppy defending at set pieces. But under Ernie Merrick they are made of sterner stuff and they laid siege to the Jets goal, eventually getting their rewards with goals to Roy Krishna and then a stunning free-kick from Jason Hicks in stoppage time. The point keeps Wellington one point ahead of Sydney FC in fourth spot. Unfortunately for Wellington fans there was no goal to Nathan Burns meaning no free pizza giveaway this week!
The Jets continue to be hard to beat, battling to their second straight draw. Under pressure coach Phil Stubbins seems to have been able to make his players forget about the off-field issues at the club and has them very well organised. But the Jets boss will be disappointed his side wasn’t able to hold on to their two-goal lead late-on. Ben Kantarovski’s dismissal for a second yellow card meant they had to play the last few minutes with 10-men and it proved decisive, with Hicks equalizing soon after. They have at least pulled another point ahead of the Wanderers at the foot of the table with nine rounds remaining.
Melbourne City FC
A scorching Sunday at AAMI Park made it difficult for any high tempo, flowing football with City labouring to a 0-0 draw with league-leaders Perth. John van ‘t Schip’s side had their fleeting moments but either found in-form goal-keeper Danny Vukovic too hard to beat or simply took the wrong option. A frustrating afternoon for City was made worse as they missed the chance to leapfrog Brisbane Roar into the top six, with the Queenslanders now enjoying a game-in-hand due to their postponed clash against Melbourne Victory.
Glory’s tough week off the field didn’t affect them too much as they put on a typically gritty display to stay at the top of the competition for a 15th straight week. But Kenny Lowe’s side has now failed to win any of their last five matches and as a result have seen the chasing pack close in. With just nine rounds there is now just six points separating the top five sides. The return of playmaker Mitch Nichols was a positive for Glory, although the experiment of playing skipper Michael Thwaite in midfield probably didn’t come off.