Talking points: Are we set for the closest Hyundai A-League season in years?
The Hyundai A-League 2018/19 Season has commenced with a fortnight of football few could’ve predicted.
Six draws in 10 matches have highlighted a league-wide arm-wrestle, and with no side issuing a clear and obvious statement so far it seems the intrigue is set to continue.
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Wellington and Central Coast resembling clubs reborn
The arrivals of Mark Rudan at Wellington Phoenix and Mike Mulvey at Central Coast Mariners has provided a jab in the arm for the recent Hyundai A-League strugglers.
After beginning the Rudan era with a home win over Newcastle Jets in Round 1, Phoenix picked up a valuable point against Brisbane Roar on the road yesterday.
Rudan has made it clear there are no more excuses for Wellington’s record on the road, and the Kiwi outfit resemble a different beast so far.
They’re now level on four points with Sydney FC, Perth Glory and Melbourne City after Round 2’s conclusion, and have established a firm platform to mount further improvement.
Meanwhile, back-to-back draws with Brisbane Roar and Melbourne City has made the Mariners' start to life under Mulvey an encouraging one.
Like Phoenix, the Gosford club appear a team burning with renewed optimism and belief under their Championship-winning coach.
And with the likes of Ross McCormack and Tommy Oar now sporting the Yellow and Blue, the Mariners possess match-winning quality and edge to build upon their strong beginning.
Melbourne Victory’s slow start raising eyebrows
This was not the start to Melbourne Victory’s Championship defence that Kevin Muscat envisaged.
Victory appeared to have snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat against Perth Glory on Sunday evening, until Christopher Ikonomidis' late heroics handed Melbourne their second defeat on the bounce.
The off-season recruitment of the four-time Hyundai A-League Champions whipped up a wave of pre-season anticipation in Melbourne, but despite another masterful display from Keisuke Honda, Victory fans will enter Round 3’s Grand Final re-match against Newcastle Jets biting their fingernails.
Arch-marksman Le Fondre paving the way for Sydney FC
Sydney FC might not have set the new season on fire in their opening two matches, but they still sit on top of the table after Round 2.
And that fact is largely down to the match-winning influence of Adam Le Fondre, who is looking a lethal striking force to be reckoned with.
The Englishman maintained his hot-streak in front of goal with an early Sydney Derby strike on Saturday night, meaning he's found the back of the net in each of his four starts for Steve Corica’s side.
Although the Sky Blues' Round 1 draw against Adelaide suggested there could be teething problems for the reigning Hyundai A-League Premiers, the Harbour City will undoubtedly feel at ease given Le Fondre’s excellent start to life in Sydney.
Who will be the first breakout contender?
The new season is still deep in its infancy but an early contender could emerge in the coming weeks.
Could Tony Popovic’s Perth Glory be the first to nail their title ambitions to the mast? Glory flattered to deceive in Round 1’s draw with Western Sydney Wanderers, but the manner of their triumph against Victory could prove to be a landmark moment for the Western Australians.
THE POPA EFFECT: Popovic's influence clear in Perth's statement win
And what of Melbourne City? Warren Joyce’s side followed up their smash and grab Derby win in Round 1 with a battling 1-1 draw against the Mariners on Saturday, a performance in which City did not play their best but rescued a point regardless.
Both Perth and City join Sydney and Wellington on four points to make up an early top four. With Sydney facing Melbourne City next Friday evening, and Perth entertaining the impressive-looking Brisbane Roar, Round 3 offers a great opportunity for the early pacesetters to deliver a breakout moment.