Talking points: Phoenix's shock win over Sydney shakes Hyundai A-League foundations
Mark Rudan arrived in New Zealand earlier this year mindful of a colossal assignment, one that may even dwarf the countries many spectacular peaks.
Round 7's away date at Sydney FC, the club Rudan led to inaugural Hyundai A-League glory? Surely the most ominous early test of the 44-year-old’s mountain to climb in the Kiwi capital, considering the Nix last beat Sydney FC in March 2016.
But after masterminding a 3-1 win over the Sky Blues in their own backyard, Rudan’s re-born Phoenix have established base camp in their task of reaching the Hyundai A-League precipice.
The Kiwis had shipped eleven goals in their last three matches against the reigning Hyundai A-League Premiers and had picked up just one point from their previous eight away matches before Saturday afternoon’s kick off.
However, led by the searing pace of Roy Krishna and the immense Steven Taylor, the Phoenix stunned Steve Corica’s side and left Jubilee Stadium with a potentially game-changing result – and the shock of the Hyundai A-League season so far.
Incredibly, it was the first time Sydney FC had conceded three first half goals since Round 23 of the 2015/16 campaign - a match they lost 3-1 at home to Wellington Phoenix.
Rude shock for Corica’s stunned Sydney FC
In contrast, Rudan’s former employers were left feeling slightly blue.
The visit of Wellington may have prompted a ‘business as usual’ feel for Corica’s men, who were fielded in an unchanged starting eleven for the sixth consecutive week.
Not since November 2009, where Corica himself was a player, have Sydney FC maintained such consistent first team selection.
Yet this could be a result that upsets the applecart, and provides a timely reminder that Sydney FC’s once-peerless blueprint needs to be updated for the club to remain at the top.
Quite simply, Sydney FC have not suffered defeats so comprehensive in nature in recent years. The Sky Blues have now lost as many games at home this season as they did in the whole of last campaign.
Resilient Victory powering on
Melbourne Victory are evolving with formidable intent.
Only five players from last season’s Grand Final starting eleven remained for the visit of Adelaide United on Saturday, but the result was a fifth straight win for Kevin Muscat’s side.
The reigning Champions may have reeled in the opening two rounds but are proving capable fighters in adversity.
On Saturday, they overcame the early departure of Georg Niedermeier to preserve a second straight clean sheet, despite being outshot 16 to 8 on the night.
It’s the first time Victory have kept back-to-back clean sheets since a run of three games in April 2017, and highlights the blend of resilience and star power within their ranks.
Glory flex muscles in Castro return
Diego Castro played little over 40 minutes of Glory’s frontrunning campaign prior to their clash with Melbourne City on Saturday.
But, with the Spaniard now back into the starting fold for Tony Popovic’s side, it should sound a warning to Glory’s Hyundai A-League competitors.
With the veteran playmaker operating with greater freedom to roam against the visiting City side, the potential for a damaging combination with Andy Keogh and Christopher Ikonomidis was on show.
Fittingly, it was the three Glory guns who combined for the winning goal, and underlines the attacking depth Popovic has in his arsenal.
Alexander the great inspires Wanderers
The diminutive prowl of Alexander Baumjohann continues to unnerve Hyundai A-League defences.
Markus Babbel’s German maestro orchestrated a strong bounce-back performance from the Western Sydney Wanderers, who beat Central Coast Mariners 2-0 on Friday night.
The playmaker demonstrated his class again, sharing the third most touches of any player on the park with 69, creating four chances and playing the second-most passes.
Baumjohann’s relationship with Oriol Riera was again on full display, and that combination is proving one of the league’s most deadly attacking duos. Baumjohann has laid on seven chances for the Spaniard, the most prolific partnership in the competition.
Droughts broken in Newcastle
Jair and Kaine Sheppard have endured differing footballing paths on their way to the Hyundai A-League.
But Sunday was a significant day for both, as both forwards got off the mark in Australia’s top flight. Brazilian Jair’s strike was his first competitive goal in over 14 months of action.
Former Avondale striker Sheppard has only been around the big dance for a matter of months, but a slick poked finish demonstrated he’s got that quality to mix it with the best.