Talking Points: Roar no longer up in arms, but how far can Fowler's men go?
“Of course, it’s frustrating,” said Robbie Fowler.
Fowler had just overseen a drab December stalemate between his Brisbane Roar side and Newcastle Jets, back in their last game of 2019.
It was a fitting way to end a dismal year for the three-time Champions of Australia.
Three months into the Premier League legend’s reign, Roar had not scored a first half goal and had posted just two wins, languishing equal last on the Hyundai A-League ladder with Newcastle.
“You’ve got to remember, we’re a brand-new team,” Fowler defended. “For what we are now from what we were last year, I think its chalk and cheese. We will win games.”
Fowler could have been branded a hopeless optimist back then but another three months into his tenure the Liverpool great has been justified in his belief that Brisbane would only grow stronger as the season developed.
And although Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Perth Glory was not a win, it almost felt like one.
Roar have only lost one in their last nine – when they were narrowly edged by Sydney FC on January 31 – and the Queenslanders continue to go from strength to strength.
Saturday’s battling stalemate with the reigning Premiers, in which Roar trailed to Bruno Fornaroli’s opener but clawed their way back via Macaulay Gillesphey’s thumping late header, was a perfect illustration of how the state of play has shifted dramatically for the Queenslanders.
Out of Brisbane’s 20 goals this season, 15 have been notched after the hour mark, their last six goals all scored in the second half.
It is a perplexing record and suggests that while Brisbane are far from the finished article, they are not lacking in character.
“It is what it is. Does it frustrate me? Not really,” said Fowler.
Brisbane have a platform to build on – not least in the fact that Fowler has transformed the competition’s worst ever defence into one only trumped this campaign by the reigning Premiers and Champions Sydney FC.
Five of their last eight matches are to come at home – where they have not lost a game in 2020 – and their buffer over seventh-placed Western United is a comfortable five points.
Corey Brown’s return and Scott McDonald’s addition have re-energised the team, and a cast of game-changing options have emerged amid Roar’s impressive unbeaten run. Against Perth it was Aaron Amadi-Holloway who made the difference. In last week’s win over Western United it was Mirza Muratovic.
Previously, Dylan Wenzel-Halls and Brad Inman have produced game-changing moments of quality.
Brisbane has been a mire of frustration over the past few years, but it has almost completely dissolved.
Can they keep it going?
Western United need a fix... and fast
The slide continues for the new boys, convincingly beaten 2-0 by Wellington Phoenix on Friday.
It is not a pretty picture for coach Mark Rudan, whose side’s mid-season teething problems could now require drastic action.
The Western United boss must be tearing his hair out at the way his side have squandered their top six position over the past month or two.
Since defeating Brisbane 2-0 on December 12, the Green and Black have posted just one win from the following eight. Their downfall has been mirrored by Roar’s rise, and with five points to make up on the Queenslanders in sixth spot the Hyundai A-League debutants need to find another gear from somewhere.
Rudan requires more from his heavy artillery. Panagiotis Kone and Dario Jertec dictated play with real authority during hugely positive starts to life in Australia, but the pair currently look out of touch.
Alessandro Diamanti’s glorious moments are becoming more infrequent and ineffectual, and Besart Berisha has, despite scoring five of the team’s last eight goals, been an isolated figure up front.
The addition of Steven Lustica could be a step in the right direction as Rudan seeks to reconnect midfield with an attack that did not score a goal in February.
Something’s got to give…
Newcastle Jets’ 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory could be viewed as another sign of progress but Carl Robinson still needs time to piece together the Hunter Valley jigsaw.
Wes Hoolahan’s immensely welcome return might complicate things even further for the Welshman.
Hoolahan’s long-awaited Hyundai A-League debut saw Newcastle retain their two-man strike force of Abdiel Arroyo and Roy O’Donovan and wing-backs Matthew Millar and Bobby Burns – with the ex-Premier League operator shuttling around with Dimitri Petratos.
It is an exciting recipe for wide-open, kamikaze football but the reality for Robinson is it leaves the Jets vulnerable as it did against Victory on Saturday. It is a classic case of too many cooks – but who misses out?
“They are playing for their futures. I’m looking at three-year project here and how we can build,” Robinson remarked before the game.
A late dash for the Finals Series is unlikely for the Jets but it is sure going to be in intriguing run home regardless.
READ: Robinson accepts Jets may need to adjust to include Hoolahan
READ: ‘I’m sick of the beach, I want to play’: Hoolahan’s joy at long-awaited debut
REPORT: O’Donovan scores for Jets but Toivonen salvages draw for Victory
Pivotal fortnight for Victory
Victory’s Finals Series hopes are hanging by a thread and with huge back to back home fixtures to come, the four-time Champions must put everything on the line.
An Original Rivalry clash with Adelaide United this Saturday comes first, before Victory host the Big Blue against Sydney.
If the Navy Blue come out of those two with six points, it is well and truly game on. But it is a big ask for Carlos Salvachua, who is still after his first league win after five matches at the helm.
A positive for the Victory fans to cling to is that Marco Rojas played his first 90-minute performance and should have grabbed a late winner. The margin for error is now non-existent in Victoria.
The spoon looms again
A 3-0 loss to Sydney FC deals Central Coast Mariners fans the harsh truth that, despite the considerable improvement they have displayed in 2019/20, the Gosford club are on track for another wooden spoon.
Alen Stajcic’s side find themselves staring at the barrel after a sixth straight loss. It was a similar story again for the Mariners – courageous, enterprising football, but the killer instinct absent.
If only Stajcic could siphon a quarter of Sydney’s ruthlessness into his own charges. The Sky Blues had just four shots on target and scored three goals, two of them through academy graduates Marco Tilio and Harry Van der Saag.
The lead at the summit stands at 13 points now for the Sky Blues. Central Coast have just 13 points to their name all season.