‘Tightest start to a season I’ve ever seen’: why every game is crunch-time for Neville and the Roar
Brisbane Roar defender Scott Neville says his side are eyeing off a push into the top four as the tightest Hyundai A-League campaign he’s ever played in continues to unfold.
Brisbane’s win over the Mariners last weekend pushed them into the top six, but a stern test of their credentials awaits in Round 9 as they travel to Jubilee Stadium to face Sydney FC, who are sitting pretty on top of the table.
Despite sitting in sixth place and finals contention the Roar are only two points off the bottom of the Hyundai A-League table leading into the clash with Sydney FC on Saturday afternoon.
It’s a precarious situation which Neville says is keeping the Roar on their toes as they look to consolidate their position on the table with a string of positive performances.
“I’ve been in the A-League for 12 years now and I’d say this is the tightest start to a season I’ve ever seen, which is good for the overall football,” Neville told a-league.com.au.
“You need to win two, three or four games in a row to really cement yourself in that top four, and on the flip side if you lose a game or two you’re back down there.
“You’re going to go up and down through that top six, but we know if we continue to play well and pick up points that we’re going to get into that top four.
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“That’s what we’re aiming for, to stay in there, and we’re sure if we continue to perform and improve as a team we’ll be there come the end of the season.
“It’s still early days in the season, you don’t look too much at the table, you’ve got to focus on picking up points and the performance, that will be the key for us."
Neville will approach the clash with Sydney FC on the weekend full of confidence after scoring his first goal in Roar colours last weekend against Central Coast.
In his 11 previous seasons in the league Neville has only managed a season-high of two goals, scoring eight goals in total, but this year he hopes to buck the trend as he aims for a career-best attacking output.
“It’s good to get off the mark, and good to get the win in front of the home crowd,” Neville told a-league.com.au
“I usually get one (goal) a season, but I hope it’s not my quota for the season.
“In previous seasons I’ve loved to get forward and get as many assists and try and score as many goals as possible.
“They (Roar coaching staff) set high standards, I think they expect me to score two or three or as many as I can this season, and I’d love to do that.
“If I can get high up the park and help out, score a couple and get a few assists that would be great.
“First and foremost we need to keep as many clean sheets as possible, and if I can contribute in attack that’s great.”
Neville has been a regular for Robbie Fowler’s side this season starting all of their seven Hyundai A-League games so far.
It’s a stark contrast to the stop-start campaign Neville played under Tony Popovic at Perth Glory last season, where he regularly found himself rotated through the starting line-up and the bench.
But Neville’s become a key cog in the Roar system this season, and the right-back says the whole squad – not just the attackers – are benefiting greatly from having Fowler at the helm.
“For the attackers it’s amazing for them,” Neville said.
“Especially for someone like Dylan Wenzell-Halls who is a young player learning his trade, then you’ve got Aaron (Amadi-Holloway) and Roy (O’Donovan) who are more experienced but still picking up little things off one of the best strikers in the Premier League has ever seen.
“But at the back himself and Tony (Grant) both work with us quite rigorously which is good.
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“We make sure we set high standards, you can’t just turn up to the game and do it, we need to work on it at training to make sure we do it.”
One curious development which has come from the Roar’s initial seven games under Fowler, however, is their inability to score first half goals: they’ve scored eight goals for the season, all in the second halves of games.
But Neville is not phased by the clear deficiency in their game; he says they’ve been unlucky not to capitalise on early chances throughout the start of the season and it’s only a matter of time until they do.
“We’ve had chances in a lot of the games early this season in the first half,” Neville said.
“A couple have been cleared off the line, some good saves and maybe some poor finishing from our part.
“We’ve got to make sure we convert them because then it’s easier to play a game when you’re winning and you take the lead.
“I think even against Central Coast we set out our stall early and pressed them high and we started with intensity, so if we can start with that same intensity but add a goal or two in the first half it will really change our dynamic and the way we want to play.
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“I think we’ve been confident all of pre-season and the start of the season, we’ve played certain teams this season and played really well; we beat Melbourne City, we went to Western Sydney who were undefeated at the time and really played them off the park but couldn’t manage to score, and a few other games we’ve played well but haven’t quite got the result.
“If we keep sticking to the processes and the way we want to play the performance is good we’re going to pick up results, and hopefully we can keep playing well as a unit which is the main thing and having a whole squad not just 11 players it will really push us up that table.”
Brisbane’s win over the Mariners last weekend pushed them into the top six, but a stern test of their credentials awaits in Round 9 as they travel to Nestrata Jubilee Stadium to face Sydney FC, who are sitting pretty on top of the table.
At first glance it may seem too dear of a task for the Roar to take any points from the contest, but Brisbane will take great confidence from beating the Champions 2-0 in the FFA Cup Round of 32 in August.
“They’re a very good team," Neville said.
"We’re going to have to do our due diligence with them and pay them respect but at the same time we know we can go there and not only pick up a point but put in a good performance and take home the three points if we play to our ability.
“Sydney are an all-round good side; in the attacking third they’ve got some quality players with Le Adam Fondre, Milos Ninkovic and Brandon O’Neill, and they’ve added well with Alex Baumjohann, Kosta Barbarouses and Luke Brattan.
“They’re going to be a threat going forward, defensively they’ve probably got the same back four and goalkeeper they’ve had for a while with the inclusion of Ryan McGowan.
“They’re a good side but we’ll work on them and look for the best way of breaking them down.”
Saturday, December 7 2019
Kick-off: 7.30pm AEDT
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Broadcast: FOX Sports 505
Stream: MyFootball Live App, Kayo Sports