Hitting ‘peak A-League’ may be a saying that offers an ironic view of the state of the competition, but there’s rarely a real high point because the competition somehow always finds a way to top itself.
There’s a glorious madness seemingly exclusive to Australia’s topflight, which ensures occasions so unique that all the fans can do is go along for the ride.
On Sunday evening, in what was nominally a top of the table clash in front of a fired-up 17,421 fans, Sydney FC and Melbourne City were the latest hugely entertaining contributors to the legend of the A-League’s quirkiness.
Within three minutes, play was stopped for an extended period after Sydney FC’s Rhyan Grant and City’s Nathaniel Atkinson had a literal meeting of the minds and required treatment.
Twenty minutes later, and with Sydney down 1-0, Grant lunged in with two feet, missed the ball and took out Atkinson with a potential leg-breaker – VAR intervening to ensure the right-back copped a red card.
Four minutes later Sydney went level when an error by City keeper Tom Glover allowed the ball to spill for Adam Le Fondre to fire home.
Craig Noone followed by producing one of the worst misses of 2019-20 when he somehow put a one-on-one effort with Sydney keeper Andrew Redmayne wide in the 38th.
Sydney won and had a penalty saved by Glover just before halftime and then, in the 49th minute, Sydney defender Ryan McGowan inexplicably attempted to take a mark in City’s penalty area. Yes, an overhead mark.
Then for the next 35 minutes, City controlled the game but never looked like they had a foot on the throats of their foes.
Despite chasing an important win, risk-averse City midfielders Rostyn Griffiths and Joshua Brillante remained on the park for the full 90 minutes, truly peak A-League tactics.
Just desserts were then delivered in the 85th minute after Sydney casually waltzed through City’s lines and had Kosta Barbarouses fire them to a 2-1 win.
On a football purity level Sunday night could have been a lot better. But it was also very A-League.
United strike gold … off the park
Driving into Ballarat for Western United’s 3-1 loss to Wellington Phoenix, there’s a lonely sign on the Western Highway flashing a message indicating that it is the turnoff to get to the A-League game.
With the roads largely empty, United’s first foray into Ballarat surpassed (admittedly low) expectations as 5084 punters made their way into Mars Stadium for the home side’s clash with the Phoenix.
Their numbers were bolstered by a sizeable – and loud – contingent of rowdy Kiwis who packed into the away bay.
The seated stands throughout the oval were mostly full, providing a good atmosphere that is unfortunately absent at the cavernous surrounds of their Geelong games.
In a perfect world United – and all A-League sides – would be playing in appropriately sized rectangular stadiums. Until such time, though, United can do a lot worse than Mars Stadium.
Sydney FC lets down its guard
A week ago, there was a W-League changing of the guard feel at Bankwest Stadium as Western Sydney Wanderers – with a renewed investment in its women’s program – demolished Sydney FC 5-0.
With queries being raised about if the W-League title race was now down to just the Wanderers and Melbourne City, Sydney FC needed to bounce back against winless Adelaide United on Sunday.
Yet the Harboursiders weren’t exactly convincing in their eventual 2-0 win, unable to get past the proverbial brick wall that was Sarah Willacy until an own goal from Amber Brooks in the 77th minute, only sealing it when Princess Ibini let loose with a thunderbolt in the 90th.
In coming weeks, Sydney will meet Canberra United and Brisbane Roar before welcoming Western Sydney for a Sydney Derby re-match. By the end of that run, we should have all the answers.
Friday: Adelaide United 1-2 Western Sydney Wanderers
Saturday: Western United 1-3 Wellington Phoenix; Newcastle Jets 1-1 Brisbane Roar
Sunday: Sydney FC 2-1 Melbourne City
Tuesday: Central Coast Mariners vs Perth Glory
Thursday: Canberra United 0-4 Western Sydney Wanderers
Saturday: Perth Glory 1-2 Melbourne Victory
Sunday: Sydney FC 2-0 Adelaide United; Brisbane Roar 2-1 Newcastle Jets