Stalemate to start the season
After what seemed like an interminably long off-season the A-League finally got back underway last weekend as the Victory took on Sydney FC in what seems to be some sort of start of season tradition. And like many before them it ended in a draw but as far as 0-0 draws go it was pretty exciting with the respective goalkeepers stealing the limelight from Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton, who were making their A-League debuts.
From a Melbourne Victory point of view there were a few fresh faces making their debuts, none so more than new manager/coach Mehmet Durakovic, who had his first official game in charge and whilst it wasn’t a perfect performance there was some good pointers that if worked on could make for an exciting year. With the absence of Carlos Hernandez due to international duty, Durakovic set the midfield up with two holding midfielders in the form of Billy Celeski and Grant Brebner with Harry Kewell playing a roaming role behind Danny Allsopp with Archie Thompson and debutant Marco Rojas providing the width and pace. At the back were Vargas and Leijer centrally with another debutant Fabio and Matthew Foschini playing as full backs.
Without Hernandez absent it was a somewhat lopsided formation and in many respects the midfield lacked a bit of focus as the gap between Brebner and Celeski and the front three gave Sydney a little too much space, something which they exploited early on and it was only some heroics from new goalkeeper Ante Čović that kept Sydney FC from scoring early on. He further improved on his performance with that penalty save from Brett Emerton and one can see Tando Velaphi struggling to return to the starting XI once he returns from injury.
All three starting debutantes made good debuts with the most high profile, Harry Kewell having one of the best opportunities to break the deadlock midway through the first half. Despite having gone almost five months without competitive football, Kewell looked very much at home in free roaming role and some of his combinations with Archie Thompson were a sight to behold. One criticism that could be levelled at Kewell is that at times he seemed a little desperate to get on the scoresheet, particularly as the deadlock dragged on. When Hernandez returns next week against Adelaide week it will be interesting to see how Durakovic can fit both into the team, especially on the road.
Marco Rojas, the young New Zealander formerly of Wellington Phoenix, showed plenty of signs that he will be a useful addition this season providing the width that Melbourne Victory fans always seemed so much to crave during the reign of Ernie Merrick. What was especially pleasing was that at the end of some pulsating runs he was able to put in some quality final balls with ones for Kewell and Allsopp that forced great saves from Sydney goalkeeper, Liam Reddy.
Fabio, the latest in a string of Brazilians to play for the Victory, showed that he could be a good acquisition at full back despite giving away the penalty through a somewhat clumsy challenge on Mark Bridge. What caught the eye was his work rate providing an attacking outlet but also making sure to get back in defence and making a number of crucial interceptions. Both Jean-Carlos Solorzano and Isaka Cernak also saw pitch time but it was limited so a proper assessment would be a little unfair.
Next up is Adelaide in Adelaide and after our run of ten consecutive wins, the South Australians have won the last two with the last one coming in the final round last season. Adelaide will be coming off a poor performance against Perth Glory and will be looking to turn it around in front of their home fans. Like many such matches between the two teams it should be a cracker.