Byline Banter: Silly season edition

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, the football silly season. So named because of the crazy amount of football Australia gets to enjoy over the next week. Let’s face it, 10 A-League matches in eight days is the best present anyone can get.

So to celebrate, Byline Banter diverts from its usual format to let you know what each club is hoping to find under the Christmas tree this year.

Adelaide United
Hammocks – they’ll be in desperate need of a rest following a busy few weeks.

The Reds suffered last weekend in their 2-1 defeat to the Newcastle Jets after claiming the inaugural FFA Cup during the week. While they fought back strongly and looked dangerous immediately after drawing level at Hunter Stadium, it didn’t take long for the Novocastrians to once again take control of the match.

On the plus side, they don’t have the shortest turn-around with the Brisbane Roar, Wellington Phoenix and the Jets having two matches in three days and the Reds will be thankful for the extra two days between their matches.

Stocking fillers
– A cup and ball for Josep Gombau; he looks like he’s never had a day of fun in his life.
– Bigger goals for Hindmarsh Stadium because they can’t convert chances in the normal size goals. Their season conversion sits at 12.8 per cent, well below Melbourne Victory (23.8 per cent) who they are chasing on the ladder.

Brisbane Roar
Besart Berisha – they just can’t seem to replace him.

Henrique has had a real go at it there is no question, the Brazilian notching up seven of the Roar’s 11 goals; which in itself is an embarrassing enough statistic. But what’s more worrying is at this point last season the defending Premiers had tallied 18 goals, which used wisely this campaign would see the sitting on 24 points and in second place on the ladder.

No what ifs are fine, and it’s worth pointing out that of those 18 goals Berisha only contributed four. But what they miss as much as anything is simply his presence on the field. Because the Albanian is so dangerous he can draw defenders out of position better than any other player in the league, allowing his teammates to bang the ball away at will. Perhaps that’s why Luke Bratton, Matt Smith and Jade North all had goals to their name this time last season and so far remain scoreless this time around.

Stocking fillers
– A soccer ball for Dimitri Pertatos to practice his shooting. 30 shots and no goals – is he having a laugh?
– A graphic designer to re-do their new logo. Everyone has had time with it now, but does anyone actually like it?

Central Coast Mariners
A goal scorer – plain and simple.

The Mariners have obviously struggled so far this season and it’s painfully obvious that it’s due to their lack of their composure in front of goal, with the men from Gosford so far managing just six goals this season.

Four players have double digit tallies in the shots at goal column, Nick Fitzgerald, Mitchell Duke, Matthew Sim and Glen Trifiro and of those 71 attempts they’ve buried just four times. Astoundingly Fitzgerald is the only player without a goal despite having the most shots with 27 hacks at it. Until they can start finding the back of the net it’s hard to see them getting anywhere near the playoffs.

Stocking fillers
– The final side of their stadium; they’ve been waiting ages for it. Santa can be cruel.
– A sense of stability. Mike Charlesworth has ambition and that’s great to see, but the survival of a scrappers club like the Mariners should not be risked to solely improve the bottom line. Let’s hope that does not happen.

Melbourne City
Consistency – cause they don’t seem to know what it is.

Three wins, four draws, and four losses, not exactly a record that’s going to have people touting you as possible title contenders. Which is exactly what people were saying at the start of the season. Big signings like David Villa and Damien Duff brought a buzz to a club which had never been anything other than mediocre. And as much as things have changed with the oil sheiks’ money, things have stayed the same.

City have monopolised the time spent sitting in the 6th and last playoff spot on the A-League ladder. That’s no surprise with a record that includes some impressive victories, particularly their valuable win over the Victory last weekend to give them bragging rights in Melbourne. But if you can recall, less than a month ago they got brutalised by the Phoenix 5-1.

The additions of Socceroo Josh Kennedy and fit again Slovenian international Robert Koren should be what’s needed for City to kick on in the New Year. Maybe they’ll get it and maybe they won’t, time will tell.

Stocking fillers
– David Villa; with the Spaniard now long-gone and Duff sidelined through injury, is anyone going to their games?
– Bandages for the team; they’ve spent so long sitting in sixth spot they must have bedsores by now.

Melbourne Victory
Yoga mats – they just need to calm down as everything is going fine.

Following their defeat at the hands of City which left them with just one point from their previous two matches Coach Kevin Muscat said they have a lot of work to do. But the 41-year-old has no cause for concern as the Victory are right where they need to be this season.

The Melbournians are six points behind Glory at present but will get their opportunity to have a go at them during the Christmas/New Year period as well as matches against the two teams lowest on the A-League ladder the Jets and the Wanderers. Which is significantly easier than Perth’s schedule.

Not to mention that they’ve scored the most goals so far this season with star strikers Archie Thompson and Besart Berisha having both already tallied 6 goals each. Seriously Muscat, go relax and eat some Christmas pudding or something.

Stocking fillers
– Chewing gum – has Muscat spat it all out yet?
– Hot chips to throw outside Etihad Stadium so everyone can watch the football and not the seagulls.

Newcastle Jets
A new owner – Nathan Tinkler is poison to the club.

Unlike Mike Charlesworth, the former mining magnate seems to have no ambition for the club and looks set to get them off his books as soon as possible, like he did with the Newcastle Knights in the NRL. Tinkler recently travelled to Perth to watch the Jets take on the Glory as a guest of the Perth owner Tony Sage. Presumably he would have been aware that he would be on television at some point but that didn’t seem to worry Tinkler who couldn’t even bother to pull on a club polo.

A lack of focus in the back of house seems to have transferred onto the pitch this season for the Jets with the club failing to secure either an international or domestic marquee signing and slumping to just one win from 11 games.

David Gallop and the FFA should consider the idea of taking control of the Jets before the Novocastrian outfit ends up in the ground.

Stocking fillers
– A Mangna Doodle for coach Phil Stubbins; he needs something to draw his game plan on.
– Blinkers for Zenon Caravella to wear; perhaps then he’ll run in a straight line and not around in circles.

Perth Glory
Luck – they’ve already had some but they’ll need more in the coming weeks.

The men from the West have rode their luck a bit this season with a noticeable amount of results being secured by set-pieces. And if it that’s down to tactics and good training kudos to them, but it smells a little bit like luck and you get the feeling it’s about to run out.

What you may not know is that the Glory and the Victory are yet to face off so far this season. Unfortunately for Perth their two matches against the dual Premiership winners come amongst a tough run of fixtures. Their silly season schedule starts on Boxing Day with an away trip to face City followed by matches against Victory, Adelaide, Victory, Sydney FC, and then Adelaide again. In fact the league leaders don’t face a team outside play-offs from now until the last weekend in February.

Many have been drawing questions marks next to the Glory until they see what they’re really made of, and we’re all about to find out.

Stocking fillers
– Something shiny to distract supporters while the club is investigated by the FFA for possible salary cap breaches.
– A new right-back; Joshua Risden can’t be a popular man right now after his send-off in the FFA Cup.

Sydney FC
A time machine – so they can go back to the start of the season when they were winning.

The Sky Blues have slumped to one win from their last seven matches leaving them 11 points behind the Glory. But what has changed for Sydney, why are a team that looked so impressive in the first few weeks of the competition now starting to falter?

Well many may not be aware of the injury crisis Coach Graham Arnold is facing. There was much controversy surround the season ending injury to Ali Abbas against the Western Sydney Wanderers, but he’s not the only player who will be sitting on the sidelines. Nicky Carle and Cory Gamiero have also been ruled out for the remainder of the season with knee injuries.

This puts Arnold in a tricky situation. His team needs to fight back and start getting some more points under their belt but with so many first-team players missing it’s going to be difficult. The former Socceroo’s boss will be desperate for the January transfer window to open.

Stocking fillers
– A central defender as Sasa Ognenovski has also been ruled out for the rest of the season due to nerve damage in his thigh.
– Home goals for Marc Janko, who is still yet to open his account at the Sydney Football Stadium.

Wellington Phoenix
Nathan Burns to get dropped from the Socceroos – horrible wish but they need him.

The 26-year-old has so far made seven appearance for the nation team and that amount is sure to rise by a few at the AFC Asian Cup in January. The top scorer in the A-League so far this season with 10 goals, Burns was rewarded for his fine form with a spot in Ange Postecoglou’s 23-man squad for the tournament.

This, however, presents a problem of where Coach Ernie Merrick turns to for goals once Burns heads into the Socceroos’ pre-tournament training camp on the 27th of December, just a day before they take on the Western Sydney Wanderers at Westpac Stadium.

The former Adelaide and Newcastle attacker has done most of the heavy lifting for the Kiwi squad so far this season with only four other players netting so far including Roy Krishna and Michael McGlinchey both with four goals. And they are the two players who will be expected to take up the slack while Burns is wearing the green and gold for a month. Their win over Sydney FC last weekend allowed them to jump the sky blues into 4th spot but if Krishna and McGlinchey fail to take charge the Phoenix may struggle to stay there.

Stocking fillers
– Beer; they’ve had a remarkable season thus-far and the surprise packets undoubtedly deserve one.
– A cloaking device; they’ve done well to fly under the radar but their defeat of Sydney FC last weekend would have every manager taking notice of them.

Western Sydney Wanderers
Points – they’re desperate now

For the entire season, many football commentators – this column included – has foretold a story of the Wanderers throwing off the shackles of mediocre A-League form and easily pushing up the ladder into the playoff positions. This however has not materialised.

Put the distractions of the Asian Champions League and the Club World Cup to the side, because the A-League is where a team’s bread and butter is. While winning the ACL title is a remarkable achieve which deserves celebration this will not be enough if the Wanderers fail to make the finals series. The Wanderers sit last on the ladder and four points behind both the Mariners and the Jets.

However it is worth noting that Western Sydney have two matches in hand on both teams and a superior goal difference. A couple of wins over Christmas would drastically change the situation and while they face a tough challenge away to the Phoenix the RBB can look forward to more than winnable game against the Mariners on New Year’s Day.

Stocking fillers
– Polish for the ACL trophy.
– More points, that’s how much they need them.

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