Macarthur defy COVID complications and early red card in Jets win

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Macarthur’s backs were already firmly against the wall on their return to Campbelltown Stadium.

Then, with less than 20 minutes played, their goalkeeper was sent off.

On Friday, the club released a statement revealing that an unnamed player in their A-League Men’s squad had tested positive for COVID-19 the day before. Making them the fifth A-League club to announce a positive COVID-19 result since the start of the 2021/22 season.

Whilst it pales in comparison to the impact the coronavirus has had on rivals Perth Glory, Ante Milicic had his preparation tipped on its head in the build-up to Sunday’s match against Newcastle Jets.

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“Our preparation both on the field and in the video room has been pretty much non-existent,” said Milicic.

“That was a major concern going into the game.

“Things were changing hourly. Getting the positive result, getting the negative results, waiting for the results, can we train? Will the game go ahead? There’s so many different scenarios.

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“In the end, though, I think those are the things you have to deal with. It’s probably been similar in some ways for today’s opponent so, no excuses.”

Newcastle announced their second A-League Men’s COVID case on Tuesday.

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The Bulls’ positive and attacking mindset was admirably persistent despite their setbacks both throughout the week and in the first half. A goal down and with goalkeeper and arguably Macarthur’s most valuable player so far this season red carded after 18 minutes, Milicic’s half-time message remained optimistic.

“At no time was there any conversation to say ‘let’s try to pinch a point’ or ‘let’s just look for a draw’. We always believed that if we got one goal, which we knew we were capable of, that we could go on and win the game. The boys did that,” he said.

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“I’ll even go back to last year when we were down to 10 men against a very strong Sydney FC side and still created chances. We knew that we would have those opportunities.

“The main thing for us was to be disciplined, stay in our structure, and when those opportunities in transition did present themselves, pick the right passes in the right areas.

“We just had to stay in the contest and not panic.”

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COVID’s strike on Campbelltown Stadium is the latest in a list of personnel setbacks that Milicic has been sure to highlight over the last few weeks.

Particularly since the injury to captain Ulises Dávila, the head coach has broken into multiple, frustrated reflections on the players that are unavailable to him. When asked who may return for Macarthur’s Boxing Day derby against Sydney FC, he listed the names and expressed his disappointment once again. His head was shaking before the question had been finished.

“(Aleksandr) Šušnjar: no, (Al Hassan) Toure: no, (Tomi) Juric: no, Dávila: no, (Jordon) Mutch: potentially, (Filip) Kurto: no,” Milicic said.

“There’s some decent footballers in that list. That’s why I’m even more proud of the playing group.”

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Milicic has good reason to be proud of his playing group.

After five rounds in the A-League Men’s, Macarthur are top of the table and are unbeaten. They’ve conceded just two goals, which is the second best defensive record in the league, and have scored seven, the third-highest tally in the competition.

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With injuries, suspensions, and COVID-19 interruptions burdening the Bulls, their third successive week at the top of the table proves just how well their new batch of players are gelling, and serves as a fitting sign of the impressive depth they have on offer.

Feature Image Credit: Macarthur FC

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Tom Macrae
Tom Macraehttp://medium.com/@macraetomr23
Communications undergrad at Western Sydney University covering Macarthur FC in the 2021/22 season. Newcastle United. Jack Grealish fangirl.

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