There’s nothing quite like the A-League – it’s a genuinely unique competition. Sometimes it’s downright bizarre.
Name one league anywhere where the overall champion could, in the final weekend of the regular season, risk falling to the wooden spoon – or put themselves within 270 minutes of a championship.
It’s an extraordinary set of circumstances, and the debate is being wrestled with by football fans across the nation. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
We live in a slightly warped time (the governing body owns the league’s top team), and follow some customs borrowed from other codes (the finals format and salary cap) and others from where football doesn’t reign (the marquee player, copied from Major League Soccer).
Yet here we are, with the season near its climax, and nine of the 10 teams have a shot at the title. It’s hard not to feel the A-League rewards mediocrity. How can Perth and Brisbane, so poor for most of the year, be in the running for another grand final?
Had Wellington defeated Western Sydney on Sunday, they’d still be bottom – but would also have been three points off fifth with two games left in their season.
Those in charge of the game believe this is great, and for Football Federation Australia it is exactly that. Football has enough trouble promoting its ”live” matches without having to worry about dead rubbers.
As it stands, while the AFL and NRL rack up scores of matches without meaning at the end of the season, every minute still counts in the A-League.
Who will fill places five and six? Take your pick. Those classed as chocolates this week are just as likely to be boiled lollies the week after. It makes for riveting theatre.
On Saturday at Allianz Stadium, Sydney FC produced arguably their best performance of the season – largely because of their opponents’ stature.
Set for the knackery if they couldn’t topple a team widely thought to be the A-League’s best, the Sky Blues had to produce something special.
A little bit of luck fell their way with Sebastian Ryall’s opener. That was only a seed of opportunity, however, and the Mariners had ample time to get back into the contest. They couldn’t, not only because they were dreadfully flat – tired, perhaps? – but because Sydney kept persisting.
As Central Coast waited for someone to make it happen, the Sky Blues were busy doing it as a collective. One in, all in. Talk about a role reversal. Joel Chianese’s sealer was the least they deserved.
Sydney are fifth but with matches against Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney to come, followed by Brisbane away, it couldn’t be tighter. They’re arguably still outsiders.
Only a bristling trio of performances will keep them in the finals race but at least they’ve proved they can do it.
Now it’s time for the big-money men – and those youngsters seeking to emulate them – to earn their keep, especially in defence. Consecutive clean sheets must be a priority.
Sydney need another four points at least, probably five, to get there. Newcastle’s loss to Perth on Friday could prove fatal given they’ve played an extra match. They travel to Adelaide and host the Wanderers. Melbourne Heart also face a tricky finale. Monday’s game against the Reds is huge.
Perth’s late surge is aided by winnable home games against Adelaide and Wellington, although maybe Brisbane have the boldest claim. They’re seventh, a point off fifth, and travel to Gosford next week but then host Heart and finish with the Sky Blues.
Expect Suncorp Stadium to be a seething cauldron of hope and hate. What a finish it promises to be. This top six might be a strange concept but it has the football nation talking.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.