In his latest column for Brisbane Roar, freelance football writer and Mane Event contributor Mike Tuckerman explains why there's nothing to fear in the lead-up to the Finals Series...
For at least 45 minutes on Sunday, Brisbane Roar proved something we’ve known for a long time in the A-League – any team that qualifies for the top six can win the Championship.
How about that Melbourne City? Little wonder they’ve won 13 of their 20 games played when they play the sort of football we saw at AAMI Park last weekend!
But amid the cracking strikes from Connor Metcalfe and Scott Galloway – and putting aside City’s dubious second goal – we witnessed a couple of chinks in the armour.
They didn’t like it when Joey Champness got in between the lines and ran straight at the heart of the defence, failing to get in a decent challenge as the red-hot attacker drilled an unerring finish into the bottom corner.
And they didn’t like it when Jay O’Shea flashed over one of his deadly accurate corners either. There were no less than three City players marking Macaulay Gillesphey, but they couldn’t stop the big defender from heading home.
So there’s a blueprint for beating Melbourne City, even if they were the better side on Sunday. That’s football, isn’t it? A certain team might be easy on the eye, but that doesn’t make them unbeatable.
We’ve seen that this season with the Central Coast Mariners. The Gosford side enjoyed a fairy tale run at the start of the season, winning eight of their first 11 games to top the standings. But it’s been tough going ever since.
No game sums up Central Coast’s recent slump better than that 4-0 midweek defeat to Brisbane Roar two weeks ago. The Mariners started that game brightly enough, but when they failed to pick up O’Shea in acres of space, his deflected cross was volleyed home by Gillesphey.
And when the Mariners were fighting tooth and nail to get back into the match, it was Champness who collected a pass from O’Shea before charging directly at the heart of the defence and smashing an unstoppable finish in at the near post.
O’Shea. Gillesphey. Champness. When the going gets tough, the big-time players get going. But just as impressive as the trio were against the Mariners, it was equally pleasing to see substitutes Alex Parsons and Masato Kudo get on the scoresheet late on.
Parsons looks like he’s got a bright future in the game, but Kudo has clearly taken time to settle in. That’s partly because he’s a foreign player adjusting to life in a new country, but mostly because injuries have prevented the former Japan international from playing a full 90 minutes for several seasons now.
Masato was always going to need to be handled with care, but it’s testament to the tight-knit spirit within the dressing room that when he tapped home Scott Neville’s cross in Gosford, practically the whole team came over to celebrate with him.
No one celebrated harder than Riku Danzaki, who has fast become a talisman for Warren Moon’s men. The Japanese youngster came to Australia as a complete unknown, but the on-loan Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo flyer already has seven goals to his name.
It’s that strength in depth and unshakeable camaraderie that will make this Roar team a genuine dark horse come the Finals Series. But first, the trick is to get there.
Starting with tonight’s clash against the Mariners, there are still 21 points up for grabs. Western Sydney Wanderers currently occupy sixth place, making the Sunday afternoon showdown at Bankwest Stadium on May 30 a vital game for both sides.
Western United, Wellington Phoenix and even Perth Glory are still in the hunt for the Finals Series, while there’s currently just two points separating second-placed Sydney FC from the seventh-placed Roar.
This is, without a doubt, the most entertaining A-League season in recent memory. Far from simply cementing a Finals Series spot, Brisbane Roar could still conceivably finish the Premiership campaign camped in the top two!
But the goal has always been to make the Finals Series. For all the online chatter from the purists about the A-League lacking the excitement of promotion and relegation, the fight to finish in the top six will be as exciting as anything we see in Europe.
It starts tonight. Brisbane Roar haven’t lost to the Mariners since 2014. Another win here and the top six is firmly within Warren Moon’s grasp.
You can read more of Mike Tuckerman’s columns over on The Roar sports opinion website at www.theroar.com.au/author/mike-tuckerman