In the end justice prevailed and Sydney was rewarded for its exceptional A-League season.
But it was a close run thing. If Carl Valeri’s penalty had not hit the bar, had an exhausted Marco Rojas not stepped forward to take a spot kick in the shoot-out that decided last week’s grand final, then things might have been very different.
But the difference between triumph and disappointment can be wafer thin – just ask Ed Dunlop, trainer of Red Cadeaux, the horse who was beaten by the smallest margin ever in the Melbourne Cup.
Sydney got the title they deserved in unsatisfactory circumstances in an outcome that probably serves as a motif for the entire season which contained flashes of excitement and quality, but was generally an uninspiring contest in which the end result, a Sydney v Victory decider, was predictable months before the end.
The Sky Blues, who lost only once in their 27 league games, were clearly the best team, but their excellence was, for much of the campaign, rather under appreciated.
Graham Arnold has fashioned a team that set new records for the number of games won and points accrued and the coach is to be applauded for getting a club that looked to be treading water last season – remember, it missed the play-offs – to turn around in such spectacular fashion.
The Sydney boss created a side that was hard nosed, tough to break down, well organised defensively and in midfield, where Brandon O’Neill and Josh Brillante worked tirelessly to screen a back four marshalled by former Socceroo Alex Wilkinson. Behind them Danny Vukovic, the former Victory goalkeeper, had the season of his career, one good enough to earn him a Socceroo call-up: hardly surprising given he only conceded 12 goals all season.
And in Milos Ninkovic, the player of the season, Sydney had a creative fulcrum capable of manufacturing the bullets fired by the likes of Alex Brosque and Bobo up front, although one of the features of this Sydney side was the fact that they did manage to share the goals around a bit.
The grand final – a tough, ferocious and attritional contest marked more by the intensity of the battle than the quality of the football on offer – was the most memorable game of the season.
What it lacked in quality and finesse it made up for in tension and drama. While purists have recoiled at the lack of finesse on display, it has to be remembered that while these occasions are showcases, the product they deliver may not always meet the lofty standards the audience would like.
For every exhilarating rout, like Victory’s 6-0 demolition of Adelaide in the second ever grand final, there have been many more finals that have produced tension and intensity and late drama but have not been remembered for their flowing football. That’s just how it is when the stakes are high.
Sydney’s dominance will be just about the only thing remembered on field from this season.
Their relentless acquisition of points made the race for the Premier’s Plate a one-horse affair from a long way out, while Victory was equally well clear of the chasing pack behind it.
The rest were much of a muchness. Brisbane showed its consistency by once again juggling an Asian Champions League campaign with domestic competition and did well to finish third, ensuring they will at least gain a berth in the qualifying round of the ACL next season.
Perth Glory was, as is so often the case, hot and cold. When it was good it was very good – as Melbourne City found in a disappointing elimination final defeat – and when it was bad it was ordinary.
West Sydney, who finished sixth at the end of the regular season, was never nearer than at the campaign’s end, when it took Brisbane to a penalty shoot-out in its elimination final. Had it struck form a little earlier it might have given itself a better chance, but it will take some measure of solace in the fact that it was the only team to have beaten cross city rivals Sydney during the home and away season.
And what of fourth placed Melbourne City, looking at an off-season reboot after a season of mixed fortunes.
On the one hand 2016-17delivered an FFA Cup success, City’s men’s team’s first triumph, and on the other a disappointing finale to a league campaign which promised much but delivered little.
The loss of coach John van ‘t Schip midway through the season cannot have helped and certainly City’s form tailed off somewhat after that Cup win and van ‘t Schip’s departure.
Tim Cahill arrived to much fanfare and made a huge impression right at the start, with that wonder goal against Victory in round two. Hindsight tells us that was the high point of City’s season; in that game, which they won 4-1, they looked to be playing like a team on another level.
They rarely replicated that again – perhaps the 1-0 Cup final triumph over Sydney was the closest they came – and in the end it was Victory who had the last laugh, winning the other two derbies, finishing ahead on the league table and making the grand final.
Wellington were another club who flattered to deceive and really could have done better with the array of attacking talent it had at its disposal. Ernie Merrick admitted defeat half way through the season and quit.
He will resurface once again next season where he takes the reins at another club, Newcastle, which failed to make the finals for another year.
Merrick replaces Mark Jones, who initially looked to be making an impact but lost his job security as the Jets went into a tailspin in the latter weeks of the season.
Central Coast performed better than a year earlier – although that is not exactly saying a great deal – but new coach Paul Okon, with a year under his belt, will be in a better position to wring improvement next season.
And that leaves Adelaide, which made the worst title defence in recent memory.
Yes, the Reds were gutted by the loss of several key men at the end of last season, but their championship lustre soon lost its sheen as they scraped along at the bottom of the league for most of the season, hardly ever looking likely to make the finals.
Guillermo Amor is now gone, and there is a major revamp required at Hindmarsh.Continue Reading →