THE LOWEDOWN: Consistency always the key

ANOTHER week, yet another two correct tips from the five matches played, and strangely I’m satisfied with that return. Honestly, who would tip for a living in the A-League?

After eight games, defending champions Brisbane sit second-last on the ladder, and glamour club Sydney FC are one place lower.

Melbourne Victory, after a sluggish beginning, have started to hit their straps, and Adelaide, second-last in the league in 2011-12, are flying high at the top of the table.

Perth have been steady, but we have come to expect more from them, particularly at home. Wellington probably fit into the same category, with consistency and steadiness their hallmarks, along with normally foolproof home form. Neither of the pair has been as dominant as usual at their respective  fortresses.

If you look up ‘‘consistency’’ and ‘‘reliability’’ in the dictionary, there is a photo of the Central Coast Mariners, and their solid form has them sitting quite comfortably in second place.

I reckon you could throw the new boys, the West Sydney Wanderers, into the  consistent  category as well, for though their results have been a little mixed, their general football output has been of similar standard  for almost the entire first-third of the campaign.

Which leaves us with the  two  protagonists from Saturday’s six-goal thriller, Melbourne Heart and the Jets. 

Some might suggest these two are the classic ‘‘hot and cold’’ teams, although that generalisation may be a touch harsh.

Certainly both teams are capable of producing exceptional passages of play and putting good opponents to the sword. Both are  susceptible to lapses in concentration that can undo much good work in the blink of an eye.

The Heart were excellent against Brisbane a fortnight ago, brilliant against the Victory in their first-round derby, and their opening fifteen minutes against the Jets suggested a long, uncomfortable day for Gary van Egmond’s side. They have been disappointing in a number of matches either side of those peak performances.

The Jets could have been dead and buried in this match before the late arrivals found their seats. That they clawed their way back into the contest twice is something the team can be proud of but, as van Egmond acknowledged, ‘‘we cannot be considered title contenders, whilst conceding so many goals’’.

As I suggested last week, the Jets often find their best form against teams who are offensive-minded and proactive, and the Heart certainly provide that sort of opposition.   It is fair to say that the Heart are similar to the Jets in that regard, and neither is particularly adept at taking the sting out of the contest when superiority has been established.

Can either of the two find the defensive hard edge to complement their attacking qualities, pace and mobility?

The answer needs to be an emphatic yes, or both will be scrapping for a position lower down on the list of semi-finalists.

 Week-to-week tipping is a hazardous pursuit in the A-League, but it helps to paint the bigger picture, and already I believe that five teams are playing for three semi-final spots.

You would have to think that Adelaide and the Mariners  can’t miss the play-offs. Perth with all guns on deck and their strength at home will surely be thereabouts. I’m  tipping Shane Smeltz to surge up the goal-scoring chart.

From there it becomes  awkward.

Melbourne Victory are on an upward spiral, have massive support, stars in Thompson and Rojas, and a hugely successful and respected coach in Ange Postecoglou. Barring injury,   they should be in the finals.

Every season the pundits tend to dismiss Wellington, and every year the Phoenix seem  to prove the doubters wrong. They are  resolute, don’t drop many points at home, and have Jeremy Brockie and Stein  Huysegems  to take the pressure   off Paul Ifill. They are strong, underrated  contenders.

I enjoy watching  the Heart and West Sydney Wanderers. They are at opposite ends of the consistency spectrum, with the Heart probably short a dose of West Sydney’s steadiness, and the Wanderers  occasionally a touch light on the unpredictable attacking options the Heart possess. Both may struggle  if they encounter a run of injuries.

I can’t see poor old Sydney FC making the play-offs from were they are. Del Piero can unlock Fort Knox in a heartbeat, and the return of Jason Culina should help, but their defence remains porous, they are waiting for a coach, and they are giving away a big start.

Quite deliberately, I have left Brisbane and the Jets  until  last. They meet this Saturday at Suncorp Stadium in a massive game for both sides, but more particularly for the Roar.

 Brisbane still have talented players, but have lost  their  aura  and have also lost five of the eight games played this season.

The Roar are by no means at crisis point, but they are frustrated, struggling for answers, and psychologically vulnerable.

Besart Berisha was lucky to avoid a red card in Gosford on Sunday and gave a graphic illustration of how much the pressure is  affecting  the side.

If Brisbane don’t beat the Jets, the defending champs are in big trouble.

The Jets have pace, mobility, and goals coming from various sources. They have had bad luck with goalkeeping injuries and, seemingly regardless of who appears in the back four, are leaking goals.

They have fielded a different line-up in all eight matches, and last weekend’s back four contained noone from last season’s regular selection.

If van Egmond can settle on an effective  defence, he has enough grunt in midfield  and pace in wide areas  to ensure that Emile Heskey and Co will win their share of games, and the Jets will make the top six.

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