David Lowe, A-League Analysis: Experience shows as Sky Blues cruise towards minor premiership

SITTING PRETTY: Graham Arnold and his Sky Blues are in the box seat to win the A-League minor premiership. Picture: AAP
SITTING PRETTY: Graham Arnold and his Sky Blues are in the box seat to win the A-League minor premiership. Picture: AAP

As I sit down on the January 1 to write this column I search for a new outlook, some fresh faces, a different approach, exuberant youth usurping the old guard … and what do the sporting gods offer?

Well, Roger Federer for a start – 19-time grand slam champion, genial genius, whose body seems to be outlasting a cache of leviathan challengers and career-long rivals .

And the man who my son, Alex, reckons I look like (thanks for the rap buddy) , Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor lines up for his 17th world darts title at the tender age of 57.

I can understand the longevity of two absolutely freakish talents, hell I am secretly happy that you don't have to be a ‘Stone’ or a McCartney to have rock star adulation later in life.

But when Alistair Cook carries his bat for 244 and bats like Pollock for much of his dig, you have to ask: ‘what's happened to the young ‘uns?’

It's no surprise to see a Graham-Arnold coached team sitting comfortably atop the A-League ladder at Christmas but this very experienced team is doing it on their proverbial, right now.

A win Wednesday night over a likely depleted Jets line-up, chosen from an already depleted squad, would leave the Sky Blues 11 points clear at the top of the table with 13 rounds to play. 

No more bets thank you, times and margins please judge, unless Ernie Merrick's men pull off a big upset at Allianz Stadium.

Is that likely? 

Given the number of potential absentees for the Jets, it's probably not, but the visitors do have the pace and mobility to cause a few problems. And it would be incongruous to dismiss the chances of the team lying second, with eight wins from 13 games, in a one-off fixture against the top side.

But if Nigel Boogaard and Ben Kantarovski are missing, the organisation and tenacity required to stymie Sydney will he a question mark . 

Comparisons between this Sydney team, Ange Postecoglou's Brisbane Roar side and Ernie’s swashbuckling Melbourne Victory outfit from the early days of the A-League are being made. Your ideal is dependent on personal taste but none were or are invincible or untouchable. 

Sydney are obviously very well coached, have a host of very clever players, capable of turning matches in an instant and have enormous belief. Regardless of the result tomorrow night, they will win the minor premiership by a double-figure points margin.

But like everyone, they are vulnerable in one off matches against the right type of opponent.

If the game is about pattern, rhythm, football smarts and nous, they will be too good against A-League opposition.

The Sky Blues are fit and strong, but the vast majority of the regulars are 30-plus and better suited to the footballing aspect over the fighting.

The concession to youth is in central midfield in Josh Brillante and Brandon O'Neill, who are seldom overshadowed as a pair. They will be better for last season’s grand final experience when Melbourne Victory pressed Sydney out of a comfortable rhythm and almost got the job done.

Jets coach Merrick is clever enough to understand that his primary focus is to finish top two if possible and arrive in the finals with a team fit enough, fresh enough, and mobile enough to disrupt Sydney, and with enough threat and football in their lineup to cause problems at the other end. That balance is important .

The Jets’ best chance of three points tomorrow evening may well be Sydney tripping at the last hurdle in a bid to break the record streak for undefeated home games in a row. How often does publicity, and expectation cause that to happen?

To be honest, I don't see it happening tomorrow but good results in the next three home games for the Jets are absolutely key to providing the ultimate opportunity in April-May . 

The good news is that no team outside the current top four looks capable of stringing a consistent run of results together, at least not a run that will quickly eat into a 10-point margin.

In further good and unusual news, the Jets have come out running in the all-important January transfer window with Patricio Rodriguez and Riley McGree signed, sealed and delivered. McGree, of course, won't be sighted until late January or early February due to Olyroos selection.

I'm sure there will be a number of in comings and outgoings in the next fortnight or so and a number of coaching jobs will live or die by the success or otherwise of business in January.

How important could this short week be for Wanderers new coach Josep Gombau as his team negotiates Melbourne City at ANZ Stadium (Monday night ) and Brisbane Roar away on Friday?

The same could be said of Melbourne City coach Warren Joyce as he sorts through his striking options. A win Monday night and three points against Wellington at home on Saturday could see City within a point of the Jets without a genuine striker being currently available at this stage .

His team will be more functional if he can get Bruno Fornaroli, Ross McCormack or a combination of both on the pitch. Perhaps there is a big name number nine on the way in January.

Besart Berisha's Australian citizenship may take place too late for Kevin Muscat and the Victory to have the benefit of another overseas option. But look out next season.

I have been banned for life from doing awards at the turn of each year by former Newcastle United team manager Michael Wagstaff and I stick solemnly by that promise.

However, I thought I'd take a sneaky look at the crystal ball if that's okay with you ‘Waggy’? 

Sydney win the minor premiership in late February and go on to total 65 points.

The Jets pinch a break on the two Melbourne sides with three home wins in January and hang on to second.

Sydney FC host the Jets in the grand final, Arnold claims underdog status and questions how the Jets can fit so many ‘stars’ inside the salary cap and we all enjoy the big occasion.

Ernie Merrick is knighted.


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