It's a strange time of year for football journos and columnists. There are A-league games on nearly every day, but the rounds are stretched out, and the timing for scribes seldom aligns.
The Jets play the Mariners tonight, too late for yours truly, as indeed was Sydney FC’s clash with the Roar in Brisbane last night.
I feel almost as though I am recounting history if I talk about the 2-all draw between the top two sides at Alianz Stadium almost a week ago.
Can't let the opportunity pass, though, to say that Newcastle’s performance on that occasion was full of merit, and Merrick, and provided total confirmation of why they sit in such a lofty perch on the league ladder.
Sydney didn't play badly, were stretched, but found an answer, and Milos Ninkovic produced a goal of extraordinary aesthetic quality, of balance and finesse, that only the most hard-core of Jets fans could have failed to enjoy.
Since then the Wanderers have won a second match on the trot, Melbourne City have sneaked into third place after coming from behind to beat the Phoenix, the Mariners and Melbourne Victory played out a draw in sweltering conditions in Geelong, and Perth lost 0-3 at home to Adelaide, leaving their weekly aggregate at 0-9.
That caused cousin Kenny Lowe to call on his players to “grow some bollocks” and fight for the club.
You don't need an assistant and eight pages of diagrams to get that message across.
There are 10 games of A-league football to digest this week, impossible to analyse in a weekly column, but I doubt the status quo will change too much. So let's take a look at the bigger picture and examine how the league is going.
I often get teased for talking up Sydney FC. Their recent record is well worthy of comparisons to the other exceptional teams of the A-League's short history, but Foxsports’ Robbie Slater, in his Sunday newspaper column, was absolutely lavish in his praise of his good friend Graham Arnold's team.
Robbie pointed out that, at the time of writing, Sydney were so outstanding that they were eight points clear of second-placed Newcastle, and a staggering 15 points clear of third position.
Melbourne City have moved to within 13 points in third spot as I write this, after 14 games, but is that a measure of Sydney's brilliance, or the mediocrity so far of much of the league?
Let's leave the Jets out of that assessment. Eight wins from 14 games to date, and only the three losses, is well above a pass mark. Adelaide have improved and are ultra-competitive, and might well have won at least two more games with even luck.
The Mariners lost their main striker to the Jets, have played some decent football, and are the only team to beat Sydney FC so far, and sit I reckon, around where most pundits thought they would be.
Unfortunately the same can be said of the Wellington side.
To this point both Melbourne clubs, the Wanderers, Perth Glory, and Brisbane Roar have been largely inconsistent, and very disappointing as challengers to Sydney FC.
That can certainly change, but the question remains: are Sydney that good? Or has their form been flattered by an average chasing pack? (Again, the Jets excluded).
As I noted last week, FC are not invincible. They can be pressed and lose rhythm, and are vulnerable against teams with high pace and mobility.
That said, they are clearly the most talented and experienced side in the league, and deserve high praise. Not sure quite as much as the “Bulldog” (Slater) afforded them though, when after picking an-All Star A-League team to oppose them, Robbie decided he wouldn't swap one of Sydney's players for any of the all-star line-up.
I reckon I could find a spot for a couple who didn't even make his select 11. A fully fit Mark Milligan and Josh Risdon would get my vote, and I'd find it hard to deny the form of Bart Schenkenveld and Dimi Petratos.
As other sides strive to find a way to stop Sydney, coach Graham Arnold hints that there could be three or four announcements this week re player signings, mostly for next season. But if a Trent Sainsbury was to come on board now, it would be a massive blow to the aspirations of other teams.
I still have a hunch that Arnold will find a speedster up front. His team is very fluid in transition, but lack that raw “one pass can kill you” speed of a Bernie Ibini-type of player who can be the perfect antidote to an opposition team’s sustained high press.
Interestingly, Kevin Muscat and Melbourne Victory probably paid Petratos the ultimate compliment just after Christmas by devising tactics to disrupt the flow of Newcastle, and the impact of their best individual player.
It will be interesting to see if other coaches try to follow suit.
Perhaps the signings of Pato Rodriguez, Riley McGree, the return of O'Donovan and Vargas, and the form of Nabbout and Champness will make concentrating on one player futile?
Having offered an opinion on the currently questionable standard of the league in general, I ask you to examine a concerning and irrefutable statistic.
The leading goalscorers’ list for the A- League contains just one player currently eligible for Australian selection in Andrew Nabbout, and that surely should be of some concern.
Perhaps it just affirms Arnold’s assertation that the A-League is not a development ground, but a quick glance across at the EPL list, a competition widely acknowledged for its quality imports in key positions, has four Englishman in its top 10.
When are our next batch of strikers coming from?
That's not a rhetorical question. Where?
Too many hard questions? Too much to think or care about ?
Here's a tip – kick back, come and see the Jets shape the remainder of their season with their next three games, all at home, tonight, again on Friday, and then the following Saturday.
What I do know is the football will be positive, proactive, and exciting. Perfect holiday fare.