David Lowe: The Lowedown

Here's hoping the benefits of a split round (physical and psychological refreshment) far outweigh the potential pitfalls (loss of rhythm and momentum) because I can tell you from a columnist’s point of view, it can be troublesome.

I'm feeling a bit jealous of Bert Van Marwijk. Turn up for a week, watch a couple of games, pass considered opinion, spruik some commonsense home-truths about ability versus ambition, and off you trot, never to return. Unless he gets us out of the group stage that is, in which case he will be back to pick up the keys to a six-bedroom home in Hunters Hill, as part of his performance bonus.

Off the pitch, last weekend panned out pretty well for the Jets. Only those who cling to the belief that the Jets can topple Sydney FC for the minor premiership would have been disappointed to see Graham Arnold's men trounce Melbourne City on Saturday night.

Unfortunately for the believers, Harold Holt won't emerge from the ocean any time soon, and Greg Norman won't be wearing a green jacket on April 8 this year. 

To me it was an ideal result for the Jets. Second place would be a massive achievement, and as the games tick by, and the four-point buffer to City remains, it becomes ever more likely.

The lovely irony would be that if Ernie Merrick's men beat the Wanderers on Friday night, a Melbourne Victory win in the derby over City a fortnight later could just about confirm Newcastle's top-two finish the night before their big home game against Sydney. 

All of which would happily coincide with the Men of Football's (Hunter Chapter) celebration of 40 years of participation in the national competition, for the various entities that have flown the flag, or dragged some heavy anchors, in representing the region.

STATING A CASE: Riley McGree scored a goal for Newcastle in their 2-0 win against Melbourne Victory. Will he earn promotion to the starting XI? Picture: AAP

STATING A CASE: Riley McGree scored a goal for Newcastle in their 2-0 win against Melbourne Victory. Will he earn promotion to the starting XI? Picture: AAP

That sort of symmetry is probably stretching the bounds of reality, but it would be fantastic if Merrick could send his side out at home to have a real crack at Sydney, in a prospective rehearsal for early May, free of the need for pragmatic points accumulation.

Still there are numerous pieces required to fall into place for that to happen, not least of which is a turnaround in form for Melbourne Victory. 

They lost their third consecutive match on Friday night, against a Brisbane Roar side who are averaging something like 33.4 years of age.

Surely they are the oldest team in A-League history. If John Aloisi can keep the group together for 18 months, they are going to be almost unbeatable in the South-East Queensland A grade over-35s in 2020! 

I write that tongue in cheek, having enormous respect for Messrs Maccarone, McKay, North, Holman, Khallfallah et al, and an understanding of how experience can help teams. But surely a traditionally strong Victory side would have run the Roar ragged at AAMI Park.

Muscat's men now find themselves in a dogfight for a top-six berth, never mind anything higher. 

Yes, yes I'm having a light-hearted crack at Brisbane's maturity to highlight Victory’s energy and output. Or lack of it. Yet the vast majority of of Sydney's  starting 11 are the wrong side of the big 30.

Very true, but the guile and experience of the majority is beautifully balanced by the enthusiasm, energy, and mobility of O'Neill,Brillante and Zullo.

In the weekend’s other match, postponed from earlier in the season, the Wanderers (Newcastle’s opponents on Friday night), destroyed a hapless Wellington Phoenix side 4-0 at ANZ Stadium to put themselves back in the running for a top-six, maybe even a top-four berth.

The win was comprehensive and will help confidence, but I am sure Merrick's side will provide a far greater test. Wellington have been ultra-poor since their shock win at McDonald Jones Stadium on January 20. It will be interesting to see who starts for Newcastle on Friday, whether Ernie sticks with a very attacking line-up or finds room for Riley McGree to disrupt the rhythm and control that Bacchus and Bonevacia like to establish in central midfield. 

The games are all vital at this stage, and I will be surprised if the Jets aren't on fire from minute one. They will want to test the Wanderers, on a five-day turnaround, for an up-tempo  90 minutes. 

Newcastle’s W-League team went 120 minutes in the bid for a grand final position, in their clash with Sydney FC at Leichardt Oval on Saturday, and were brave beyond the call of duty.

They lost Hannah Brewer to a harsh sending-off on the stroke of half time, fought back courageously from a 0-2 deficit at that stage, and scared the life out of a Sydney team who got a little sloppy and careless.

As a quite rightly proud coach Craig Deans noted, the game is not about referees, but players, and it was great to see Tara Andrews notching a vital goal in her comeback season.

Novacastrian fans had a mile of things to be proud of.

In retrospect this column, has been a little all over the place, rather like a split round. To finish, a sombre tribute to a footballer, whose feel for the game, passing range, and dexterity brought enjoyment to so many. 

Liam Miller had a CV that included Manchester United and Celtic, which suggests you can play. And couldn't he. 

Combine that playing background with an Irish heritage, and a rare talent, and there is a fair chance you are going to be a popular teammate. He was that.

On the football pitch he could find a way to beat most any opponent, in the tightest of areas, but few if any find a way to beat the relentless and insidious opponent that is pancreatic cancer.

At just 36, his departure leaves many of us examining our mortality with a pang of selfish guilt, and hearts aching for his family.

I never had the pleasure of making his acquaintance, but could sense the pleasure he drew from playing the game, and from being a real footballer. Australia and the A-league in particular have been the better for his company in recent years.


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