Can Newcastle bring out their away-from-home magic and snap the Central Coast's 10-game winning streak? Can Sydney and Adelaide play two halves of football? Should Newcastle's Corbo have been sent off for a second yellow in the first half? Would it have mattered? Will Adelaide's Carl Veart get an Academy Award for his acting in the 80th-minute kerfuffle? Can I explain the away-goals-rules accurately and succinctly? And does anyone really care?
Newcastle has to win and score at least two goals. Adelaide have to win or score at last two goals (and not lose). I'm halfway to getting my predictions right for the first round.
All this and more after the jump...
Friday: Newcastle 0, Central Coast 1
The Jets fell to their third loss in a row; but at least they stemmed the bleeding, with the goals-against coming down from 5 against the Roar to 3 against Perth and now 1 against the Central Coast. But is it enough? They looked okay in the first half, with fast breaks from the halfway line involving two or three players, whereas the Mariners farnarkled about a lot between halfway and the edge of the area with the whole team involved. The Coast didn't look much more penetrating than that, but for some reason they looked like the better team. Maybe it was just the advantage in possession. (Or maybe it just looked that way because I watched most of the first half on x2 speed?)
Maybe Newcastle's first-half running and wayward shooting left them worse for wear; but in the second half, the Coast finally took advantage of always having the ball. First, however, Central Coast goalie Danny Vukovic was called on to make what may have been a crucial save. May have, because I'm not really sure what Newcastle would have done one goal ahead and with most of the disappointing crowd of 10,236 at their backs.
But we won't know. Instead, from about the 10th minute of the half on, the Coast just ground Newcastle down with possession until they scored twenty minutes later. The goal looked like Newcastle in the first half, sure touches from five players, starting in their own half of the field.
Continued pressure couldn't bring a second goal, so the Central Coast takes a one-nil lead and a precious away-goal into the second leg at home next week.
The FFA may not be pleased with the crowd. It was high, but lower than the game against Queensland a few weeks ago, and 30% lower than the first-round record. Not good for a home semi-final. There were more away-fans than I've seen (and heard) at a game before. (Still with only 80kms to travel, this is the league's local derby.) When the goal was scored it sounded great.
It always throws me that Central Coast aren't the ones wearing the sand-coloured jerseys. I think coast, I think sand. And it's hard to remember that it's actually the home team, Newcastle, in sand/gold; probably because the stadium is decked-out in the red and blue strip of the NRL Newcastle Knights. Of course it wouldn't matter if there were enough fans so you couldn't see the coloured seats...
Sunday: Adelaide 2 Sydney 2
And talking of the colour of teams' jerseys, finally both teams were wearing their home (coloured) jerseys today. All year, the league have made the team playing away wear their mostly-white alternate strip, which has lead to comments that one of the teams is the same in every game that's played, that team in white. Even when both teams could wear their home jerseys with no chance of a colour clash. Tonight, finally, they did and it looked like a real game of football, the reds v the blues.
It's a shame that it didn't sound like too many away fans made the trip because Sydney, the away team, took the lead early. What the hell was Adelaide defender Michael Valkanis doing? Waiting to see if the ball would bounce back to him off the post? Kosmina might be a tool, but he's right to be unhappy with his central defenders after that effort.
Dwight York should have scored for Sydney twenty minutes later, with the clock on 30:01. After what seemed like an eternity, but was only the previous twenty seconds, of thwarted runs into the box and ineffective clearances, the ball is cut in from the right to York in the 6-yard box. York's first mis-kick helps him wrong-foot his defender and... this is taking too long to write, because - while York's eventual shot was harmless - Adelaide scored a wonderful goal on the counter-attack. Travis Dodd stepped both his defender and the goal-keeper to score. The clock was at 30:20. Then while I was still writing about York's miss, Adelaide scored again at 32:35 after two minutes of pressure since the previous goal.
In two minutes and thirty-four seconds, Sydney went from nearly 2-0 up, to 1-2 down. But it was kind of okay 5:54 later, when Sydney equalised again with their second away-goal.
And the Hindmarsh Stadium A-League record crowd of 15,001 (!) went quiet! Unfortunately, the game did, too.
Someone was robbed of some time at the end of the first half: what about some added time for that injury? It seemed like I was fast-forwarding for hours through vision of some Sydney player writhing about on the ground. But whoever was robbed of a those couple of minutes of play, (the viewer?) Sydney's Petrovski was robbed too; in the last play of the half. I've freeze-framed it myself. He wasn't off-side and he was away.
Sydney 3-2 would have made for an exciting second-half. Unfortunately, instead we got bitty grinding football from two teams that had played an entire game in the first 45 minutes.
So now Adelaide go to Sydney (And Newcastle go to Gosford) for the final leg, where away goals don't count double.
What actually happens is that away goals count 'extra'. First, the aggregate score of the two games has to end up in a draw. (If not, the team with the most goals wins.) Second, they look at the number of goals each team scored in the tie during the game when they were playing away from home. The team that scored more goals away, wins.
For example, let's say Sydney and Adelaide draw 1-1 next week, the aggregate score will be 3-3. But Sydney will win, because they scored two goals in the game in Adelaide, but Adelaide only scored one goal in the game in Sydney. If away goals counted double, Sydney would win 5-4, but they win "3-3 on the away-goals rule".
>>>Alex Brosque has left the Queensland Roar to Join Sydney F.C.