Pick a winner, it's almost impossible

by Michael Huguenin on Feb 16, 2012

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With six rounds to go in the A-League, I can safely say I have no idea who will win this year’s competition.

I have often thought that our national competition must be the most unpredictable in world football.

Thanks to the salary cap, new clubs still finding their feet in terms of developing recruiting systems and training measures,  and a wide range of playing talent, consistency has probably been the hardest thing to attain in the first seven seasons of the A-League.

Because of this our competition is constantly surprising and frustrating us.

In this season alone we’ve seen Brisbane Roar break The Record, as I like to call it, and then lose four in a row.

Melbourne Heart won five in a row to go second by the end of 2011 but have yet to win in 2012.

Plus league-leaders Central Coast Mariners went 15 games unbeaten before back-to-back defeats to Brisbane and Melbourne Victory in their last two matches.

But now I’m laying down the gauntlet, Eminem style.

Will the real A-League contenders please stand up?

In my view there are eight clubs still with a serious chance of making the A-League finals. The bottom two teams can be ruled out.

Gold Coast is 12 points behind sixth-placed Heart and won’t make it. The flourish in Adelaide after John Kosmina’s appointment has also waned and the Reds haven’t won in six, including three defeats on the bounce. Plus Adelaide has the worst defence in the league.

Every other club, however, is still a chance and with six matches to go (seven for the Mariners, who face Gold Coast in their game in hand), it’s time to stand up and be counted.

Due to the fact that six teams out of ten make the finals, the two most successful clubs in A-League history (Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC) are still a serious chance, if they get on a decent run, of making waves in April.

In any other league in the world a team with a record of five wins, 10 draws and six losses wouldn’t have any chance of winning the championship but that’s exactly the situation for the blue half of Melbourne.

This season has been a disaster for Victory but with the calibre of players at Jim Magilton’s disposal, and after a much-improved performance on Friday night in their 2-1 triumph over Central Coast, they could still salvage the season with a trophy.

Sydney FC’s squad also includes match winners and experience of winning championships.

But with the players at Ange Postecoglou’s disposal, I believe Brisbane Roar should still be considered the best side in the competition. Although the men in orange clearly need a couple of big wins to get their mojo back.

Brisbane can take comfort in the fact that a number of A-League sides have slumped in the second half of the season before putting together a good run into the finals and eventually lifting the toilet seat.

In 2007-08, Newcastle lost just one match in the first 10 rounds but then failed to win for four weeks, including two defeats in a row. The Jets then won their last three games to finish second, lost the major semi final but then bounced back again to beat Central Coast 1-0 in the grand final.

In 2008-09, Melbourne Victory lost three out four games between Round 13 and 16 but then recovered to claim victory in four of the last five rounds and finished the season with the club’s second Premiership-Championship Double.

That kind of precedent could also be inspiration for Heart who looked unstoppable before New Year’s Eve but have struggled in 2012, with injuries and Olympic qualifying commitments weakening their young squad.

It’s clear that Central Coast is in the box seat but Graham Arnold strikes me as a manager who is suddenly unsure of his best starting line up. The loss of Matt Simon to Korean-club Chunnam Dragons seems to have thrown the Mariners off balance. New recruit John Sutton will need to hit the ground running, especially with young gun Bernie Ibini-Isei having failed to score this year.

Wellington is also a big shot to win their debut A-League Championship but the Phoenix have a tough run home with just two home games in the last six rounds, plus they have to play the Mariners twice.

It’d be great to see a couple of these teams really take the league by the scruff of the neck over the next month and a half and announce themselves as the main contenders for both the Premiership and the Championship.

But as much as I’d like to see at least one club defy the A-League’s trend of inconsistency, even if a club limps into the finals series it can take solace from Melbourne Victory’s double-winning side of 2006-07.

After wrapping up the Premiership with four rounds to go, Ernie Merrick’s men failed to win for the rest of the regular season before beating Adelaide United 2-1 on aggregate in the major semi final and 6-0 in the grand final to clinch the Championship.

Let’s hope for some self-assured, stable and powerful performances for the rest of the season.

But don’t expect it.

The A-League, if nothing else, is unpredictable.