By Andrew French
When I agreed to do a post for Phoenix home games, I thought – why not? In an hour on the pod, we often don’t get to cover everything that we want to and a long form post would be a good opportunity to flesh out the odd topic in a little more detail. Ah, such hubris.
So, I spent the best part of a week struggling to come up with a topic of substance. While there are so many new things – there is also almost nothing to give them any context – new coaches, new players, almost no competitive pre-season and then, to cap it off, missing more than half of the spine of the team (Durante, McGlinchey & Doyle due to international commitments and Finkler to injury).
As such, it seemed more fair just to outline what we know about those involved for the first game and how they handled their role.
Coaching – Darije Kalezic has nailed his colours to the mast by stating he wants a very disciplined 4-2-3-1 formation, focusing on possession and structure. It certainly looked like the squad received that message and were trying to adhere to it, but it looks like they are still coming to grips with just how structured Darije wants them to be. Attention to detail seems to be his forte, highlighted by him berating Galloway mid-game in pre-season “Why you need hands? Why?” after Galloway was free-kicked for pushing a player.
Andrija Kaludjerovic – some players need a good pre-season to get going and AK looks exactly like that. Good striker’s instincts, right place, just a half-a-yard too slow. Suspect he’ll come right though esp if he gets quality service from the wings.
Roy Krishna – playing in a better suited wide-right role rather than in the centre, he looked at home. He was able to find space regularly and managed to supply some decent balls into the middle. He wore the captain’s armband for the night but I’m not sure his quiet personality suits this on-the-field.
Alex Rufer – the surprise no.10 after Finkler dropped out through injury and Singh was left out of the squad – presumably picked over Sarpreet due to his experience (and missing WeeMac etc behind him.) Definitely his natural position (being played at DM during pre-season as was woeful) and played decently but he’s still probably the 5th-ranked no.10 at the Nix (Finkler, Vidisic, Singh, WeeMac, Rufer). He might only get 2 other games during the other international windows to earn a contract for next year.
Dario Vidisic – good speed, great touch, impeccable timing on the run to score his header – the only thing missing from him at the moment is his lungs. Seeing as he’d only played 90 mins over two games in pre-season due to recovering from a injury, that’s easily forgiven. He twinged a groin at 60-odd mins in and was gassed by 70 mins, but good signs for the rest of the season.
Goran Paracki – this guy is class. Text-book decision-making; positioning, passing and awareness are impeccable. Not flashy but is already showing he’s pivotal to both the possession and structural play of Kalezic’s Nix.
Mathew Ridenton – showed what an adaptable footballer he is. While nominally a box-to-box or attacking midfielder (but has played both up-front and right back for the Nix!), he’s proving adept at the DM role in a short timespan too. If he keeps learning and growing as he is, he could be a real boon to the club, especially during international windows. Second string to the bow is the quality of his set piece deliveries, both corners and free-kicks.
Scott Galloway – after a pretty mediocre pre-season, he showed the class of a player looking to make a break to Europe (as he is). Fullback is a really tough role in a 4-2-3-1 – when to go, when to stay – and he made it look easy. His combination with Krishna was great too. Looking forward to having a decent right-side for the Nix!
Daniel Mullen – big, imposing lad but didn’t use it enough in my mind. Got beaten in the air a few times, which is concerning but overall looked comfortable as you’d expect of someone who’d played so much in the A-League.
Marco Rossi – like Kaludjerovic, Rossi looked like he missed the sort of pre-season he’d have grown up on in Italy. Mostly decent but a few scratchy decisions. That said, he started like this last year and came right to become the Nix’s best defender. Coordination with Abbas wasn’t the best too.
Ali Abbas – not a great pre-season, but a worse start to the season. Easily the worst player in yellow and the only player that would have gotten a failing grade. Caught out of position more than a couple of times, mixups with more than one player. Gave his opposite an easy 5m after one of the mixups and that cost the goal. It would surprise if Doyle isn’t back in at left back for the Sydney game though I have a sneaking suspicion Rado rates him so may get another crack. Definitely can’t have another game like that.
Keegan Smith – the surprise starter at keeper – 18 years old, and not even contracted at the beginning of the season. Picked for his distribution and it showed, totally unflustered on the ball but a couple of split-seconds of hesitancy when defending which shouldn’t be unexpected while on debut let alone at his age. Highlight was a great point-blank save. Yanked from goal-kick duty to allow more distance, but very vocal to all his defenders which is quite impressive. Overall he was very solid and will probably gain a lot from the experience.
Parkhouse, Rogerson and Watson came on for Vidisic, Krishna and Kaludjerovic respectively but none got enough time or ball to make much of an impression.
[Andrew French has been a Yellow Fever and Phoenix member for the past decade. For more of his sage opinions on the game, you should listen to him on the Phoenix City podcast here, and follow him on Twitter here.]
An action photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand. I focus on sport, birds or cats depending on what stage of the apocalypse we're currently experiencing.