Brisbane Roar 1 – Central Coast Mariners 0
Though it wasn’t the Grand Final, Brisbane Roar and Central Coast Mariners played a fine game of football on the opening day of the A-League’s 2011/12 season. The replay of the now famous tie at Suncorp Stadium did not attract record crowds, but those who did come were treated to a skillful clash of club’s with opposing styles of play. The Roar, last season’s runaway Premiers and Gold Medal Trophy winners, were the more fluid, routinely mystifying the 13,467 crowd with their passing and possession. Yet the Mariners’ stout defense were up to the task for most of the game. In the end, Brisbane prevailed 1-0 thanks to a Mitch Nichols goal in the 72nd minute. Nichols was cruelly denied the opener on 25 minutes when he rounded young Mariners goalkeeper Matthew Ryan but hit the post. Ryan was called on seven times but could not keep a clean sheet. Still, the Mariners will not be devastated by a loss away to the double holders. For their part, Brisbane are top class, having recovered already from the loss of personnel after such a successful 2010/11 season. It’s too early to project the rest of the season, but this was a good indication of just how good the Roar can be in 2011/12.
Newcastle Jets 3 – Melbourne Heart 2
Elsewhere, Newcastle Jets opened the season with a 3-2 home victory over Melbourne Heart at Ausgrid Stadium. A first half brace from Ryan Griffiths and a late goal from Byun were just enough to edge past Mate Dugandžić‘s brace for Heart. The 21-year old who moved to Heart from Melbourne Victory in the off-season was exciting throughout, combining well with Fred and Jason Hoffman to give the visitors a formidable attacking presence. But Griffiths took over the match late in the first half, scoring from a free kick and from the run of play before nearly completing a hat-trick in injury-time, forcing a fine save Heart keeper Nikola Roganović. Substitute Alex Terra nearly gave the Heart the away win before Byun launched a shot in injury-time that deflected off Michael Marrone and into the Heart goal. Taking all three points was important for the Jets after losing their biggest off-season acquisition Jason Čulina and the sacking of his father, manager Branko Čulina. Though Craig Deans is only the interim manager, and there were certainly holes in the Jets’ defense, the start is bright for Newcastle. Similarly, Heart can take solace in their wonderful attacking display, though they need real help at the back.
Melbourne Victory 0 – Sydney FC 0
And in the league’s marquee tie of the opening weekend, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC drew 0-0 at the Etihad Stadium in front of 40,351. The A-League’s two biggest signings were on display with Harry Kewell nearly scoring at the end of the first half and Brett Emerton having his penalty saved. Despite the scoreless result, the match was far from dull as both sides relied heavily on their goalkeepers. Liam Reddy, Sydney’s keeper, just did keep Kewell out late in the first half and denied Danny Allsopp and substitute Jean Carlos Solórzano in the second half. On the other side, Ante Čović, who was signed just this week, brilliantly saved Emerton’s penalty in the 33rd minute and denied all else to earn a worthy clean sheet. While both sides will surely rue their missed chances, shared points in a game of such import was hardly unjust. With the media attention now slightly less intense, both sides can focus ahead of their matches next weekend. Meanwhile, the Victory will be very pleased with their pick-up of young Marcos Rojas, who played very well.