Unstuck In The Middle

Perth Glory scored a good win over Melbourne Victory at the weekend. Yet it all could have been so different.

Nebojsa Marinkovic scored from a trademark free-kick when Lawrence Thomas made it so much easier for the dead-ball specialist by standing behind his wall, before Adam Taggart showed a goal poachers instinct with a late run ahead of an exhausted defender to deflect home a pass after a good run from Josh Risdon.

As is often the way the goal scorers stole the headlines but maybe it should have been the Glory goalkeeper instead. Liam Reddy, who is looking the fittest in his entire professional career which has taken in nine NSL and A-League clubs in 16 years, made a crucial penalty save just before half time which ensured that Glory went into the break still on level terms with Melbourne Victory.

Victory did open the scoring late in the match from another penalty, but had they gone in trailing at half time it could have been a very different match.

What will be a concern to many is that this match saw Perth Glory concede their sixth penalty in their last five games. Admittedly two came in this game and three against Melbourne City. It was their seventh penalty conceded in six games. Liam Reddy has saved three of those seven penalties.

So why are Glory conceding so many penalties? All of the penalties have been conceded by defenders so many will point the finger at the defence, yet as the old saying goes you attack as a team, you defend as a team.

If you look at the bookings picked up by Glory players it makes interesting reading; Rhys Williams – 6 yellow, Dino Djulbic – 4 yellow, 1 red, Rostyn Griffiths – 4 yellow 1 red, Brandon Wilson – 5 Yellow, Josh Risdon – 4 yellow and Alex Grant, Shane Lowry, Joseph Mills, Nebojsa Marinkovic and Diego Castro – 3 yellow. In fact Perth Glory has picked up more Yellow cards than any other side in the A-League this season with 46 in 16 games.

Yes, defenders are always likely to pick up more cards than other outfield players but Glory appear to be taking that to the extreme. Interestingly the six most booked players in the A-League are all midfielders. An area where the ball is often won, and attacks often snuffed out before they become dangerous.

Perth Glory has played different formations during the 2016/17 A-League season, and coach Kenny Lowe has mixed up his personnel, but it would appear that by picking an attacking midfield with Chris Harold and Diego Castro on the flanks he lacks the bite in the centre of midfield. This willingness to attack has paid dividends as Perth Glory are the third highest scoring side in the League with 28 goals behind Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory both with 36 goals.

Yet sadly Glory has conceded the second most goals with 31 ending up in their net. Only last placed Central Coast Mariners have conceded more, having let in 34.

This is maybe why there is an air of frustration about the club that Rhys Williams’ transfer has not panned out the way everyone had hoped. Let us not forget that Chris Herd, who would have played in the midfield. He had signed for the club, but then had his contract terminated by mutual consent on 27th of July, with the season starting on 10th August. So coach Kenny Lowe’s best laid plans would have had to be re-organised at the eleventh hour.

Serbian Milan Smiljanic was signed on the 9th of August as a replacement. At the time Lowe was quoted as saying about the new signing that “He fills the last visa spot and gives us the flexibility and depth we want to fill in that midfield role.”

Yet Smiljanic and Marinkovic -who is undeniably one of, if not the best deadball specialist in the A-League – have underwhelmed as a partnership in midfield. In fact it may be this pairing that is causing the defence so much heartache. Both are far from aggressive players and neither are ball winners.

Marinkovic, as with Troy Halpin in the Glory side of old needs a ball winner alongside him. Halpin had Edgar Junior, an unsung hero for Perth Glory in that era.

Perth Glory are well placed on the A-League ladder and look certain to qualify for the finals, but one feels if they are to make a genuine challenge for the title this season the midfield is a key area they need to look at. It would appear at this point in the season that the defence is being stretched by a weakness in midfield and last ditch tackles are resulting in penalties, and unwanted bookings. Bookings which could come back to haunt the Glory when suspensions come as a result of an accumulation of bookings.

Unstuck In The Middle
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