Football fans have to find a way to console themselves after a home loss. The ref was against us, we were unlucky, our best striker was injured, we had more shots/possession/corners/pointless hoofs forward than the other team.
Last night at Lang Park, Queensland Roar led the stat count in woeful defensive errors, 2-0. As a result Melbourne Victory's run of away victories continued relatively untroubled. And the home fans knew that all their excuses rang hollow.
After this game, Farina might begin to realise the size of the task ahead. Perhaps the one thing Farina might have definitely counted on was a solid defensive performance. So the Roar pulled that rug out from under his feet, with even super-reliable Josh McCloughan making an error which led to a goal. Gibson, Ognenosvki, Packer and even Seo chipped in with notable defensive blunders as well.
Queensland's latest starting line-up was missing Simon Lynch, an injury casualty from this week's training. Farina found a spot for previously discarded skipper Chad Gibson, in the midfield anchor role. Roar's best performer in this spot for the last two seasons has been Hyuk-Su Seo, so he was picked at right fullback, where Andy Packer has been in great form. So Packer played left fullback.
In midfield, German import Marcus Wedau has struggled in the A-League, and was left out of the 15 altogether. So Farina picked attacking midfielders Dario Vidosic and Spase Dilevski to give some width to the formation on the left and right sides respectively. Matt McKay was to provide the link between attack and defence.
Melbourne welcomed back skipper Kevin Muscat and defender Roddy Vargas, and their attacking line-up boasted the strike-power of Daniel Allsopp and Archie Thompson and the creativity of Fred.
With Muscat and Grant Brebner patrolling the midfield, the Victory had an air of calm control mixed with menace. I don't think many clear-minded Queensland Roar fans were expecting a win.
Very early on the cracks were showing in the Queensland formation. Vidosic and Dilevski are natural attackers and Chad Gibson is a natural defender. Queensland often appeared to be playing a 5-1-4 formation, with McKay all alone in midfield, except for being surrounded by men wearing silver-gray with a big V on their chest.
With the formation under pressure, and Muscat, Brebner and Fred finding plenty of room to operate in, Queensland resorted to fouling the opposition. The referee Simon Pryzdacz drew the ire of the crowd for showing the yellow card to four Roar players in the first half, but on each occasion the caution was absolutely deserved.
In the third minute of the game, Chad Gibson set the scene by playing a terrible back-pass. Josh McCloughan just won the three-way race for the loose ball, poking it away for a corner. A split-second later Liam Reddy and Fred collided heavily, with both players needing attention from the trainers. Reddy recovered, but Fred hobbled around for the rest of the half, clearly restricted in his movement, and was replaced at half-time.
Half-fit or not, Fred was a handful for Queensland, and it was his through pass that created the uncertainty in Andy Packer's mind that led to the opening goal in the 17th minute. Once again Reddy was advancing rapidly out of his goal, and Allsopp was also closing. Packer's attempted clearance only found the back of the net.
Liam Reddy had an unhappy night in the Queensland goal, not because he played poorly, but because the defence in front of him was rattled. Reddy made a great double save later in the half from a Brebner shot, just managing to flick the ball away before Thompson could snaffle the rebound. Queensland made a couple of opportunities down the flanks, but with Leijer and Vargas very solid in the middle of defence, neither Reinaldo nor Ante Milicic posed any great threat in the first half.
The second half began with Queensland producing another blunder to gift Archie Thompson his goal. Either McCloughan or Ognenovski could have dealt with a hopeful ball forward by Simon Storey, but it eluded both of them, and Thompson finished with a calm lob over the advancing Reddy.
If that summed up the Roar's defensive performance on the night, then Reinaldo provided the attacking summation in the 51st minute. Advancing into the box with a Victory defender in close attendance, Reinaldo took a swipe at the ball and crashed to the ground as though shot. The crowd screamed for a penalty, but the replay showed that the Brazilian had simply missed the ball altogether and fallen over.
Just after the hour, Farina made his tactical substitutions. On came Stuart McLaren and Yuning Zhang, for Vidosic and Gibson.
I have been watching the Roar all season, and I have learned at least two things:
# Stuart McLaren is one of Queensland's best players and should be starting every week. On this occasion he played in the centre of midfield, and helped restore Queensland's shape to something approaching 4-4-2.
# Yuning Zhang is like Mark Viduka on valium … he has good touch, but he's slooooow. (In the match program, Josh McCloughan was quoted as saying Zhang has the turn of pace of a West African dung beetle. I have no knowledge of these particular insects, and suspect they might be pretty handy on the sprint if compared to Zhang).
McLaren fashioned the Roar's best chance of the night in the 64th minute, when he shot from just outside the area. The shot took a slight deflection off Zhang and hit the post, with Victory keeper Galekovic nowhere.
The game meandered along after that, as Queensland ran out of time for any sort of comeback. Zhang had a reasonable shout for a penalty turned down, and he also managed to miss a low cross from Reinaldo at the near post that was at least half a chance. Last week Queensland Roar played OK, lost to Adelaide and Miron Bleiberg resigned. This week the team was much worse. Frank Farina won't be resigning as a result, but I think at Bleiberg can be said to be clear of blame.
If the Roar have any bouncebackability, now is the time to show it.
On this showing, Melbourne will win the premiership race comfortably and go into the finals as deserved favourites. Queensland, on this showing, won't be in the finals.