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The midweek A-League action provided a goal worthy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when James Brown curled a neat finish past Neil Young.
The ‘Godfather of Soul’ might have passed away some years ago, but his teenage namesake enjoyed a stellar evening in the Gold Coast United front line, scoring his first ever A-League goal in the 2-0 win over Newcastle Jets.
Newcastle goalkeeper Young was less fortunate, copping a boot to the face from Shane Smeltz that left him with a badly broken nose and facing weeks on the sidelines.
Despite looking as disoriented as a ‘Crazy Horse’-loving hippy, Young stayed on the pitch in the wake of the sickening collision – only to let Jason Culina’s opener skip straight past him in a difficult first half.
Culina’s goal was another sub-plot to an entertaining affair, as the United midfielder triumphed at the third attempt over his father and Newcastle coach Branko.
The Jets gaffer was in characteristic form in the pre-match press conference, talking up his team’s chances in typically blunt fashion.
“You can’t say we’re a bad side, because we’ve now beaten Sydney, Gold Coast – twice. We’ll probably do it three times,” blustered Culina Sr as he gazed into a crystal ball which could probably use a once-over with the Windex.
The elder Culina went on to blame his team’s “punishing schedule” for the defeat, after Newcastle had been forced to slog it out in the Sunday afternoon heat just three days earlier, when the 10-man Jets beat champions Melbourne Victory 3-2.
While Newcastle are often on the receiving end of a difficult fixture list, the experiment of playing midweek football has conjured some surprising results.
In a league in which apocalyptic doom always seems just around the corner, many expected midweek football to prove an unqualified disaster, with record-low crowds and TV ratings predicted.
Instead league officials have been pleasantly surprised, with decent crowds turning out in Brisbane, Sydney and on the Gold Coast to watch a Round 19 staggered over five weeks.
The staggering decision – which means the round started on December 16 and will finish on January 26, by which time Round 24 will be done with – allows Fox Sports to broadcast every game live.
There’s something inherently enjoyable about sitting down to watch an A-League game in midweek, as though the process somehow draws us closer to the spiritual heartland of Europe.
Perhaps that’s a tad poetic, but for now midweek football looks to be a success – although once again the fixture list itself raises more questions than answers.
With the Australia Day public holiday on the horizon, surely Football Federation Australia could have done better than to force New Zealand side Wellington Phoenix to cross the Tasman and take on Melbourne Victory on January 26.
Melbourne are the A-League’s best-supported side, and an Australia Day clash with old rivals Sydney FC or Adelaide United would surely have captured public attention and ensured a bumper crowd.
Perhaps the FFA were mindful of the amount of alcohol consumed on the day, with sensational “soccer riot” headlines the last thing the A-League needs in its quest to win over the mainstream public.
As for the rest of the midweek action, it’s been a success so far – in as much that it hasn’t been a total disaster.
That hardly speaks volumes for the A-League, but in a competition that has struggled to generate much positive press of late… it’s a start.
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