Brisbane Roar took all three points thanks to Kwame Yeboah’s late screamer.
Daniel McBreen returned immediately from his loan spell in China, starting as the lone striker. With Michael McGlinchey and Storm Roux absent on international duty, Nick Fitzgerald and Mitchell Duke started at left and right wing respectively, while Marcel Seip played at right-back.
Mike Mulvey chose, in essence, the side that finished last week’s 3-0 win over Melbourne Heart: Henrique started upfront rather than as part of the midfield triangle, although Yeboah was dropped in favour of Dimitri Petratos, who was out on the right.
Rather typically for these two sides, this was a close, tense match, dominated by the contrast in the two approaches.
As we’ve come to expect, the Mariners defended in a 4-4-2 shape – rather strangely, this was much to the surprise of the match commentary – and this especially noticeable in the long periods they spent without the ball.
The format of the Brisbane midfield trio was particularly interesting, with Luke Brattan nearly always keeping a dedicated position in front or in the defence (as he dropped in to create a back three). The two ahead of him, Matt McKay and Ivan Franjic, effectively roamed their entire attacking half, although Franjic tended to drop more alongside Brattan, with McKay darting forward into goalscoring positions.
With Petratos making diagonal forward runs from the right, and Thomas Broich coming inside into pockets of space, there was a nice balance to Brisbane’s play – all the movements were complementary. There was, though, in light of the Mariners solid, organised defensive shape, little room to manoeuvre, and Brisbane found it difficult to create chances with their patient build-up.
Graham Arnold has fashioned his side towards an efficient, all-round style of play, but they were heavily reliant on counter-attacks here – often by absorbing waves of Brisbane pressure, then breaking quickly down the right.
Duke was instrumental. His pace is tremendous, and when the ball was turned over he sprung forward into the open space behind Corey Brown, and the Roar’s naturally high defensive line. Rather than, say, an incisive pass from Marcos Flores, it was the wide forward’s powerful running that was the main avenue for Mariners counters. It lead to Matt Smith’s yellow card, and there was also a back-heeled chance in the penalty box that stemmed directly from Duke carrying the ball forward at transitions.
The secondary attacking threat was coming from, rather predictably, Josh Rose at left-back. In contrast to Seip’s minimal threat in the attacking third (aside from one strange, looping cross), which can probably be attributed to his preference for centre-back, Rose often burst forward from deep positions into the final third.
With Petratos often being caught high up the pitch when the ball was turned over – a consequence of his role in providing directness and a goal threat from out wide rather than an issue of work rate – there was often lots of room for Rose to attack into, and twice in the opening ten minutes he got forward to good effect. As the ‘freest’ Mariners attacker, he had an odd half-chance at the start of the second half, and hit the post late on.
Interestingly, the Roar were also getting good thrust from their own full-backs. Jack Hingert was keen to get into advanced positions, while Brown’s prominence on the left-hand side, and reluctance to use his right foot, was a key feature of the second half. It was interesting that sometimes Brown was often ‘underlapping’, rather than ‘overlapping’, Broich, who drifted inside quickly in the first forty-five but stretched the play more in the second half.
However, the Mariners protect their full-backs keenly and are rarely vulnerable to overloads. Instead, the major chance of the first half came when Henrique caught Trent Sainsbury being ponderous in possession, forcing a good save from Liam Reddy. It wasn’t typical of the wider trend, though, which was a lack of creativity in open play.
On a sidenote, it’s worth noting the role of Henrique, who’s proven to be quite versatile under Mulvey, having played right wing, centre midfield and now centre forward this season. However, while you might expect the Brazilian to drop off into the midfield zone as a false nine, instead, he was simply a typical number nine; playing high up the pitch and making runs off the shoulder of the centre-backs (although he did create a good chance by moving between the lines and slipping in Hingert in behind, who squared for McKay’s spurned far-post curler).
Lack of creativity
Why, then, was there a lack of creativity? From a Brisbane point of view, it was because the Mariners midfield duo did an excellent job breaking up play. Nick Montgomery and John Hutchinson are always in position behind the ball when it’s turned over, which immediately funnels attacks wide, while Montgomery was particularly strong in the tackle and forced Franjic backwards with his presence.
From a Mariners point of view, the lack of influence from Flores was a key factor. Whenever he received the ball, he was pressed quickly by the closest Brisbane player – often Brattan – which forced Flores’ first touch backwards and made it difficult for the Mariners to transition quickly into attack. A general lack of sloppiness was also to blame, with a number of passes simply overhit or played behind the receiver.
Both sides also shared a similar problem with their first pass out of defence, in both cases not being quick enough. This meant the Mariners couldn’t play out of the first wave of Roar pressure, while Brisbane’s insistence on retaining possession, through safe, sideways passes, meant when they started to build attacks from deep positions they were often facing eleven organised, disciplined Mariners players.
Dictating possession isn’t a merit in itself, but here the Roar’s control forced the Mariners very deep. This in turn made them launch counter-attacks from difficult, deep positions, and were certainly not helped by some terribly careless passing from McBreen.
Brisbane’s dominance of possession eventually became the prevailing feature of the second half, largely because of a lack of significant intervention from the substitutes. Arnold elected to bring off Flores for Matt Simon, with McBreen dropping deeper, while Mile Sterjovski came on later for Fitzgerald – while Mulvey only made one obvious, yet decisive change, with the introduction of Yeboah. As a straight swap for Henrique, it wasn’t a particularly clever move, although the youngster eventually proved the difference.
A predictable, yet enjoyable tactical battle. With the broad possession v counter attacking battle effectively a draw, the most significant area of interest was in the full-back zone, where Hingert, Borwn and Rose all got forward at some point to good effect to provide the most notable attacking threat.
Yeboah’s goal was spectacular, but a goalless draw might have been a fairer result.