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  1. Between the Dalian tie and our next A-League outing against Melbourne Heart, I received an email from the club’s owner, stating that ‘due to the club’s success and subsequent prize money, the club envisages being able to field a 23-man squad for the upcoming Hyundai A-League season. Club owner Brett McGregor is grateful to the efforts of the management, apologises for the limitations on the current squad, and looks forward to a new era of success at the Hindmarsh Stadium.’ It read more like a press release than a memo to all staff, and indeed that is how it ended up in the Advertiser the following morning. On the one hand, it made perfect sense for the owner to be celebrating our qualification and lifting the squad restrictions - if we wanted to compete with the likes of Brisbane, we needed a full cohort of players. On the other hand, there was something very unusual about the timing of the message - the AFC only handed out prize money from the group stage after all six matches and not, as Mr McGregor seemed to be implying, immediately on qualification. He was talking about money we didn’t yet have. Rachel remained on the case as once again we were forced to come from behind in a league game, relying on Ibini’s late leveller to earn a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart. The visitors were up as high as third and were guaranteed Finals football, and to be honest I didn’t fancy taking them on again. Alex Tabor, scorer of their goal, looked very dangerous, and I’d rather not have to face him in a knockout tie. Not with other things to be worrying about. “Darling, I think I’ve got something for you.” Rachel had found something on McGregor, or so she thought. Speaking to her contacts in the business world, it appeared my owner had made himself fairly well-known among certain circles in recent months, and particularly those circles with a gambling interest. She thought that the same investors that had pumped money into the club earlier in the season had just landed a windfall based on our Champions League campaign, and that was how the boss had managed to clear the debts ahead of schedule I was conflicted by her information, speculative though it was. On the one hand, betting partners are nothing new to the world of football, and Mr McGregor was right to seek capital injections into the club. There was nothing wrong with that. On the other, using actual club funds to bet on results - not only did that seem like a terrible way to run a business, it also sounded illegal under a whole host of gambling regulations. All I could do was lead my team out for the final game of the A-League season, fittingly enough at home against our usurpers as premiers, Brisbane Roar. It hurt to be the ones performing the guard of honour, and it hurt to see them presented with the trophy on the Hindmarsh turf after the game. What didn’t hurt was beating them 2-1 on the back of an Ibini brace, and denting their momentum ahead of the Finals Series. I could only wonder where that level of performance had been for the rest of the season.
  2. Indeed, McGregor seems to be intent on messing with Owain's plans this year... -- I left my leads with Rachel and got back to business - I knew something was very strange about the way the club was being run, but I could not both manage the team and look into Mr McGregor’s private dealings. With my wife working for herself - and being paid by a number of key players in the Adelaide area to find their employees - she had the right contacts to do some digging. I simply had football. We were six points back from Brisbane with an ever-decreasing number of games, and indeed with just 12 points available we needed them to implode if we had any hope of catching them. We had to ignore them for the most part and get on with things, and that began with a trip to a Sydney side hanging just outside the play-off positions in seventh, and with the intention of making our visit a miserable one. Things got off to a good start for us when Jason Chettleburgh headed in his first of a season from an early corner, but Josh MacDonald was not about to let us run away with things and levelled midway through the half. Going in at the break it looked like we had the momentum, but less than a minute into the second period the same man struck again, and all of a sudden we had an uphill battle our hands to stay in the game. The comeback began with the much-maligned Rogic, making his first appearance since our falling-out as a half-time substitute for Adams. It took him just three minutes to restore parity with a fine strike from 25 yards out, but his lack of celebration told me everything about his attitude to Adelaide United. He was not about to apologise, not about to up the effort levels - his attitude in training was abysmal - and not about to earn himself a reprieve. He could score a hat-trick for all I cared - he would not be a Red next season. Another substitute, Jamal Hill, then put us ahead on the hour mark, and we began to put our foot on the accelerator. A whipped cross saw Taylor Mitchell toe-poke the ball beyond his own goalkeeper for our fourth of the day, and Hill wrapped up a convincing victory with his second minutes later to make it 5-2 and earn a good win that seemed a long time coming. In terms of raw statistics, our team’s performance was not a million miles off the previous season - but we had conceded a couple more, scored a couple less, and Brisbane were better. They won again, maintaining their six-point cushion. It was a cushion that began eight after the following game - yet another disappointing performance against Perth Glory and Lucas Neill, who managed to claim a 1-1 draw despite only registering four shots in the entire match. Again we had to come from behind - Ibini doing the honours just after the interval - but combined with Brisbane’s comfortable 3-0 stroll past Newcastle, our reign as league premiers was over. We were second best, and I was quick to send my congratulations to Phil Moss and his team - as much as we had not helped ourselves, they had earned their moment of glory. Five days later, we welcomed Dalian to Adelaide and overturned the odds once again, emerged 2-0 winners thanks to goals from Ibini and Alwan in the second half. The Yifang club’s form was suffering domestically, and their continental performances were perhaps indicating that last year’s successes were little more than a fluke. However, with Yokohama beating Seoul by the same scoreline in Japan, it meant we were already qualified for the knockout rounds with two games to spare. I heard nothing from McGregor.
  3. Thanks for dropping by Withnail - I really appreciate you commenting and am very glad you're still enjoying this! -- A couple of weeks later things were looking good. In the A-League, we had qualified for the Finals Series courtesy of three-goal comeback to draw with Wellington Phoenix, gaining a point on Brisbane Roar in the process and narrowing the gap to six. Days later, we travelled to Yokohama and escaped with a 1-0 win, the F-Marinos dominating the game but unable to find a way back after Adams’ early goal. It meant we sat on the cusp of qualification to the next stage, and potentially lucrative knockout fixture. That was when Brett McGregor decided to make his presence known to me once more, and given his recent record I began to wonder whether I should be excited or terrified. “Owain, you’ve got nothing to worry about. I just wanted to say thank you and well done for what you’re doing in the Champions League. I only ever said top six in the league, but to win in China and Japan, you’re doing fantastically.” “Thank you Brett, although I can’t take all the credit. The boys have been very good - if they could do it in the league we’d be miles ahead of Brisbane by now.” “I wouldn’t worry about that - Champions League is the better competition anyway. If we make it through I think we might just be able to stop worrying about the finances for a while.” His grin as he uttered those words was a little worrying, and I had to ask a dangerous but logical question. “If you don’t mind me asking, why are you thanking me before we’ve qualified?” His smile vanished, his lips thinned, and he fixed his eyes firmly on mine. His words, previously spoken lightly and with the air of a man happy with his lot, became slow and calculated. “Because, Owain, I am telling my manager what I expect of him. I see the Champions League as the most important competition that Adelaide United is a part of this season, and I expect him to understand and act accordingly. I am also telling him that the future of this club may depend on it, and that if there is, for example, a selection dilemma or fixture congestion, he should bear that in mind. Do you understand, Owain?” “Am I to understand, Mr McGregor, that I am to prioritise the Champions League to the detriment of our performance in the Finals Series? If so, can I ask how the future of the club depends on it?” I was on rocky ground now, but I was already in too far. I felt my employer’s eye burrowing into my forehead as I waited for the answer. “Let’s just say that there are a number of people with a vested interest in the success of Adelaide United on an Asian or even global level, who do not give a single **** about the A-League. They have been extremely helpful to me Owain, and I would hate to let them down. Are we clear?” I was unsure whether my boss was trying to tell me more than he could, or whether he felt he was in sufficient control to drip-feed information. He knew I knew something, but I didn’t know what I knew. Rachel and her business contacts would have to help me here. “We are very clear, Mr McGregor, very clear.”
  4. Rogic would not be named in the squad for our next A-League tie, which was a return to Melbourne and a chance to take revenge on the Victory for their success earlier in the season. We were in a run of form which I could describe only as ‘mediocre,’ and in need of a win if we were to even think about closing the gap on Brisbane at the top of the table. Our only consolation was in the fact that our hosts sat in ninth place, all but mathematically out of the reach of the post-season. With one win each to either team, the clash at AAMI Park would effectively determine who had bragging rights for the season. Most wins had come by a 1-0 scoreline, so the fans in attendance were probably not expecting a flurry of goals to keep them entertained. This one would be one settled by grit and determination rather than by moments of brilliance. And so it proved and neither side could find the breakthrough to claim supremacy. Seven minutes before the break Carl Clark headed us into lead from close range, but the lead didn’t even last to the interval. Instead, in stoppage time at the end of the first period, Dario Vidosicnetted straight from a free-kick to square the match, and despite a raft of bookings in the second half, the score remained locked to the final whistle. It was a result that did nothing for either team - our frustration at least tempered by news of Brisbane also dropping points. Our first match of March saw us move from the ninth-place team away to the rock bottom side at home as the Newcastle Jets came to the Hindmarsh. They had been terrible all season, picking up points at the rate of a particularly lethargic snail, and the Adelaide faithful expected a win to pick us up out of our mini-slump. Midway through the first half our attackers began to oblige, withAlwan and Clark both hitting the net in three glorious minutes, and the points were as good as ours. We added a third through Ibini to inject some much-needed confidence into the side ahead of our Champions League adventures, and for the first time in many years the Adelaide United squad found itself travelling for a competitive game to a country not named Australia or New Zealand. Our destination was the northern Chinese city of A’erbin and local club Dalian Yifang, which had come out of nowhere to finish runner-up in their last campaign and clinch continental competition. As with Seoul, they were expected to run riot. We took to the field in temperatures much cooler than a usual March morning in Australia, and for the opening moments my players too seemed a little frozen by a combination of the weather and occasion. Dalian came at us hard, and it took all of Paul Izzo’s goalkeeping skills to keep us level to the break, but just two minutes into the second half their striker broke free of our defensive shackles and steered home the opener. The bookmakers, it seemed, were correct. However, the goal seemed to stir us from our slumbers, and we bit back. FirstIbini and then Clark tested the Chinese goalkeeper with stinging efforts, and then on 65 minutes we got a lucky break, a well-timed tackle poking the ball through for Alwan to slot beyond the goalkeeper. From the restart we harried, won the ball back and won a corner, and in the ensuing melee Thorbjornsson was able to get his head over the ball and crash home a half-volley. In the blink of an eye we had turned the tables, and my rank outsider Reds had the lead. We held it too, and with Yokohama winning away in Seoul, we were in a very strong position after two games. We would travel to Japan a couple of weeks later, and if we managed to earn a win in Yokohama, we would be as good as qualified for the knockout phases. If we made it there - something we were simply not expected to do by the people who know about these things - we would go a long way to solving Brett McGregor’s financial problems. They were something I was soon to find a lot more about.
  5. FC Seoul were, compared to my Adelaide side, a giant of Asian football. With numerous titles to their name in their native South Korea, and winners of the Champions League itself a mere three years prior to our meeting, we were underdogs even with home advantage. When my scouting team handed me their report, it made for bleak reading - they were superior all over the field, and were expected to dominate. Even so, whether it was my relaxation into a counter-attacking shape or over-confidence from our Korean visitors, it seemed for long periods of the game that there was only one team in the match. Seoul offered very little in the way of attacking threat, mustering a mere three shots over the course of the 90 minutes, and Paul Izzo was largely a spectator in our goal. The expected onslaught simply never came, and we were rarely at risk of defeat. At the other end, however, our recent problems continued. Even the presence of Ibini, up and running at full speed after his recent injury, could not bring about the all-important goal that we needed, and at half-time the Hindmarsh needed to wake from its slumber. In the second period the introduction of Hill and Alwan - recently returned from Japan with a runners-up medal for his troubles - sparked a little excitement, but in the end the 0-0 draw was two points dropped for us rather than for our opponents. Five minutes from time Tom Rogic earned his third yellow card of the season for flinging himself theatrically to the floor, and after the match I confronted him in the dressing room, laying down the law in front of his peers. As the best-paid player in my Reds squad he did not take too kindly to my criticism, and barely uttered a word in response. When I came into the office the following morning I had a voicemail waiting for me from Tom’s agent, and so once again I found myself in heated debate with Lance Deans. “With all due respect Owain,” he began after the pleasantries, “my client does not appreciate being treated like a naughty schoolboy being made an example of. He is an international footballer - an honour which you yourself never attained - and you humiliated him in front of his team-mates.” “Mr Deans,” I responded emphasising the formality, “your defence of Tom is admirable but misplaced. As you rightly point out, he is an experienced professional who should be setting an example for his younger team-mates to follow. Instead, he is attempting to cheat to gain an advantage, and in doing so earning himself derision from the crowds, wasting opportunities on the field, and walking a disciplinary tightrope. Not of which are acceptable.” There was a long pause on the other end of the line. In hindsight, I imagine Deans and Rogic were conversing at this point. “My client would like you to apologise on the training ground for your outburst.” “He would like me to what now? ‘With all due respect’ Mr Deans, your client is out of line and he knows it. Adelaide United pays him good money to perform to the best of his abilities, and he is simply not pulling his weight right now. Even if I was in the wrong - which I most certainly am not - I’d be struggling to find a reason to apologise. “Last season, Tom was the league’s top player, and I’m aware his new contract does not reflect that - sadly, it reflects the financial circumstances I am forced to work in. However, since signing a contract longer than I was comfortable with, his performance level has dropped and his attitude has worsened. I would like to suggest to you, Mr Deans, that your client needs to apologise to me.” The next silence was longer, allowing me to realise just how angry I was becoming. No matter, I was in too deep to back down at this stage. “My client will do nothing of the sort.” “Well I suggest that you, Mr Deans, begin to start earning your money. I will use Tom between now and the end of the season, if only because he is paid to pay and a competent footballer. However, I give you my full assurance that he will not be registered in my 23-man squad next season - I have no place for half-hearted performances. Please tell Tom I will see him on the training pitch this afternoon, and that if he has any complaints he can speak to me himself. Goodbye.” Well, I thought to myself. That had gone well.
  6. Thanks Neil - McGregor seems to have got ideas way above his station, so hopefully Owain can pull something out the bag... -- We’d need to wait to find out, as we faced two A-League games before taking our first steps into continental football. First up, the Central Coast Mariners, and a team we seem to hold some sort of black magic over. Schultz scored his first for the club from a corner on the stroke of half-time, and just shy of the hour mark Jamal Hill powered home to give us our first win in far too long and leave the Mariners, our closest rivals last season, all the way down in 8th. That defeat cost Ante Covic his job, and that fact sat uneasy. In Wales I’d have taken great delight in seeing someone like Neal Ardley get the boot, but Ante had never shown me anything less than complete respect, and his against-the-odds Grand Final appearance had clearly cost him this time round. With Brett McGregor’s recent change of tone, I also wondered whether my sympathy was linked to a sense of foreboding. The game that followed that was a visit from Western Sydney Wanderers, who decided that the best way to stunt our attacking prowess was with a series of niggling fouls. Despite my overhauling the squad since taking over, something of the old Adelaide way was obviously left in my players, and we fought fire with fire, resulting in a scrappy and poor game blighted by fouls. We shared 13 bookings - seven for us and six for them - in a dismal game that somehow saw four goals, and frustratingly there too were shared despite us hitting 20 shots to the Mariners’ six. More irritating still was the news that Brisbane had stomped Melbourne Heart 4-0 on the road, and now led the table by a full seven points. We had just a handful of days before our first foray into Champions League action, and after consulting with Jade I decided that a day off ahead of Seoul’s visit to the Hindmarsh would be positive for all concerned. We weren’t in the best of form, the players were probably sick of my frowning and rebukes, and Rachel was getting a little lonely with both the girls now at school. I could not believe how quickly they had grown. The day off allowed certain conversations to take place, and with Brett’s recent outbursts things inevitably led to the possibly of my departure - forced or otherwise - from Adelaide. With school now sorted and Rachel’s business up and running - rather well, I might add - we were as settled as we likely to be in South Australia, and moving on, particularly overseas, would be a great deal more difficult than the transition from North Wales had been. Yet at the same time if things with the Reds didn’t work out, the small and closed nature of the A-League meant my search for work would likely take me out of the country. It was not something we were particularly keen to do, and so my intention was to stick things out as long as possible. However, Rachel was keen to stress that I musn’t grind myself down by working under impossible conditions - a 19-man squad, for instance - and I had to agree. In short, although we failed to come to anything concrete - countries we would prefer to move to, what to do about schools, what I would and wouldn’t endure - my wife and I reached a conclusion which satisfied at least my initial fear. Adelaide was home for as long as it could be, but I would not be a slave to the mismanagement of an erratic owner. That made things much easier as I prepared the team for Seoul.
  7. First, the bad news. We had already endured one defeat in Melbourne this season when the Victory stole a 1-0 off us in the second game of the season, and our next game saw us endure another galling defeat to their cross-town rivals Melbourne Heart. This was perhaps more frustrating - not because it was against a fierce rivals, but because two of the three goals they scored were penalties given for invisible infringements that only the referee saw. The only sign of hope? Bernie Ibini making a 20 minute cameo in a 3-2 defeat. A second away trip in as many weeks then gave us the chance to overhaul Brisbane by winning at the home of the leaders, but in fact all we managed to do was give them a taste of our injury-based pain. Their title charge had been carried on the young shoulders of American phenom Fabio Romo, with a remarkable 13 goals in nine games. He wouldn’t be scoring any more for a while, after a challenge with Thorbjornsson saw him leave the field with cracked ribs. On the pitch, we slipped 2-0 thanks to a mad minute in the first half, levelled up to 2-2 through the returning Hill and Adams, and then failed to capitalise on our momentum. We then failed again to beat Lucas Neill’s Perth Glory - an injury time equaliser from the unlikely boot of Will Allomes the only thing preventing another defeat after another penalty call going against us - and in the space of three or four games we had gone from being neck-and-neck with Brisbane to clinging desperately to their coattails. With the gap up to five points and a considerable goal difference, even at the beginning of February we seemed unlikely to hold on to our status as premiers. That, it seemed, did not best please my employer. Brett McGregor, despite insisting before the start of the A-League that he only needed a Finals Series spot - something we looked almost certain to achieve - gave me my second stern talking-to of the campaign after the Perth game. This time, rather than telling me how important certain games were to the fans - something which made sense after the Melbourne defeat - he pressed home how “he had a lot riding on this team” and that “Adelaide United needs to hunt Brisbane down.” I knew there were certain financial pressures on the owner, and I knew last season’s success had heightened the bar, but this verged on threatening the sack. I knew he couldn’t afford that, but I did not like his tone. Nor did Rachel when I relayed the conversation to her. Oh, the Champions League groups were drawn somewhere in there too. We were given a token sum of money as a qualification bonus, and got thrown together with Japanese champions Yokohama F-Marinos, Chinese upstarts Dalian Yifang, and South Korean heavyweights FC Seoul. If the bookies were to be believed we were heading for a pasting, but we had to have a chance. Didn’t we?
  8. Thanks Neil, Owain is having his work cut out by the restrictions, but the Christmas Tree seems to do a job down under. It'd be a hell of a job for him to retain the title, but I'm sure he'll give it a good go... -- Next up, Sydney and a team that seemed to be going through a revival after a fairly poor performance last time round. Despite their most recent failing, the latest visitors to the Hindmarsh remain one of the wealthiest teams in the division, and for that reason alone seemed to be one of the bookmakers’ favourite every year. Hopefully we’d be able to show them the error of their ways. Six minutes in, things looked pretty bad. Greg Schultz, whose performances over his opening half-year have fluctuated from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again - which, partnered alongside the card-prone Chettleburgh, makes for an interesting pairing - lost his man and allowed Josh MacDonald to run clear and fire the visitors into the lead. So much for keeping things tight. We had Jack Adams to thank for a fairly swift reply, as our in-form attacker beat the Sydney keeper low at his near post, but parity lasted just five minutes. Again it was MacDonald getting the better of Izzo, and again we had to come from behind. Again we did it quickly, this time Carl Clark mixing up the scorers, and with 34 minutes played we were tied at 2-2. I was still waiting for a chance to breathe, and the fans in attendance did not know where to look. The immediate answer was to Slaven Simic, the Bosnian who always seems to score against my Reds. In he ghosted from a corner five minutes before the break, and behind we went for a third time in the match. To say my half-time pep-talk was frustrated would be an understatement - Jade said after the match he thought he saw steam coming out of my ears, and I’m not surprised. Against a fairly mediocre side, we’d been made to look even worse. The rocket had the desired effect, and 40 seconds in the second half Adams sent a half-volley beyond the keeper to level the game again. Surely this time, with three equalisers and the wind in our sails, we would push and romp home to a 6-3 victory? Surely the three points were staying in Adelaide? Well, no. A full 45 minutes of pressure yielded precisely no more goals, and we were forced to split the points with a Sydney side that had shot its bolt in the opening period and had nothing left to play with. We dropped more points in our shoot-out with Brisbane at the head of the table, and that was that. The only positive to come out of the game - aside from our three goals - was that over in Japan, my Australian Under-22 representatives had contrived to lose 2-0 to Jordan in their quarter-final. It meant four of my five absentees - Mo Alwan’s Iraq were still in with a shout - would be returning before our next game. Of course, only three of them would be available for selection. Seamus Brown’s role in the defeat had included picking up an injury, and so he would be out of action for another month. Sometime I wonder why I bother with this game.
  9. Making good progress here, do you know what ranking you will need for a seeding? Shame about those three defenders going but, as you say, it happens so often at this level of football. Looking forward to seeing how you get on with these guys, keep it up!
  10. Hang on a minute, don't England know they breeze through the qualifiers and then disappoint at the tournament? Will be interesting to see how the Home Nations get on, I'll be following along Mark.
  11. Did Scotland decide not to bother with strikers? And to leave their best left-back at home? That seems very strange! Love the detail in these previews Chris, great work as ever and looking forward to seeing the finals unfold.
  12. The team welcomed in 2022 by partying the night away in Wellington, with complete consent of their manager. Another goal - this time inside 80 seconds - from Carl Clark had been enough to see off the native Phoenix, and with no match for a week I saw no harm in allowing the lads to let their hair down a little. We had an early flight the next morning - I wasn’t going to take too many risks - and nobody missed the plane, so I considered it a job well done. That same day we waved farewell to Glenn Cochrane as he officially became a Wolverhampton Wanderers player. I was still a little confused about what a decent English team were doing prowling around Australian teenage goalkeepers, but with football a truly global sport and air travel cheaper than ever, I supposed everybody felt the need to explore the world to get the jump on their rivals. In the case of Cochrane, I suspected Wolves would be disappointed. Our next match threw up a dilemma. Against Wellington, I had managed to put together a squad that was good enough to travel into enemy territory and win without the missing players. In theory, against the rock-bottom Newcastle Jets, that same squad of 16 should have been able to do the job. No problem. However, along with the five players missing on international duty, we had Ibini and Hill out injured, Tom Rogic suspended after picking up another booking for diving - his second of the season - and John Orlando, who had filled in at right-back in place of Somerville, ruled out with a thigh strain. That meant I had fewer than the 16 I needed to complete a matchday squad, and so was forced to raid the youth team just to fill the bench. Unfortunately, the youth team was not exactly packed with quality, and Jade North and I spent a long time deciding who we would take to Newcastle to sit on the bench. My hope was that we would race into an early lead and be able to introduce the teenagers in a no-pressure environment. The second option was not to use them at all. So it was with a number of unfamiliar faces took their places on the bench against the Jets, both excited by the occasion and praying for a chance to get on and do their thing. Of our five substitutes, only Konstantinidis was older than 19, so avoidance of injury was only just behind collection of three points on our priority list for the trip. In the end we achieved the second objective with relative ease, although had reckoned without a second evil - suspension. With nine minutes to play and the Newcastle faithful baying for blood, the referee gave in to pressure and sent off Jason Chettleburgh for a challenge which deserved a yellow at worst. I was disappointed with our Kiwi centre-back for giving him the opportunity, but it was the officials that bore the brunt of my anger. That anger was tempered, however, by the result, and in particular the manner in which it came. After 68 difficult minutes against a Jets side unwilling to endure more punishment in a miserable season, I finally gave in and turned to my bench, sending on attacking midfielder Dusan Lalovic and striker Stephen Wheeler for their professional debuts. Neither could claim great potential, or even a high chance of breaking through to the first team in years to come, but I had no other options. Four minutes later, Lalovic decided to make his mark. He collected a pass from Malik, turned on a sixpence, hurdled one challenge and outpaced a second defender below finishing low into the bottom corner. It was a stunning goal, one of the best I’d seen since moving to Australia, and a superb solo effort. For one afternoon, our 19-year-old nobody became a cult hero in a moment destined to be played on highlight reels forever more. Not even Chettleburgh’s late dismissal could bring Newcastle back into contention, and after 14 of the 27 league games, we lagged behind Brisbane on goal difference alone. I only hoped we would have a full-strength team to play with at some point some.
  13. And so the fates would have it that our last home game before Christmas would be a clash with Melbourne Victory, a game which would probably decide whether our most vocal of fans would enjoy a happy holiday or not. Rachel and I were determined not to fall into the same trap - the halls were decked and presents wrapped well in advance - but if we wanted to keep pace with Brisbane at the right end of the table we needed the three points. With our first and second-choice strikers both on the injury table, this time the job of leading the line was given to Jack Adams after his late-ditch rescue goal in our previous outing. I couldn’t expect someone to net in injury time every week, but after the way we had knocked Melbourne out of the Finals Series last season, I would certainly not be turning down a similar goal to seal a win. We would not need some last-gasp heroics this time round though, as a thoroughly professional defensive performance kept the Victory at bay throughout the 90 minutes. Where we struggled was up front - no surprise given the absence of Ibini and Hill, and so it was never going to be a high-scoring affair. Nevertheless, my decision to start Adams in the leading role was vindicated when he set up Carl Clark for the only goal of the game in the 39th minute, and our early-season defeat in Melbourne was avenged with relative ease. That game at the Hindmarsh would be the last time we saw our international representatives in action for as long as a month, with Somerville, Smith, Brown, McDonald and Alwan all heading off after Christmas for the Asian U22 Cup. Whilst I hated the thought of being without key players at such a critical time - only backup goalkeeper McDonald was not a regular first-team player - I could not begrudge them the chance to broaden their horizons and play for their countries. It would not have been very festive of me to wish them ill. That gave us eight days before Christmas, and a further five afterwards before our New Year’s Eve journey to Wellington.On the back of a win over our rivals I was in a good mood, and so the players - at least those that weren’t jetting off to Japan - were given a full week off over the holidays. As long as they reported in good nick before we flew out to New Zealand, there would be no repercussions from me. I had to trust my players. That meant that Christmas itself would be a family occasion in the Williams household, with Rachel and the girls enjoying their second summer Christmas a great deal more than our first haphazard attempt. This time we were joined at the dinner table by Francesco and Maria, whose families had both returned to Italy for the season. With Maria pregnant and worried about spending a long time flying, they had decided to stay in Adelaide on their own, and it didn’t take Rachel long to invite them round. When they finally headed next door at 2am, I was convinced it had been the right call to make.
  14. Oops, so they did. That'll teach me to read several posts at once! Love the Brazilian bitterness, I can picture just that reaction. I'd love to see one of the unseeded 16 win out from here, but judging by the line-up I just can't see it...
  15. Flying start to the second season Mark, that Swansea game sounds infuriating though! Reckon you've got a title in you this year, or is it all guns aiming at Europe?