Ninko notches match-winning assist, and champions finally on the board

Just the five games this weekend because of the Brisbane Roar-Perth Glory clash being postponed.

Milos Ninkovic made his return to Moore Park, John Aloisi’s Western United finally got their first win of the season in dramatic circumstances, and Adelaide United took their old rivals apart in The Original Derby.

Here are your A-League Round 6 talking points.

Late drama on super Sunday

Wellington Phoenix were in control in the early game at home to Western United, before the champions came all the way back from a 2-0 deficit to claim their first victory in six games.

It was talisman Alessandro Diamanti, who’s been plagued by injury so far in 2022-23, with the late, late winner deep into stoppage time at Sky Stadium.

Not a lot Oli Sail in the Wellington goal could do about that one.

As rumours swirl about star players’ form and desire to be at the club, this could be a galvanising win for United. Down 2-0 in the second half, away from home, you could understand some heads dropping. But credit to them, they kept fighting and staged a quite improbable comeback.

For their sake, let’s hope they’re able to hold on to Aleksandar Prijovic and Aloisi is able to capture some more lightning in a bottle as the league resumes following the break for the FIFA World Cup.

John Aloisi hoists the A-League trophy

(Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

In Gosford, this time it was the away side’s turn to blow a two-goal lead. After Al Hassan Toure got the first goal for the visitors and Jonathan Aspropotamitis opened his A-League account to double their advantage, the Premier League-bound Garang Kuol put his Mariners side on his young shoulders and levelled the game with a brace.

Alas, it wasn’t to be for Central Coast as Jed Drew hit the second 95th-minute winner of the afternoon to ensure all three points headed back to Campbelltown.

Plenty of goals again this round – 17, to be precise, and remember there was one fewer game with the Brisbane-Perth clash postponed until after the break. You might accuse this league of a lot of things, but you wouldn’t dare call it boring.

Congratulations to the A-League players off to Qatar

Socceroos boss Graham Arnold on Tuesday afternoon named his final squad for the World Cup, which is now just seven days away. Included in the 26-man squad were A-League players Mathew Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Redmayne, Danny Vukovic, Garang Kuol, Craig Goodwin, and Jason Cummings.

To be brutally honest, it’s something of an indictment on the level of talent at Arnie’s disposal that more than a quarter of the squad is made up of domestic-based players, but that’s not to take away from the achievement of someone like Jason Cummings, who just recently must’ve thought his World Cup ambitions were destined to go unachieved.

Kuol’s inclusion is bound to excite green and gold fans, with the dynamic youngster likely to come on as an impact sub at some stage.

Andrew Redmayne, the Grey Wiggle, was deservedly rewarded for his penalty shootout heroics to get us into the world’s greatest sporting event. If Australia somehow makes it out of Group D and find themselves in another shootout, Redders could well be called upon again.

A few weeks ago it looked as if Daniel Arzani would force his way into the squad, but the Macarthur man’s form has trailed off, so ultimately it wasn’t a huge surprise that he was omitted.

Ninkovic sets up matchwinner in return to Allianz Stadium

As Milos Ninkovic took a touch inside the Sydney penalty area and tried to compose himself in front of his new adoring fans, it was as if time stood still at Allianz Stadium. Thirty-four thousand people held their breath as former teammate Andrew Redmayne made himself big.

The script was already written for Ninkovic to score at the ground where he became a Sydney FC legend, but it was Redmayne who came out on top, easily stopping the new Australian citizen’s tame attempt at goal.

Ninkovic would make up for his error just seven minutes later, laying off to Kusini Yengi, who dispatched a thunderous drive past the helpless Redmayne to send the RRB into raptures.

(Photo by Steve Christo – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Ninkovic received some booing from the home faithful but the volume gradually decreased over time.

As for the game itself, well, it wasn’t the flashiest contest. It had all the hallmarks of a derby: a lack of chances, cagey play and multiple flash points. Sydney could have levelled the game late on as the Wanderers’ concentration dipped just enough to let their rivals back into the match.

Sitting in the press box, though, it occurred to me just how vast a chasm there was between this experience for fans, players, journalists and broadcasters and the lukewarm feel of derbies at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium. At times it felt like this could’ve been a game somewhere in Europe. Marko Rudan spoke post-game about how much the derby means to him and his squad.

If that atmosphere can be matched or bettered in the other two derbies, we’re in for a lot more fun.

Adelaide quietly making their way up the ladder

We’ll finish this week with a few words on Adelaide United, who I’ve mostly neglected in this column so far. Carl Veart’s side are up to third on the A-League ladder on the back of their third straight win, and they’re playing some great football.

The Reds thoroughly defeated Melbourne Victory in The Original Derby, the 3-0 scoreline not flattering them one iota. Along with Melbourne City, Adelaide are probably the side with the most momentum right now and they’re probably wishing they didn’t have to wait a month for their next competitive fixture.

Sydney FC and Victory have both started much slower than expected, leaving a vacuum in the top part of the six for other sides to fill. It’s still early, of course, but there’s an opportunity here for United to achieve their best league finish since the 2016 premiership-championship double.

Veart has his side well-drilled, with quality all over the park and potentially the league’s best player in Craig Goodwin. How far can they go in 2022-23?

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