After announcing that the A-League grand final would be played in Sydney for the next three years, regardless of the combatants, the APL could well have been hoping to get lucky in 2023.
A Sydney team riding high and romping home to a premiership would no doubt have softened the anger throughout the finals, as opposed to that which will be felt when two teams from outside the city emerge as the contenders.
Even now, that scenario appears almost certain.
Should an Adelaide versus Central Coast or Wellington versus Melbourne City decider loom as the most deserving battle, fans from those regions will no doubt reignite the flames of fury that existed immediately following the December decision.
They will also publicly slam the limited time available to make arrangements for the trip to Sydney, as well as the cost, for what has been labelled as a ‘festival of football’ by the APL.
No doubt, had Macarthur FC, Sydney FC or Western Sydney Wanderers been front running at this stage of the season, the suits may well have been rather chuffed that cries of injustice would at least be absent in the first year of the three-season experiment.
Twelve months later, they would then hope that all had been forgotten and people had become used to the idea of the final match of the season being set in fixture stone. Thus, the cash grab and interference on the basic principle of the highest-ranked qualifier being granted the right to host the grand final would be seen as a success, a coup if you will, and one that added some much-needed money to the coffers at the expense of history and fans.
However, and sadly for the APL, there seems as much chance of a Sydney-based team featuring in the 2022-23 decider as there is of their original decision being reversed and APL boss Danny Townsend making an official public apology to all fans, citing the error made and returning things to the way they were.
While the Wanderers are clinging onto third place on the ladder, they are far from impressive. Since the World Cup break, Western Sydney have won once – a 4-0 triumph over the bumbling Bulls – and scored just eight goals in seven matches.
Poor losses to Perth and Western United, along with a series of dour and sometimes fortunate draws, have seen the early-season belief begin to wane. Marko Rudan will be aware that unless his men are more consistent in front of goal, the gap between the Wanderers and Melbourne City, Central Coast and Wellington remains vast.
Scrapping out results is one thing, yet based on current form, making the top six might be a decent achievement in itself.
Sydney FC would kill for some scrappy results. The Sky Blues’ efforts after the competition recommenced have been woeful, following the stunning win over Melbourne City on December 10. Losses to the Mariners, Bulls, Phoenix and Western United have followed across their next six games and Perth pinched a couple more off Steve Corica’s men with a late equaliser a fortnight ago.
Frankly, Sydney look bereft of real ideas and composure. A team without Milos Ninkovic was always destined to be a new beast, yet the attacking midfield players attempting to fill his void are simply not capable of doing so, with Anthony Caceres targeted specifically by the coach in an early substitution during the loss to Western United on Saturday.
The Bulls cling to sixth, yet recent losses to Adelaide, Central Coast and a belting at the hands of the Wanderers remind us of their mid-table reality. Their three wins since the resumption have come against Newcastle, Sydney and Perth; hardly anything to write home about.
With a sacked coach to boot, their season appears on tenterhooks.
Thus, the ‘Captain Obvious’ crystal ball confirms that the Sydney teams stood zero chance of earning the right to host the grand final in 2022-23 under the old arrangements, barring some miracle second half of the season from Western Sydney.
In fact, at this stage, seeing any one of them in the last four is a mental stretch.
Perhaps the APL are praying for the Mariners to qualify for the grand final, hoping around 15,000 to 20,000 supporters in yellow will be down for the day from Gosford. A betting man would suggest that the rest of Allianz Stadium will be swathed in the blue of Melbourne City folk, a limited number from a small supporter base, having forked out large sums to come and watch their team take hold of the championship trophy that eluded them last season.
It is a ripping A-League competition and as unpredictable as ever, however, any hopes the APL had of getting lucky and softening the blow of their grand final decision have evaporated at the midway point of the season.
The 2022-23 grand final will feature two teams from outside Sydney and the fans will loudly remind the APL of that fact when the time comes.