Can you name the previous two winners of the Australia Cup? Hint: they’ll be fighting for survival in the upcoming playoffs.
The reversal of fortunes for both Melbourne Victory and Macarthur FC have been dramatic, relegating the former knock-out champions to sudden-death matches in the Northern Territory.
The Victorians take on the Newcastle Jets this Monday, while Campbelltown’s finest play Perth Glory the following night in tropical Darwin.
It was only last October the Bulls proudly lifted their first piece of silverware, defeating Sydney United 2-0 at CommBank Stadium in the Australia Cup Final.
Afterwards, Macarthur commenced their A-League season with confidence, managed by EPL legend Dwight Yorke. By January this year, they were sitting comfortably in sixth place, unaware of the internal storm that was brewing.
Suddenly, after a loss to Adelaide, Yorke mysteriously departed the A-League’s newest franchise. The term “pub team” was thrown around, denouncing a secretive, behind-the-scenes conflict within the Bulls.
Macarthur never recovered. After the season’s midway point, the team lingered at the bottom half of the table, trapped.
How could the Bulls ownership group allow this?
As a manager, Yorke’s winning percentage was well over 50 per cent. He also convinced Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United gaffer, to visit Campbelltown Stadium, bringing a camera crew with him.
Arguably, the only other scenario worse than losing a successful coach is dealing with an injured marquee player, such as Victory’s Nani.
Also occurring in January, as if by coincidence, the Portuguese international ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, plateauing his club at 12th position for nearly two months.
Finishing the season second-last, Melbourne only scrapped past the Bulls by a couple of points. However, on closer inspection, Victory should have easily played finals football.
Two factors stand out. The first consideration is the team’s goal difference. Compared to other competitors, Victory came in at sixth position, on -6. Looking at the A-League ladder, they clearly did better than half of the table.
On reflection, Tony Popovic’s lads should have edged out Wellington Phoenix, pushing them out of the top six. In fact, during the season’s final five games, both clubs had the exact results.
With the arrival of former Socceroo Daniel Arzani, it’s easy to see why Victory would be favoured to beat Newcastle this Monday in Darwin.
As for the other Australia Cup match, how does an energetic Perth Glory back up their clash against West Ham United? Surely the Bulls will be better rested than their Western Australia counterparts.
A win would start another fairytale run for Macarthur, boosting their spirits. Anything less, and it’s a warm beer at the local bar.