The league where any team can win (and sometimes do)

What’s short, redundant and willing to stretch the laws of mathematical probability?

If you answered Jean Tigana, you’re not wrong.

However, in this instance the blog refers not to the man who once paid £11.5 million for the services of Steve Marlet, but rather to the convoluted finals series that takes place at the end of the regular A-League season.

Never an organisation concerned with stretching credibility, this season Football Federation Australia welcomed two new expansion teams by announcing a spanking new finals system.

The dirt from Down Under would give you the gist of it, but must confess to never having bothered to look it up.

What is pertinent is the fact that six teams out of 10 qualify for the finals, making consistent football unnecessary in a competition that can be won by losing more games than your opponents.

Nevertheless, with the halfway point of the regular season having come and gone, a consistent pattern has begun to emerge.

It’s perhaps best explained through the use of chaos theory, with any one A-League team capable of thrashing any other – regardless of whether that team is lying bottom of the table, or is more concerned with the logistics of trying to lock out fans.

A case in point is the 4-0 hammering the Central Coast Mariners dished out to defending champions Melbourne Victory in Round 14, with the Mariners winning in Melbourne for the second time this season.

That result came on the same night that Gold Coast United popped up to beat Sydney FC 1-0 in Robina, ensuring that the league’s top two clubs both lost on the same evening.

Sydney, Melbourne and Gold Coast occupy the top three positions, while the Mariners are this seasonn’s surprise package in fourth – mainly on the back of a game plan based loosely on hoofing the ball towards striker Matt Simon at every given opportunity.

Aside from having two first names, Simon is clearly the go-to man at the Mariners.

So bustling is his all-action style that he’s been mentioned as a possible bolter for Australia’s World Cup squad, where presumably he would be used to scare the living daylights of some of world football’s more cultured international sides.

Rattling along in fifth is every British expat’s favourite team Perth Glory, whose respectable tally of 19 goals for is offset by a schizophrenic defence that has seen them concede 18 times this season – mostly in hilarious circumstances.

Wellington Phoenix are clinging to sixth, despite the fact that coach Ricki Herbert and half his squad have spent the best part of two months preparing for New Zealand’s epic World Cup qualification play-off against Bahrain.

The bottom four is a fairly apt reflection of the A-League’s current strugglers, with basket case Brisbane Roar hoping to improve under new coach Ange Postecoglu, while Aurelio Vidmar is feeling the heat at last season’s runner-up Adelaide United.

The same can be said for for former Sydney FC coach Branko Culina at struggling Newcastle Jets, who have turned in some shambolic performances this season.

Only North Queensland Fury have managed to garner any widespread sympathy from fans, through the time-honoured method of being wholehearted but largely ineffective.

Yet despite sitting bottom of the table, North Queensland are only 10 points behind current league leaders Sydney with half the season still to play.

It’s testament to just how tight the current A-League campaign is, with the Fury’s three victories this season coming over big guns Sydney, Perth and Gold Coast.

The A-League’s much publicised salary cap plays an obvious role in ensuring a level playing field, but perhaps it’s partly reflective of the fact that even a fairly mediocre campaign is enough to see teams qualify for the finals.

It’s Sydney FC out in front for now, but it would take a brave gambler to bet the lot on the Sky Blues being crowned ‘premiers’ in what is a notoriously unpredictable competition.

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