Western United coach Mark Rudan is a fan of Newcastle Jets' transformation under Carl Robinson, but doesn't think that the man who delivered the Welshman the win on Sunday night should have been on the park.
Though their destiny remains in their own hands, Western’s finals hopes were struck a blow on Sunday evening when they went down 1-0 to Newcastle Jets at McDonald Jones Stadium.
An eagerly anticipated clash of two of the competition’s better midfields, the contest didn’t disappoint; Rudan and Carl Robinson’s teams producing an entertaining, brave, and back and forth 90 minutes.
Unfortunately, given the quality of the game that it took place in, Roy O’Donovan’s 29th-minute goal that split the two sides arrived just fifteen minutes after the Irishman, somehow, escaped sanction for what replays appeared to show was an elbow on Western defender Andrew Durante.
With the A-League operating without VAR technology until at least the finals, O’Donovan ultimately escaped the incident with naught but a warning from referee Alex King.
Speaking to media following the contest, Rudan was vociferous in his belief that the incident should have meant that the Jets' attacker – who has a history of disciplinary issues – shouldn’t have been on the park to deliver his subsequent goal.
“I always thought that one goal would decide the fate of the game,” Rudan said. “And when Newcastle scored, albeit, and I take no pleasure in saying this, from a player that shouldn’t have been on the park, it made the difference at the end of the game.
“Roy O’Donovan… I like Roy, by the way, I think off the park he’s a good guy, but on the park, he’s got a history of doing things like that and I think it was clear as day. We all jumped off the bench and I don’t believe that’s part of the rules, simple as that. You can’t go and elbow someone off the ball.
“VAR’s been taken away, I daresay if we still had that in place it would have been a different story altogether.
"I don’t want to sit here and whine, because I’m not, at the end of the day, we put in a good performance.
“But as I said, there was a situation where it was pretty clear to all of us. It’s disappointing that he ends up saying on the park, doesn’t even get a yellow card, and he ends up scoring the winner.”
Robinson, for his part, said that he hadn't seen the incident in question - but that he would talk to O'Donovan if he found an elbow had been thrown.
Rudan admitted that while his side continued to give it their all throughout the entire 90 minutes against the Jets, their performance in the second half lacked the sharpness that they displayed in the opening 45.
Four points back, but with two games in hand, on sixth-placed Adelaide United, the A-League’s newest side will return to action on Friday evening when they meet fellow top-six hopefuls Western Sydney at Jubilee Stadium. They will then face another top-six contender in Perth Glory, before squaring up with finals bound Sydney FC and Melbourne City.
With pressure set to ramp up in coming games, the Western boss said it was important for his side not to panic if they once again find themselves behind in a game and that it was important they didn’t overthink their play in such scenarios.
“I thought Bes did that in the first game against Victory, I think he tried too hard,” he said. “And you can’t blame a player for trying too hard.
“However, we’ve got some experienced heads they understand their roles and responsibilities. We work quite hard on our system and patterns of play and it’s just about being patient and having confidence that that goal will come if we continue to do the right thing.
“Some players sometimes take it upon themselves to do things that we haven’t really worked on but in saying that that could also be a game-changer at times, particularly in the attacking third.
“You don’t want to try and handcuff them too much
“Some of them tried a little bit too hard and did things that were abnormal to them [against Newcastle] but I could never have a go at them for trying. And I think that was the key, they tried ever so hard right to the end.”
Rudan also praised the transformation of the Jets, whose finals chances remain alive albeit well out of their control, under Robinson.
“You can’t win every game and full credit to Newcastle, who has changed a lot under Robinson,” he said.
“They try to play now, it’s a real credit to the players who have taken those messages on. I always thought it was going to be a good spectacle and it ended up being that way.”