Story Of The Season

Charles M'Mombwa found a way to pursue his football dream, despite facing ridiculous and inflated fees at the junior level in Australia.

He migrated here from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He played youth football with Mount Druitt Town Rangers in Western Sydney.

His family and friends had to round up the funds needed to pay his junior fees.

Now, he has repaid their faith by scoring in an A-League Elimination Final, and he's now one step away from appearing in a Grand Final.

The youngster didn't have it all his way against the Mariners on Saturday, with his end product, in particular, being a frustration. Still, he took his chance when it came in extra time.

Finals time brings chances for young players to announce themselves on the stage that matters most truly.

Taking your chance in a crunch finals game is the difference in a young player establishing themselves in an A-League club or not. It is also why our youngsters don’t compete when they go to Europe.

The margins are so tight that if you can’t do it in an A-League finals game, then you probably won’t be able to do it in crunch games in Europe.

However, M'Mombwa has the resilience from his football upbringing and is now proving his worth in big games. His career should only take a further upward trajectory from here.

Still A Big Step Forward

The Mariners might have lost to Macarthur on Saturday night, but make no mistake, this season was an enormous step forward for the club.

Alen Stajcic has transformed a team heading nowhere for so many years, bringing a new winning mentality whilst maintaining the Mariner's identity of promoting young players.

Josh Nisbet has probably been the biggest success story in that regard, a product from the youth system that is now more or less a first-team regular.

Other academy products such as Matt Hatch and Jordan Smylie have had their moments too throughout the campaign.

The Gosford club also brought in even more exciting young players, whether overseas or from the NPL, with Alou Kuol's rise a vindication of that transfer policy.

But what has been fascinating is that Stajcic has rejuvenated the careers of players who were starting to become redundant in the Australian football landscape.

Many wouldn't have imagined that Mark Birighitti, Ruon Tongyik and Kye Rowles would form such a strong spine. I also doubt anyone would have thought Tongyik would be playing for the Socceroos twelve months ago.

Stefan Nigro and Daniel De Silva have also come back from the wilderness. How all of these unsung heroes have been able to gel and perform so cohesively as a unit - so quickly - has been nothing short of remarkable.

The Mariners will be back again next season. This season wasn't an outlier; it was the start of a new era in Gosford.

Was Carl Right?

In pre-season, eyebrows were raised when Carl Veart dubbed Tomi Juric 'the best number nine in the country'. But after the striker's brilliant brace yesterday, the Adelaide boss might be making us all look like fools.

Jamie Maclaren is Australia's best striker based on his current form. However, when Juric is on his game, there's no reason why he wouldn't be considered a close second in terms of Australia's striking options.

He superbly took his first touch to bring the ball down and finish across Jamie Young for Adelaide's opener. He then showed that he could quickly change pace and breeze past a defender with his second strike, leaving the Roar's Tom Aldred in his wake.

Juric now has nine goals this season, despite missing a significant chunk with a niggling calf complaint. If he can stay fit next season, then there's no reason why he can't become the 15-goal a season striker Reds fans have been craving for years.

 He also has a knack for scoring, or at least contributing, when it matters most.

In 2014, he scored the goal that won the Wanderers the Asian Champions League, and a year later, he set up James Troisi's winner in the Asian Cup.

That was a while ago, but yesterday proved that Juric still can be a big-game player.

Kusini Yengi could be fit for Adelaide's Semi-Final clash with Sydney FC. However, Veart may have a tricky selection dilemma on his hands between his young prodigy and the resurgent 29-year-old Juric.

There's Something About Alex

Like M'Mombwa, Alex Parsons was the other youngster who shined in week one of the finals, coming off the bench to change the game for Brisbane, even if he ended up on the losing side.

Parsons rose from a Corey Brown set-piece to steer a header on the opposite side of Adelaide goalkeeper James Delianov and halve the deficit. He was a constant threat to the Reds as the game wore on.

There were times when he looked elusive to the Adelaide defenders, ducking and weaving his way through on many occasions, despite how deep the Reds' defensive block was throughout the second half.

There's always something special when a young player takes his chance in a big game, as mentioned above with M'Mombwa.

But to come into a difficult situation, 2-0 down, is not easy for any young player.

Parsons was not shaken by the occasion at all, though. On the contrary, he was the one who galvanised a fightback from the Roar.

Never mind the experience of Jay O'Shea or the more proven Dylan Wenzel-Halls. The winger started just five times throughout the regular season, but he almost brought them back from the brink.

Parsons has had to graft away in the local NPL for his breakthrough at an A-League club, but now that he has proven himself, he'll now want a starting berth for next season.

If I'm Warren Moon, why wouldn't you put more trust in him?

A GF At Adelaide Oval?

It probably won't happen, as Adelaide United still have much work to do to get there. However, we still could see Adelaide Oval host an A-League Grand Final in 2021.

In 2016, the stadium hosted one of the most electric atmospheres the league has ever seen. The Reds claimed their maiden Championship with a 3-1 win over the Wanderers.

If you were there that day, the atmosphere was akin to a World Cup or Champions League Final. But, unfortunately, an occasion like that is what the pandemic has taken away from this league.

I'm not saying that a Grand Final in Sydney or Melbourne wouldn't be great. However, there is something unrivalled about a 50,000 capacity Adelaide Oval hosting the Grand Final.

The question now is whether United can get there or not. If they beat Sydney on Saturday night, Reds fans will momentarily become Macarthur supporters. They need the Bulls to beat Melbourne City to set up a home Grand Final.

Adelaide vs Macarthur to decide the Championship? Who would have thought that a week ago?

Before the weekend, I felt both sides didn't even deserve to be in the six based on how they finished the campaign, and now they are both one step away from the decider.

How quickly things can change in football.