These are the key talking points from Round 25 in the Isuzu UTE A-League.
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J-Mac makes history
Jamie Maclaren etched himself into A-Leagues history on Saturday night, becoming the league’s all-time leading goal scorer.
Maclaren bagged a hat-trick in Melbourne City’s 3-1 win over Western United, which took him to 143 goals overall, one clear of previous leader Besart Berisha.
WATCH: Maclaren becomes A-Leagues’ greatest goalscorer with ‘best hat-trick I’ll ever score’
“It’s hit me like a tonne of bricks,” he told Paramount+ post-game.
“To score a hat-trick, it’s a fitting moment. To see my teammates, the way they celebrated with me, the fans, they knew what was happening. It’s hard to explain.”
Read the full story on Maclaren’s historic night here.
A historic night for Nestory as the Adelaide kids shine… again
Nestory Irankunda is yet to start a professional game for Adelaide United, yet the teenage sensation is having a profound impact in the Isuzu UTE A-League.
Sunday night was another example of the 17-year-old’s incredible talent after he came off the bench and scored a jaw-dropping 99th-minute equaliser to snatch a chaotic 4-4 draw away to Perth Glory – a draw that featured THREE goals in stoppage time!
It was Irankunda’s fifth goal of the season in just 446 minutes of action (18 substitute appearances), taking his career tally to eight goals. That number is significant as it saw him make A-Leagues history.
The Reds forward – who has already been in Socceroos camp last month – is now the highest scoring player before the age of 18 in the history of the competition, surpassing former Adelaide youngster Mohamed Toure.
WATCH: Insane 99th-minute twist caps one of the wildest games in A-Leagues history
IRANKUNDA: Unseen moment explains why ‘it’s going to take time’ to nurture prodigal talent
“He is a magic player and he is very dangerous,” said Adelaide midfielder Ryan Kitto, who scored. “I’m very happy he is on our team because playing left full-back, if he was coming on fresh at right wing every week, it would be a scary prospect.
“He is a huge weapon for us. I’m extremely proud of how far he has come along. He has all the potential in the world. He is a magnificent talent.
“He is in the right place here under Carl (Veart) so we will keep developing him.”
Irankunda was not the only 17-year-old to score in the wild eight-goal draw at HBF Park.
Adelaide teammate and reigning Player of the Month Luka Jovanovic scored his third goal of the season in Western Australia.
Also eligible to represent Serbia, Jovanovic was on hand to convert a rebound after Ryan Williams had opened the scoring for the Glory.
Jonny Yull had also made his starting debut for Adelaide – the 18-year-old playing as a no.10 behind Jovanovic, while 18-year-old Panashe Madanha came off the bench and helped assist Irankunda’s last-gasp leveller.
“I’ll always say this: young kids will surprise you,” Adelaide head coach Carl Veart said in a press conference.
“Yes, they will make mistakes, but there’s a lot of upside. They give a lot of energy, and at times they play with no fear.”
The Papas substitution that left O’Donovan dumbfounded
Early in the second half of the F3 Derby last Saturday evening, Newcastle Jets were facing a tidal wave of pressure.
The Jets’ season was hanging by a thread after Sammy Silvera’s double gave the Central Coast Mariners the lead just before the hour mark, before Brandon O’Neill was given his marching orders a couple minutes later.
Newcastle’s evening was going from bad to worse and their coach Arthur Papas had a decision to make.
READ: Where is Archie Goodwin? The three reasons for the young gun’s absence as Jets coach explains ‘reality’
Either, he sacrificed an attacker to plug space in the middle of the park, or risk losing by more to keep as many attacking options on the field.
Papas opted for the former, ceding an option on the break in goalscorer Jaushua Sotirio and bringing on midfielder Mohamed Al-Taay.
“That’s raised some eyebrows. Sotirio has looked dangerous,” Network 10 analyst Andy Harper said.
“Sotirio has been good tonight. That’s a really interesting one.”
The decision to not leave Sotirio on the pitch also left former Jets striker Roy O’Donovan dumbfounded as he couldn’t understand why Papas opted to take him off.
“I’m at a loss for words with the substitution,” he said.
“The only really joy the Jets have had is on the counterattack with Sotirio’s pace. Him coming off and not (Trent) Buhagiar not coming on… both of them not being on the pitch together is just baffling.
“It’s all Mariners, they are controlling the game and it’s only a matter of time before they score a third goal.”
O’Donovan’s words turned prophetic as Marco Tulio banged home the Mariners’ third only minutes later.
Leckie caps off return with masterful half-hour cameo
Talk about a handy return on the eve of finals.
Premiers Melbourne City welcomed back gun attacker Mathew Leckie in Saturday night’s win over Western United, after almost two months on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
Leckie was in sensational form prior to the injury, scoring six goals and tallying three assists in 17 games before straining his hamstring in training during the lead-up to their 3-2 win over Sydney FC on February 25.
The Socceroo came on in the 64th minute for Scott Jamieson with the scores level, and within two minutes he made his presence known, teeing up Jamie Maclaren for his second goal of the game.
Leckie then played a role in Maclaren’s record-breaking goal as his header – which was denied by Jamie Young – fell in the path of his partner in crime to tap home.
And he wasn’t the only key player to return either, with Dutch midfielder Richard van der Venne also coming on at the same time and having a profound impact.
“When you get a chance to bring experienced players and hungry players for game time and for game minutes like Richard and Leckie, you can see they are class,” City coach Rado Vidosic said.
“You can see Richard made more forward runs in 30 minutes, more than the rest of the team did in 70 minutes and Leckie on the ball is such a tremendous player for us and everyone plays off him and it’s been fantastic to get them both back at the same time, which maybe wasn’t the plan at the beginning of the week.
“But to get them in the last 30 minutes, I think was really good for us.”
Masterful Wanderers display puts league on notice – ‘They are hitting form at the right time’
There haven’t been many more dominant displays this season, than what we saw from Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday night against Wellington Phoenix.
The Wanderers turned on the style at CommBank Stadium, putting Ufuk Talay’s side to the sword with one of the best performances of the campaign to date.
Marko Rudan’s side cut through the Phoenix defence like hot butter with some of the swiftest ball movement seen all year. There were flicks, one-touch passes and incredible runs off the ball that had the ‘Nix in sixes and sevens.
The 4-0 win wrapped up a home final and kept themselves right in the reckoning for a top two berth, but more importantly, it sent a statement to the rest of the league that they are coming for a maiden Isuzu UTE A-League Championship come finals time.
Incredibly, in 15 straight games that the Wanderers have scored first, they have gone on to win 11 times along with four draws.
READ: Teenager lights up Wanderland in Wellington demolition – ‘it’s an honour to score your first goal’
“They’re back,” McBreen said
“They are hitting form at the right time, that cohesion, they look like they are confident. They’re entertaining, they’re keeping clean sheets and now they’re scoring goals and they’re hitting form at the very right time.
“I think they are a team to be reckoned with come finals.”
On an individual note, Brandon Borrello continued his masterful season, scoring his 12th goal of the campaign and tallying his fifth assist, while youngsters Calem Nieuwenhof and Aidan Simmons hit the scoreboard.
But their depth particularly shone through, with substitutes Kusini Yengi and Nicolas Milanovic linking up for the fourth goal, while Yeni Ngbakoto stood out after replacing Amor Layouni.
Meanwhile, captain Marcelo slotted in seamlessly in defence after returning from suspension, bolstering their defensive unit and helping them keep a first clean sheet since the Sydney Derby in mid-March.
Unfortunately, the Tunisian international – who was also brilliant in the first-half – went off with an injury at around the hour mark.
However, Rudan said they came out of the game “all good” on the injury front, alleviating any concerns about a potential Layouni blow.
Where to now for Wellington?
Five straight games without a win and Wellington Phoenix are now hanging by a thread inside the top six.
The ‘Nix were battered from pillar to post by an incredible Western Sydney outfit, who suffocated Wellington from the word go and delivered a hammer blow to their finals hopes.
Wellington would have all but secured a spot in the finals with a win, but now they remain three points inside the six with one game to go – where they will take on Macarthur FC away from home on Saturday.
During this patch, Wellington have conceded 17 goals and been at sea defensively, something goalkeeper Oli Sail took note of in an honest post-game interview on Paramount+.
“Up there as one of the worst performances we have probably put out for a long, long time, including the first 30 minutes last week,” he said.
“Defensively so far from what we are trying to do. It wasn’t even close to the game plan. They are a decent side, they move the ball nicely and we couldn’t even foul them if we wanted to. It took us 70 minutes to foul Brandon Borrello.
READ: Sail lays Wellington’s struggles bare in honest post-game interview – ‘Up there as one of the worst performances’
“I don’t think I’ve probably faced more one-on-ones in my career, in one game.
“How we bounce back from it? I don’t know. It’s been a pretty tough five weeks. We are going to do it right on the back-side of the ball. We can’t just be a team that moves the ball nicely and looks comfortable in possession, you have to do the other side of the game.
“For a good half of the season, we haven’t been doing that at all. That’s where we start.”
Wellington face an exodus at the end of the season, with coach Talay announcing he will depart, while Sail will join Perth Glory and midfielder Clayton Lewis is linking up with Macarthur FC.
Network 10 analyst Grace Gill was asked whether the off-field distractions have weighed on the team as of late, and she believes it may be playing a role in their recent dip.
“I think they do and I think if we look at the three words that Marko Rudan just used in performance, intensity and attitude, and we’re looking at Wellington tonight the performance wasn’t there,” she said.
“The intensity as you highlighted at halftime Macca (Daniel McBreen) definitely wasn’t there, better in the second half, you have to say much better from Wellington in the second half, and the attitude, no one wants to lose and no wants to go down four-nil.
“But in every field, Western Sydney just ticked those boxes tonight. And Wellington on the other hand just looked in dire straits.”
Popovic’s message to his goal-scoring hero
In desperate need of a hero to help’s Melbourne Victory’s quest to avoid a second wooden spoon in three seasons, Lleyton Brooks unanswered the call.
The unheralded and unlikely hero came off the bench and scored within five minutes of his introduction in the 94th minute at AAMI Park on Sunday.
Brooks rose highest to head home his first goal of the season as Victory not only edged Macarthur FC 2-1 but climbed off the foot of the table heading into the 26th and final regular-season round.
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For the 22-year-old recruit from Brisbane Roar in 2020, it has been a challenging campaign amid a bit-part role. He had not scored in any of his 10 substitute appearances, which totalled 146 minutes.
But after wasting some golden opportunities in recent weeks, Brooks gave Tony Popovic and Victory something to celebrate late in Melbourne.
“What he did today is what he needs to do more of – scored,” Popovic said.
“There’s several games where he’s had clear opportunities to score, and he hasn’t taken them.
“So he puts himself in the position, which is great. The next step is he’s got to put those chances away, and he did that today.”