Plenty to discuss across the penultimate round of the regular season, including a side with nine men hanging on for three points, Wanderers’ latest catastrophe and a manager stepping down from his post, so let’s get into it.

Here are your A-League talking points.

Red cards flow as Sky Blues go down to nine-man Bulls

When even the player who was tackled is disparaging a red card decision, you know it was a crap call. Robert Mak’s contact with Philip Cancar’s head was never worthy of a send-off, and neither were the two dismissals made by Daniel Elder in the Macarthur-Sydney FC game. I’m not one to harp on about refereeing decisions unless they’re egregious – and these two definitely qualify.

First it was Ivan Vujica getting his marching orders for a late challenge on Joe Lolley, before Tommy Smith’s raised arm on Fabio Games saw the Bulls go down to nine men.

The Sky Blues’ dreadful offensive showing allowed Macarthur to hang on to their slender advantage and inch closer to a home elimination final, but these calls would’ve sunk them if they were facing even a competent attack.

It’ll come as little surprise to anyone reading that both decisions came after VAR review – so not only is the (expensive) technology being used to arrive at the wrong decision time and again, we’re also killing any momentum the players have created while we wait an age as the ref deliberates. I’m not exactly a proponent for killing VAR – I want it to be improved – but these two calls are great ammunition for those who are.

Wanderers’ season hanging by a thread after latest defeat

Saturday afternoon’s loss means Western Sydney’s finals destiny is no longer in their hands, with one round left in the regular season. Marko Rudan’s team travel to AAMI Park to face Melbourne Victory on Saturday, needing all three points to leapfrog City and hope Western United do them a favour at the same ground 24 hours later.

Since the calendar turned to 2024, Wanderers have been simply terrible. There’s just no other way to describe it. Taking a somewhat arbitrary sample of the last 10 results, WSW lost seven times, including a crucial Sydney Derby under dramatic circumstances, and this weekend’s de facto elimination final at home. 

If Wanderers are unable to conjure a miracle next weekend, you’ve got to wonder about Rudan’s future in the dugout. Expectations were high after their best regular season in years last season ended prematurely at the hands of an underpowered Sydney FC, also at CommBank Stadium.

Fans and media expected this side to build on a long awaited foundation at the club and at least win a finals game – especially in a season where other contenders were likely to take a step back.

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Rumours and innuendo about Rudan’s dressing room antics are concerning. His side have regressed and to me, it does not seem a harmonious dressing room anymore. The positive vibes of 2022-23 have been replaced by a sense of dejection, and you’ve got to question the culture of a club whose CEO is confronting match officials on the field after copping a bad call.

Time will tell, but could a coaching change be what the Wanderers need to return to contention?

Cahn steps aside as promising Roar campaign ends in failure

It’s not like there’s much football media left in this country, but news of Ben Cahn officially stepping down from the Brisbane Roar head coaching role very quietly made its way into the public sphere this week with only a press release from the club and an article on the A-Leagues site confirming Cahn’s departure.

Cahn is unfortunately battling some health problems, so best wishes to him. 

It’s more disappointing news for a Roar fan-base that have suffered for years now, with myriad off-field issues and underperformance on the pitch plaguing the three-time champions. Cahn’s arrival was supposed to inject a fresh philosophy into the club and his network of former players would have surely helped the club’s recruitment drive.

Alas, Brisbane now head into the off-season without a permanent manager after a season that saw a huge amount of disruption. Ruben Zadkovich has done a good job as caretaker and he’s been a full-time coach in the league before, so he’s likely one of the better candidates for the job going forward.

Whoever’s in the dugout when season 2024-25 kicks off, though, Brisbane’s fans deserve some stability at the club as they aim for a return to relevance after two seasons outside the playoffs.

Marco Rojas celebrates a goal against Victory

Brisbane’s Marco Rojas celebrates a goal against Melbourne Victory. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Quick hits

-The Mariners got a nasty surprise as they tried to return home to Gosford after their 1-1 draw with FK Abdish-Ata Kant. With bad weather causing havoc for air travel, the APL were forced to postpone the Central Coast versus Adelaide United clash originally scheduled for Sunday at Industree Group Stadium.

-Football is a cruel game sometimes. Alex Rufer has been fantastic for Wellington all season but his crucial penalty miss in the last minute of Friday’s stalemate with Newcastle has, in all likelihood, ended the Nix’s premiership hopes. They’re still in with a good chance of winning that elusive first piece of silverware in the finals.

-I’m sure I sound like a broken record but still no news on Canberra expansion. Surely we’ve passed the point of the new club entering the A-League next season, so it’ll be 2025-26, at best.

-Not much to say about the Jets situation, except the outcome every stakeholder would rather avoid seems more plausible by the day.

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