05/03/2024

The Inner Sanctum 2021/22 A-League Men's Season Review: Macarthur FC (PHOTO: Macarthur FC/Design: Will Cuckson)

After an extremely successful first year in the A-League Men, in which they almost reached the Grand Final, Macarthur's second season in the competition didn't go as planned.

After an extremely successful first year in the A-League Men, in which they almost reached the Grand Final, Macarthur’s second season in the competition didn’t go as planned.

In the summer of 2021, a massive chunk of Macarthur’s most important players left the club, meaning that it had to build a whole new squad, just a year after the team was assembled.

Ex-Premier League goalkeeper Adam Federici, club captain Mark Milligan, and Spanish imports Markel Susaeta, and Beñat Etxebarria all announced their retirements, while young Socceroo Denis Genreau and top goalscorer Matt Derbyshire sealed moves abroad.

The Bulls didn’t waste any time and recruited some of the biggest names in Australia to replace their stars but in the end that wasn’t enough to reach the finals.

The Highs

The start of the season was extremely positive for Ante Milicic and his men. The Bulls went unbeaten in their opening five games, winning four, drawing one, and sitting at the top of the table on Christmas Eve.

Only two goals conceded in their first five outings meant they also had the best defence in the league, with new goalie Filip Kurto being instrumental, especially with his performances against Central Coast and Western Sydney.

What’s even more impressive is the fact that they managed to do it while dealing with injuries to Socceroos striker Tomi Juric, former Johnny Warren Medalist Uli Davila, and midfielder Jordan Mutch.

But at the start of 2022, when COVID-19 hit, things took a massive U-turn for the Sydney-based team. Macarthur had to miss a whole month of football, which resulted in them playing seven games across 25 days in February.

The Lows

After winning four of its first five matches, Macarthur managed to take three points in only two of its next ten games, conceding a total of 23 goals. The unpenetrable defence crumbled and questions were asked about the playing style and the way the team set up.

Macarthur’s win over Adelaide in February was its first since the 19th of December.

Despite the signing of Apostolos Giannou and the return of Uli Davila, the team never actually managed to recover from the COVID outbreak and the 36 days off, and the results at the business end of the season confirmed it.

Macarthur finished the campaign in seventh place, six points short of the finals, and with the second-worst defence in the whole competition (47 goals conceded).

Off the field, there were also problems. High ticket prices and late venue changes were just a few of the issues, which led to an even lower average attendance (3,023 in 2021/2022) compared to their first year (3,488 in 2020/2021).

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MVP

Englishman Craig Noone was unbeatably the best player for the Bulls throughout the whole campaign.

He appeared in all but three A-League games, and was the ever-reliable utility player for Ante Milicic, who used him in four different positions out wide.

The winger who joined from Melbourne City in the summer scored five goals (second-most at Macarthur), provided four assists (most at Macarthur), and was the man for the big moments, scoring vital goals when they needed it most.

Breakout player

For the majority of the season, Macarthur had one of the oldest starting XI’s in the competition, but if there’s one youngster that took his chance – that was Jake Hollman.

The 20-year-old attacking midfielder made six starts, playing a total of 557 minutes. He finished the season, scoring one goal, and making one assist in 13 appearances.

The Final Word

At the end of the season, fans were informed that inaugural head coach Ante Milicic will step down from the head coaching position, due to personal reasons, and move away from the game for the time being.

The good news for supporters is that the club have already found a replacement in the face of Manchester United legend and former Sydney FC player Dwight Yorke.

‘All Night Dwight’ has signed a two-year deal which will keep him at South Western Sydney until the end of the 2023/24 season.

As Sam Krslovic (Chief Executive of Macarthur) has said Yorke will pick up from where Milicic left off and continue the three-year plan that was set at the start of 2020.

The new manager will also be in charge of a partial re-build during the summer as a lot of players are set to leave at the end of their contracts.

The goal for next season will be to secure a place in the top six and make a serious push in the finals series.

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