The Magic of 27

The Warriors blew it and the contorted and confused looks of the Heidelberg players revealed as much as they trudged off into the player’s tunnel. Even in the scheme of an entire season this game can always be distilled and measured by the mere minutes and millimetres which truly count. When often lamentable St Albans came from behind to draw at Heidelberg United in round 11, the Warriors coughed up a claim for immediate outright top spot. There may be a higher price to pay come season’s end.

Senior boss, George Katsakis, should keep a DVD copy to play to the team as a reminder of the very cruel lesson that showed nothing is gained in this level of competition that is not hard-earned, nor liable in one lax moment to be lost. The St Albans performance was a rarity, to be sure. But it should remain vivid to ensure no repeat performances in the 2021 run home. There is no place for lethargy nor complacency.

In the six games on either side of that Heidelberg game the Saints were reeling like drunks trying to cross a freeway. Six losses; couldn’t buy a goal and conceded 20. Worst attack and leakiest defence in the competition. The Warriors might have put them to the sword that day, instead they coughed up a lead for the only time this season. In the context of a rather unexpectedly wonderful season for the new-look Warriors it was an unfortunate aberration.

Never-the-less, that game should remain a sore point and a reference point for the tough thousand-plus minutes still to come in 2021.

That said, I am hoping this enforced mid-season break will reinforce and re-energise these developing New Wave Warriors. The gloom of opening day against South Melbourne has been wholly exorcized by going on the road and toppling then ladder-leaders Green Gully followed by Melbourne Knights in quick succession. By getting a terrific draw at red-hot Bentleigh Greens, an old foe who followed up by peeling off five straight wins in the aftermath of that game. Or coming from behind against Avondale and holding the league’s hottest scoring machine to just one goal to boot.

So, the Warriors are fourth and well in the frame at the mid-way point. Expectations exceeded.  The game will always be about the undulating emotions of match-day, not about the numbers. Statistics are relegated to a mere passing interest, at best. But the mind of a man with too much time on his hands and mired in (yet another) lockdown travels to strange places.‘ Kats’ is unlikely to care too much for me mentioning that – despite the marvellous highs – 2021’s opening 13 games have been Heidelberg’s worst start to an NPL season since the horrible 1-2-10 record to start the 2012 campaign paved the road to relegation that year.

The Warriors are 6-5-2 after 13 rounds this year – thus underscoring the critical nature of that St Albans flop –  but contrast that with every year since the club’s NPL return in 2014. Heidelberg had at least eight-plus wins on the board every single season at this stage of the campaign. In 2018 the Warriors went 10-2-1 and had 31 points on the board already. The Warrior’s current 23 match points also sits behind every other season at the same stage, from 2014 to 2019. On the upside, the league this year is much tighter than most and eminently gettable still. The Warriors are well in the race.

And I reckon the number to chase is 27 (or more) match points from the remaining 39 available. That’s simply a matter of turning a 6-5-2 first half-season into an 8-3-2 record on the run home, a chase well within the range of this 2021 team. Elephant in the room; the goals have dried up. The current 17 in 13 games is the worst return by a distance over the same time period, 2014 – 2019.

In the post Heffernan-Athiu-Cahill eras (96 goals between that trio 2014 to 2019), Heidelberg has managed 27 goals in 18 starts – including the five games played in the 2020 season that wasn’t – with fifteen different players hitting the target and the best return of a mere three goals boasted equally by Ashton, Zahra, Ninkovic and Bosnjak. If Kats and crew can get it right up-front Heidelberg is well placed for the premiership /championship race in 2021.

All the other numbers are encouraging. The Warriors have racked up an equal league high ten-game undefeated run. Defensively Heidelberg ranks only behind South Melbourne, having conceded a tight 12. And their courage can’t be questioned, boasting a league best six come-from-behind results (2 wins and 4 draws) and upholding a recent club never-say-die tradition.

And why 27 points? Because it appears to be a Warrior talisman. In each of the premiership-winning seasons of 2017, 2018 and 2019 Heidelberg came home with 27 points exactly (9-0-4 in both 2017 and 2018 and 8-3-2 in 2019) in the second half of the season to secure first past-the-post. Spooky!!!!

NB – Please note, if you got to the end of this without a yawn, well done. If you stopped reading mid-way through, I completely understand. If you reckon stats are boring, imagine having to write about them. Please end the lockdowns soon and let the actual games begin again and spare us more of this.

Warrior Nation!