Youth in focus: Melina Ayres and Angus Thurgate
Another week has passed in the A-Leagues, with the young guns proving once more to be a precious commodity for teams in both men's and women's competition. A-League Men and Women's action kicks off in tandem this weekend. Therefore, we should present the best and brightest men and women together. Two for the price of one, how good!
The Liberty A-League has been exciting this season, with glorious goals, chaotically exciting matchups, and world-class talent on full display. Thus far, defending champions Melbourne Victory have endured an inconsistent start to the season, recording two wins and losses, sitting three points behind Adelaide United in 5th. Whilst their form has left many "Vuck" fans wanting more, the same can't be said for 23-year-old Melina Ayres. A star on the rise, Ayres has been a significant part of all the good and exciting football this season.
Ayres captured in action for Melbourne Victory. (Victoria Police Legacy)
The Young Matilda, yet to feature for the senior national team, has been electric this season. She has finally shown how prolific she can be when given considerable game time. She has demonstrated that whilst playing for her local WNPL club South Melbourne. To date, Ayres has scored 82 goals in just 52 appearances for Hellas. With strategically timed movement and clinical finishing typifying her game, Ayres has found the back of the net three times in four games in the current campaign. She is averaging a career-best scoring rate of a goal every 108 minutes.
Ayres has shown that she can lead the line with an earnest on breaking forward quickly and using her great first touch and aerial prowess to her advantage. Victory manager Jeff Hopkins' system is designed to win possession in midfield before progressing the ball forward quickly. They do so to catch the opposition off guard and find space in the wide areas through talented wingers in Beattie Goad and Lia Privitelli. More often than not, this tactic results in Ayres and understudy Maja Markovski being presented with great scoring chances, which Ayres has converted at a rate of 0.8 goals per game.
Those who watch Ayres in action would be forgiven for seeing shades of Sam Kerr in her game. Ayres is a very direct striker. Whilst she isn't as technically gifted as the Matildas' captain, Ayres always finds herself in suitable positions at the end of the attacking phases. Ayres also provides Victory with a physical presence up front for long-range passes, winning 39% of her duels whilst drawing 0.8 fouls per match. However, she has some esteemed competition for the starting forward position, with 20-year-old prospect Markovski keeping Ayres honest. Given Ayres' start to the season, I'm sure this competition will only whet her appetite for goals for Victory as they launch another title defence. She'll also have one eye on the Women's World Cup in the new year. Injury and fitness concerns could convince Matildas' boss Tony Gustavsson to select a striking archetype suited to the team's system and identity.
Ayres is tackled during the round three clash between Victory and Wellington Phoenix. (Graham Denholm/Getty Images)
A-League Men action returned over the weekend, giving fans an exciting round of high-quality football and the return of Australia's World Cup heroes. A blockbuster matchup between Sydney FC and Melbourne City allowed fans to show appreciation to a handful of Socceroos. The match-winner against Denmark, Matthew Leckie, penalty specialist Andrew Redmayne, Jamie Maclaren, and young gun Marco Tilio were all on display just one week after their World Cup heroics.
Jets midfielder Thurgate celebrates. (Newcastle Herald)
However, it was the F3 Derby, the only derby in the world named after a motorway that technically no longer exists, that many fans tuned into on Sunday afternoon in the blazing Gosford sun. A back-and-forth affair saw the Newcastle Jets prevail over their cross-town rivals, the Central Coast Mariners, through a Beka Mikeltazde winner. However, it was 22-year-old Angus Thurgate that garnered much of the praise from those in attendance and watching at home. He's a youngster who has been consistently impressive since making his debut in 2018.
The Young Socceroo has made massive strides in the early days of his career, becoming one of the first names on the team sheet in midfield for Arthur Pappas' side. An energetic box-to-box midfielder, Thurgate's game is predicated on hard work both defensively and in transition, as he possesses the pace of a winger. What can't be overlooked is Thurgate's technical ability under pressure, using his frame and low centre of gravity to shrug off defenders and progress the ball, particularly in counter-attacking scenarios.
Thurgate poses a problem for opposing sides when they look to progress the ball, often winning possession in the opposition half and cutting out key passes. In the current campaign, Thurgate is averaging one interception, 1.5 clearances per game, and wins the ball back for his side 0.7 times per game. He is also a trusted commodity when progressing the ball in counter-attacking scenarios and when Newcastle are looking to control games. Thurgate's passing ability is quite impressive, completing 88% of his passes in open play this season with a sufficient 74% completion rate in the opposing half.
Thurgate in action during the F3 Derby last week. (Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)
Whilst he is yet to record a goal or assist this season, Thurgate has shown in the past that he can spring forward to provide a key pass or finish off team moves. Thurgate will be hoping that the wins for Newcastle and his form will continue, with one eye on the Asian Cup in 2023. The Socceroos' midfield may undergo significant changes should Graham Arnold decide not to continue his coaching duties.
All statistics sourced from SofaScore.
Last week FPF's 'Youth In Focus' looked at Joe Gauci and Daniela Galic. Click here to read more about Gauci, or here to read about Melbourne City young gun Galic.