What we learned in the A-League: Mariners fading, Sydney in crisis

The coach of the reigning champions admitted his team are a diminished force, while Sky Blues supporters are in open revolt after their latest loss
1. Wanderers lack sufficient threat (Iain Strachan)

Western Sydney will hardly ever find themselves out of a contest due to their high work-rate and dogged defence. But perhaps more importantly as the finals approach, they also struggle to blow teams away. Youssouf Hersi and Shinji Ono have struggled to hit the heights of last season, while Tom Juric has struggled with minor injuries. Mark Bridge and Brendon Santalab are workmanlike and the latter, as proved on Friday, has a knack of providing a crucial goal. But they rarely thump teams 3-0 or 4-0, and could struggle to overcome Brisbane Roar if they meet again deep into the finals.

2. Mariners no longer a championship team (Hamish Neal @ Bluetongue Stadium)

An important win for Victory keeps them in touch with the Wanderers, who they are now four points adrift of, level with the Mariners. Despite injuries, suspensions and five-goal nightmares, the Victory's early season form has meant they are still well in finals, and possibly even title, contention. The sight of Adrian Leijer and Mark Milligan on an A-League bench is surprising and shows the depth the club has. The bonus of more games together via a possible Asian Champions League campaign will do wonders for this team working into the business end of the domestic season.

The Mariners are, as Phil Moss puts it, still the 'championship club' but with five new signings no longer the 'championship team.' The lack of punch from the Mariners in attack at times this season means the arrival of South Korean midfielder Kim Seung-Yong, coupled with the addition of Eddy Bosnar at set pieces (as demonstrated on Saturday evening) can't come quick enough.

3. Adelaide likely finalists, Sydney in crisis (Simon Furey @ Allianz Stadium)

The Reds produced one of their best performances of the season and "Operation Gombau" seems to be gaining traction. A commitment to playing attacking football is paying dividends for one of the form teams of the competition, who look well at home in the top six.

For Sydney, the impressive 5-0 win over the Victory a fortnight ago is a distant memory and seems more like the exception than the norm. Pressure will continue to build, as will scrutiny. Now outside the top six, improvement will need to be swift, but the rudderless first half leaves a lot of questions.

4. Zane struggling to salvage Jets' season (Mark Hughes @ Hunter Stadium)

The Jets slide continued with a disjointed 3-2 loss to the Phoenix at a hot Hunter Stadium. They are now winless in their past seven matches and are in danger of losing touch with the top six. New coach Clayton Zane is finding it is very tough at the top level and while the team is playing with more freedom up front they seem quite disorganised across the rest of the park. However, the big problem seems to be one of attitude and self-belief rather than game plan. They need to turn that around quickly or they will waving this season goodbye.

5. Can Melbourne Heart attack the top six? (Iain Strachan)

Just how much can Melbourne Heart achieve after recovering from their nightmare start to the 2013-14 season? John van 't Schip keeps insisting it's too early to think about a finals berth, but has not dismissed the concept out of hand. The team is now eight points off sixth place following their third win in the last four games, a record which happens to be the best run of form in the competition at the moment. Next week they go away to the high-flying Wellington Phoenix, who sit sixth after winning twice in succession. If Heart can notch another victory at Westpac Stadium, who knows where the men in red and white will finish on the table?