A-League Round 18 Preview
Sportingbet Australia’s football expert Gareth Morgan has been rocked by claims that his beloved Perth Glory could win this week.
Gareth has taken a look at that match plus all the rest of the Round 18 fixtures.
Adelaide United v North Queensland FuryHindmarsh Stadium
Friday 10th December 2010
A run of four wins and four defeats in their last eight games indicates clearly how Adelaide United are struggling to recapture the level of consistency that they enjoyed earlier in the campaign and although Rini Coolen’s men do have two games in hand, they will nevertheless be alarmed by the fact that Brisbane have now opened up a seven-point buffer at the top of the ladder. Friday’s home clash with cellar-dwellers North Queensland Fury should, in theory, provide the South Australians with a welcome three points, but they will be wary of the visitors who tend to be at their best when written off as no-hopers.
Skipper Travis Dodd will be available after the ridiculous red card he received against Wellington was rightly expunged, while Daniel Mullen and Lucas Pantelis may both be promoted from the bench to the run-on side.
The visitors, meanwhile, have endured another miserable week, losing to Newcastle on Sunday and then confirming that another two first-team regulars will be heading to pastures new come the end of the season. Chris Payne and Osama Malik are the men in question, with the former bound for Newcastle and the latter, ironically, set to return to his former club and Friday’s opponents Adelaide.
Such defections cast into further doubt the viability of the Townsville-based franchise beyond the end of the current campaign, with FFA chairman Frank Lowy warning this week that unless the local community provides a substantial boost in financial support for the Fury, they will be ejected from the A-League.
Coach Franz Straka continues to struggle on regardless and will hope that his charges can rediscover the kind of backs-to-the-wall mentality that saw them pick up three points at the expense of high-flying Gold Coast on their last away trip.
Unfortunately for the visitors, key midfielder Ufuk Talay will miss the Hindmarsh clash through suspension, Gareth Edds is struggling to overcome a foot injury in time to feature, Chris Payne is also an injury doubt and Eric Akoto, Isaka Cernak, Chris Grossman and Adam Casey all remain sidelined.
The Reds may have stuttered in recent weeks, but they should still comfortably see off a Fury outfit whose plight seems to worsen by the day.
Prediction: Adelaide United 2-0 North Queensland Fury
Melbourne Heart v Melbourne VictoryAAMI Park
Saturday 11th December 2010
Genuine sporting rivalries do of course develop over the course of years and decades rather than weeks and months, but the A-League’s first inter-city derby clash between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart offered plenty to suggest that the two sides have embarked upon a fiery and passionate duel that will only become more intriguing in seasons to come. The build-up to Saturday’s second encounter between the two sides at AAMI Park has been dominated by Victory skipper Kevin Muscat who has somehow escaped suspension for his role in the fracas that erupted in the immediate aftermath of last week’s draw with Brisbane. The combative former Millwall defender will therefore lead his side as they look to avenge October’s 2-1 defeat and will be joined in the back three by Adrian Leijer who returns from suspension.
Elsewhere, the versatile Leigh Broxham is facing a race against time to overcome a calf problem and Robbie Kruse has only trained lightly this week as he nurses a tight hamstring.
As for Heart, they look to be in a spot of bother having lost to ten-man Newcastle in midweek to stretch their winless streak to a worrying six games. To compound coach John van’t Schip’s misery, he has lost striker Alex Terra until the New Year after the Brazilian suffered a recurrence of his nagging hamstring problem and Brendan Hamill is also set to miss the derby showdown through injury.
On a brighter note, Wayne Srhoj will return from suspension, marquee striker John Aloisi should also be available after being rested for the Newcastle clash and Kristian Sarkies may get the nod to start after proving his fitness with a 45 minute shift in the same game.
With just one place and one point separating the two sides, there will be a lot more at stake on Saturday than mere local bragging rights and neutrals will be hoping to see a repeat of October’s high-octane showdown.
Neither side are defending well at the moment, so a high-scoring draw looks a decent bet here.
Prediction: Melbourne Victory 2-2 Melbourne Heart
Gold Coast United v Wellington PhoenixSkilled Park
Saturday 11th December 2010
Ricki Herbert and Miron Bleiberg are polar opposites when it comes to managerial style and public profile and yet ironically it is the understated, softly-spoken and pragmatic Kiwi who will be banned from the touchline when Gold Coast United entertain Wellington Phoenix on Saturday. Herbert was initially hit with a three-match suspension after reportedly abusing referee Peter O’Leary during last week’s win over Adelaide, although the ban was reduced to just one game on appeal.
The All Whites’ coach’s mood will not have been improved by news that a knee injury is set to rule Nicky Ward out for at least a month, a particularly bitter blow given that the former Melbourne Victory midfielder had finally begun to rediscover his best form in recent weeks.
Leo Bertos is expected to be drafted in as Ward’s replacement, subject to overcoming the groin problem that has kept him out of action for a fortnight.
Danny Vukovic, meanwhile, is reportedly deeply frustrated at his inability to prize the gloves away from regular fist-choice goalkeeper Mark Paston and has been strongly linked with a move to Perth Glory.
The home side, in contrast, have enjoyed a pretty positive week, with their once- overflowing treatment room finally starting to empty out.
Bleiberg has confirmed that Michael Thwaite and Zenon Caravella will both definitely be fit to face Phoenix and the colourful coach is hopeful that Glen Moss and Steve Pantelidis will also come into the selection mix. Joel Porter’s hamstring injury, however, will again rule him out.
This season’s previous two meetings between the sides yielded no fewer than ten goals, with United claiming four of the six points on offer and they will be installed as strong favourites to add another three on Saturday.
The likes of Bruce Djite and Jason Culina look to be hitting form at just the right time for the Queenslanders and the hardy few who turn up at Skilled Park should have another victory to savour.
Prediction: Gold Coast United 2-0 Wellington Phoenix
Sydney FC v Brisbane RoarSydney Football Stadium
Sunday 12th December 2010
It seems to be a case of one step forward, two steps back for Sydney FC just at the moment, with the reigning premiers following up every apparent corner-turning win with a morale-crushing defeat. Newcastle, Perth and Wellington have all been beaten by the Sky Blues in recent weeks, but those positive results for Vitezslav Lavicka’s men have been immediately followed by defeats against Gold Coast and Central Coast and a lack-lustre draw with Melbourne Heart.
For all that, the home side remain just four points adrift of the top six and although they face a stern test against Brisbane Roar on Sunday, will take some heart from their formidable home record against Ange Postecoglou’s table-toppers. Amazingly the Queenslanders have not managed a single victory at the SFS since the A-League began and were forced to settle for a draw despite dominating proceedings when they last travelled to the Harbour City back in October.
Lavicka took the unusual step of apologising to the fans in the wake of his side’s woeful display at Central Coast last weekend and it will be interesting to see which players pay for that debacle with their first team places. Hirofumi Moriyasu looks an almost certain starter, Kofi Danning could also earn a promotion from the bench and Bruno Cazarine may get the nod up front where his aerial prowess would undoubtedly trouble a Roar backline not renowned for its physicality.
The visitors, meanwhile, got out of jail courtesy of their controversial stoppage-time equalizer at Melbourne Victory last time out and although Postecoglou praised his side’s fighting spirit, he will undoubtedly have been concerned by their inability to see the game out after seeming in total control at half-time.
The Queenslanders have now conceded six goal in the last three games and indeed have managed to keep just one clean sheet in their last ten outings, a statistic that will offer a glimmer of hope to Sunday’s opponents.
In terms of off-field news, key midfield trio Matt McKay, Mitch Nichols and Massimo Murdocca have all signed new deals at Suncorp Stadium this week, with the latter expected to shake off a groin strain in time to reclaim his place in the starting eleven against Sydney.
Sydney’s midfield has all too often been overrun this season and it’s hard to see them coping with a rampant Roar side. There should be a few goals in this one and the visitors look set to finally leave the SFS with a three-point haul.
Prediction: Sydney FC 1-3 Brisbane Roar
Perth Glory v Central Coast Marinersnib Stadium
Sunday 12th December 2010
Strugglers Perth Glory will certainly be glad to be back at nib Stadium after a gruelling three-match road trip from which they claimed just a solitary point, but they will not be offered any home comforts by a Central Coast Mariners side who look all but certain to secure a top four finish.
The West Australian club this week launched a review of their entire organisation in a bid to discover why they have underachieved yet again this term and a string of below par performances from their big-name signings will surely be one of the factors highlighted.
An abysmal disciplinary record will be another and boss Ian Ferguson will again be without three players this week, as Naum Sekulovski, Mile Sterjovski and Brent Griffiths serve suspensions. Andy Todd will also miss out as he continues to struggle with a hip flexor injury, while skipper Jacob Burns faces a late fitness, but at least fans’ favourite Jamie Harnwell has regained full fitness and looks set to partner Josh Mitchell at the heart of the defence.
While Glory were tipped as a title chance before the season got underway, the Mariners were largely unfancied and yet the men from Gosford have again forced the pundits to eat their words.
Last week’s trouncing of Sydney ended a run of four games without a win for Graham Arnold’s side who have now opened up a seven point gap between themselves and fifth-placed Wellington.
Daniel McBreen will return from suspension for the trip to Perth, although Adam Kwasnik may keep the former Fury man out of the starting eleven after scoring twice last weekend and Patricio Perez may also have to settle for a place on the bench as Mustafa Amini continues to further his reputation as one of the competitions’ most accomplished young midfielders.
Glory were humiliated 5-0 when the two sides met at the SFS back in October, but they showed plenty of grit in grinding out a draw at North Queensland a fortnight ago and if they can produce a similar gutsy performance on Sunday, they should earn another point.
Prediction: Perth Glory 1-1 Central Coast Mariners