Will the Melbourne derby sizzle or fizzle? Will the Jets continue their revival? Will Tony Popovic’s home coming be a happy one? Those are some of the questions which will be answered this week.
Tony Popovic’s Perth Glory has all but got one hand on a historic Premier’s Plate, with just eight rounds of the A-League home and away season remaining. Glory was the only top six side that won in last week’s Rd 19, opening up a commanding nine point lead at the head of the table. But there’s still plenty at stake for the teams below it in this week’s Rd 20 matches.
Central Coast Mariners v Brisbane Roar Friday 22 Feb, 7.50 pm Central Coast Stadium
In the battle of the cellar dwellers, the Mariners will attempt to follow up their morale-boosting 1-1 draw away to Sydney FC last Sunday with a history defying win against a struggling Brisbane Roar who were put to sword by Glory last week. Both meetings between these two this season have ended in 1-1 draws. Both teams’ attacking stocks have diminished recently with prolific Roar striker Adam Taggart swapping the A-League for the K-League by joining Korean club Suwon Bluewings. The Mariners have lost former Socceroo Tommy Oar for the rest of the season to a knee injury sustained in the match against Sydney. Former South Melbourne player Matt Millar is expected to take Oar’s place. History is against the home team in this match. If they are to win, it will be their first win in 15 matches against the Roar. It may be their best chance in a while as a string of injuries, suspensions and departures has forced Roar coach Darren Davies to turn to youth.
Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC , Sat 23 Feb, 5.35 pm Campbelltown Stadium
This ‘home’ game for Phoenix actually kicks off on NSW soil, south of Sydney because of the unavailability of Phoenix’s home ground, Eden Park, which saw a record crowd attendance last round when Phoenix hosted Victory in a 1-1 draw.
Both teams have run a little cold in recent games with Phoenix winning just one of their last five matches whilst Steve Corica’s Sydney have taken just a point from their last two matches against the league’s two bottom teams. Both sides will be keen to get back to winning ways which should make for an exciting clash featuring two of the league’s top marksmen, Adam Le Fondre ( Sydney) and the Fijian Flyer Roy Krishna ( Phoenix).
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne City Sat 23 Feb, 7.50 pm Marvel Stadium
Melbourne City could have no greater incentive to arrest its recent slide, than a win over arch rival Melbourne Victory in the match of the round. For City, which has just one point from its last four games, the derby match looms as a crucial match, as it kicks off a trio of matches against the league’s top three teams, Victory, Glory and Sydney FC. City’s place in the top six could largely be determined by how they emerge from these next three games.
One positive to take from City’s recent games is that striker Jamie MacLaren has netted in each of his two games since joining the club. City will be hoping the Melbourne born striker can again get his name on the scoresheet in his first Melbourne derby. For Victory, the match could see the return of striker Ola Toivonen and the first start since his return from injury of star midfielder Keisuke Honda.
Newcastle Jets V Adelaide United Sun, 24 Feb, 5 pm McDonald Jones Stadium
This looms as another high stakes game for both teams with both needing the win. The Jets’ surprise 3-1 win over Melbourne City last week, edges it close to the top six, giving its fans some hope of seeing finals football. For the Reds, it was a case of an opportunity lost when it lost it first game in six matches, 3-1 against the Wanderers last week, missing a good chance to consolidate fourth spot ahead of Melbourne City and Wellington. The Jets are yet to beat the Reds this season, but with nine goals from their last three A-League matches, they are showing more efficiency in front of goal. The Reds defence led by Michael Jakobsen, can expect to come under a lot of pressure.
Western Sydney Wanderers v Perth Glory Sunday 24 Feb, 7 pm Spotless Stadium
Glory coach Tony Popovic will expect no favours from his former club when he returns to the Wanderers for his first visit with Perth. Not that Glory needs any favours, so dominant have they been in the league this season. Still Popovic and his men will be mindful that the Wanderers almost sprung a surprising upset on the league leader when they last met in mid January. On that occasion, the Glory won a thriller 4-3 after coming back from 1-3 down with just 11 minutes remaining.
Despite coming off back to back wins, it’s hard to see the Markus Babbel’s Wanderers end Glory’s 10 match unbeaten league run which has left the chasing pack in its wake this season.