The penultimate round of the A-League season has arrived and each of the five matches has a bearing on who could win the Premier’s Plate. John van’t Schip’s Melbourne City heads a tight race between five teams, marginally ahead of Brisbane Roar by virtue of superior goal difference.
City will take the plate if it wins its remaining two matches. It will be the first piece of silverware for the Melbourne club, which has often lived in the shadow of Melbourne Victory. The Victory-City rivalry, never far from the surface, sprang back to life this week when ex-Victory boss and current Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick declared that City, which had just disposed of Phoenix 3-nil to hit top spot, weren’t as good a team as Victory.
The round kicked off last night when Western Sydney Wanderers hosted Central Coast Mariners, knowing a win would put it back on top, although most likely temporarily. Today’s matches kick off in Wellington.
Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Victory, Sat 2 April, 5.15 pm, Westpac Stadium
Victory’s Kostas Barbarouses and Gui Finkler will get a sneak preview of their new digs next season when Phoenix hosts Victory. Victory faces a hectic schedule and will accumulate frequent flyer points over the coming week, including a mid-week flight to South Korea for an ACL match against Suwon Bluewings, followed by its final A-League round match against Brisbane Roar.
Last Friday, needing a win against Western Sydney Wanderers, Victory coach Muscat gave Oliver Bozanic a more advanced midfield role and the midfielder responded with a brace that inspired a 2-nil win.
Victory fans also welcomed the news this last week that skipper Carl Valeri is back in the first team squad after enforced absence due to illness.
Sydney FC v Adelaide United, Sat 2 April, 7.30 pm, Allianz Stadium
Graham Arnold’s men will keep a close eye on proceedings across the Tasman in the first match on Saturday, in the lead-up to their match against the Reds. Melbourne Victory need just a single point against the Phoenix to end Sydney’s hopes of finals football, and if that’s the case, the result in Wellington could influence Arnold’s team selection, as Sydney also face an important mid-week AFC match. Whatever happens, Sydney will have its work cut out to defeat a Reds team intent on winning the Premier’s Plate.
Brisbane Roar v Newcastle Jets, Sun 3 April, 5.00 pm, Suncorp Stadium
Before the season started, there were dire predictions for both these teams. Both have exceeded expectations but especially the Roar, which goes into this match aiming to win a Premier’s plate. It will start warm favourite at home against a Jets team which until last week was still in the running for a finals spot. Expect the Roar, with Petratos and MaClaren in fine goal scoring form, to get all three points against the Jets who will be missing suspended skipper Nigel Boogaard.
Perth Glory v Melbourne City, Sun 3 April, 7.00 pm, NIB Stadium
The match of the round completes this weekend’s matches. The return of Socceroos’ midfield lynchpin Aaron Mooy and defender Alex Wilkinson will undoubtedly strengthen Melbourne City, even though they were hardly missed in last Monday’s 3-nil victory over Phoenix, when Fornaroli and Novillo teamed expertly up front to score City’s goals.
Glory’s hard fought 2-1 away win at the Jets last week keeps its momentum and it remains in contention for a top two finish (even an outside chance of winning the Premier’s Plate). Key forward Andy Keogh will set a new national league record for scoring in the most consecutive games, if he can bag another goal against City.
It will be the eighth consecutive match in which he has scored.