With the A-League moving into the second half of the season, the race for the Premier’s Plate and a top-two finish appears increasingly like a two-horse race between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory. Both will be unencumbered by ACL duties in the second half of the season and will be free to focus on A-League honours.

Six points behind Victory in third spot is Melbourne City, which began the season in a blaze of glory, winning its first silverware along the way (the FFA Cup) but has run into some unexpected turbulence of late. Last week’s 1-0 win against the Wanderers was its first win in six games and follows the shock departure of foundation coach John van ‘t Schip and the appointment of Michael Valkanis as the interim coach.

Making up the top four is the Roar, which like City is in danger of going off the boil, losing its last two matches. Like City it has lost just three times this season. For all the other six teams below, the second half of the season will be a battle for a place in the top six. Each has suffered from inconsistency, losing more times than they’ve won. For reigning champion Adelaide United, currently languishing on the bottom, time is fast running out if Amor’s side is to replicate a late surge towards the finals.

Three matches remain this weekend to complete Round 15 following Thursday’s match between Adelaide United and Melbourne City and Friday’s top four clash between Victory and Roar.

Kicking off the weekend’s action is a match-up between eighth and ninth on the ladder, both of whom are struggling to keep in touch with the top six.

Western Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners, 5.35 pm,
Sat 14 Jan, Westpac stadium

The Mariners have found the going tough of late, losing five of their last six matches. A missed penalty last week proved costly in what was a gallant 2-3 home loss to league leader Sydney FC.

If previous form is anything to go by, the Phoenix will start favourite, having won both previous meetings this season with the Mariners, the most recent being just a month ago when they eased past the Mariners 3-0 at home. One of Wellington’s scores that day and the Phoenix’s leading marksman this season with seven goals, Roy Krishna, is out suspended. The Wellington home fans will welcome recently-signed Shane Smeltz for his first home game on his return to the Phoenix. The Mariners welcome back defensive midfielder Michael Tavares, while the Nix regain Gui Finkler and Vince Lia.

It looms as a big week for the Phoenix, with three matches in eight days, beginning with the Mariners on Saturday, followed by Tuesday’s visit by in-form Melbourne Victory for a catch-up game and rounded off by a match with Brisbane Roar.

Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers, 7.50 pm,
Sat 14 Jan, Allianz Stadium

For what is arguably the match of the round, fans can expect a typically hard-fought derby between the two Sydneysiders, but there should be plenty to please the purists as well, with a wealth of technical riches in the middle of the park. Sydney FC’s Milos Ninkovic has arguably been the standout player in the league with his goals and assists.

For the Wanderers, Martinez has been outstanding, and he’ll be joined by Dimas returning from suspension as well as Terry Antonis, who could play his first game back in the A-League against former team Sydney FC. For all the midfield talent at his disposal, coach Popovic must wish he had the strike power to match, relying instead on Santalab for their goals. They’ll have to make do without him for the derby due to suspension.

In contrast, Sydney has an abundance of firepower and this could prove the difference on the day.

Newcastle Jets v Perth Glory, 5.00 pm,
Sun 15 Jan, Mc Donald Jones Stadium

This is probably the hardest match of the round to predict. Fifth spot is up for grabs as sixth-placed Jets hosts the fifth-placed Glory. Both sides will be trying for back-to-back wins, although the Jets’ form has been more impressive, especially in its last start when it defeated the Roar 3-2 away. Both Morten Nordstrand and Andrew Nabbout found the net in that game and if they continue their good form, the Jets will be a chance to beat the Glory.

The Jets won the previous meeting between these two 2-1 in Perth but Perth has a good recent record in the Hunter Valley. With Castro regaining fitness and the firepower of Keogh and Taggart, they too will fancy their chances of getting something from this game.