With six rounds to go to the 2012 A-League final series, fans of eight clubs are wondering where their team will sit come the final whistle of Round 25.
Welcome to the relegation battle, Aussie style.
A-League fans continue to debate the merits of relegation and promotion in Australian professional football. However, as fans look to overseas leagues relegation battles, many are just missing out on a battle occurring right in our own backyard.
Right now, you couldn’t script a better story than the battle to avoid being “relegated out” of the finals series.
Of the ten teams, two are near certainties. The Central Coast Mariners are at least three wins away from being Premiers of A-League VII, particularly if second placed Brisbane lose more than two games.
Conversely, Gold Coast United, unless they turn their results around and win all their remaining games (with some losses to other teams immediately ahead of them), are bound for an ignominious addition of a wooden spoon to their trophy cabinet.
Of the eight teams remaining, wins to Adelaide (9th), Melbourne Victory (8th) and Sydney (7th) in the past round has compacted the table, putting these teams to within a win and a whisker of the top six. Adelaide, particularly, have everything to play for, being five points outside the top six.
The three teams at the opposite end of the ‘group of eight’ in the table, Brisbane (2nd), Wellington (3rd) and Perth (4th), have somewhat of a buffer, although Perth would be the most nervous with Newcastle close by in fifth place.
With Newcastle (28 points) playing Perth (31 points) in Perth this coming round, Newcastle have every incentive to leave behind the teams snapping at their boot laces in Melbourne Heart (6th) and Sydney – who are both on 27 points.
Relegation has an economic and emotional impact on a club and its fans. This also holds parallels for an A-League fan whose team misses out on a place in the finals.
Along with not being champions and having the season ended prematurely, the club will miss out on a spot in the Asian Champions League.
While the final weeks of the A-League may not generate the same excitement as a relegation battle in a European league, the battle can maintain suspense until the final day, and is nevertheless almost unique in world football.
For an Australian football fan, it is increasingly one that we do not want to miss.