Game-by-game preview of A-League round 20 (all times AEDT).
FRIDAY, February 17
MELBOURNE HEART v GOLD COAST UNITED at AAMI Park, 8pm
Head-to-head: Heart 1 Drawn 3 GCUtd 1
Last meeting: Round 14, 2011-12: GCUtd 1 drew with Heart 1 at Skilled Park.
TAB Sportsbet: Heart $1.70 Draw $3.45 GCUtd $4.75
The Heart will not get a better chance to address their winless streak and faltering goal difference against a virtual Gold Coast United youth team. Gold Coast have suspended coach Miron Bleiberg after he got on owner Clive Palmer’s wrong side, and made 17-year-old first-gamer Mitch Cooper captain. Skipper Michael Thwaite won’t play because of exceeding his yellow card limit, while experienced striker Maceo Rigters is also out. All adds up to a tough ask. But assistant coach Mike Mulvey, who takes over the side from Bleiberg, has developed much of Queensland’s best young talent in recent years and will give his charges reason to believe they can cause an upset. Heart have not won in their past eight, and lack of goals is their most pressing concern as they attempt to put right their finals charge.
Key: Heart welcome back midfield playmaker Fred. They haven’t won a game without him. A great player who if fully fit will have a big say.
SATURDAY, February 18
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS v WELLINGTON PHOENIX at Bluetongue Stadium, 5.30pm
Head-to-head: Mariners 6 Drawn 2 Phoenix 5
Last meeting: Round 5, 2011-12: Mariners 2 bt Phoenix 1 at Westpac Stadium
TAB Sportsbet: Mariners $1.83 Draw $3.40 Phoenix $4.10
Huge game for the Mariners, who could really fall back into the Roar’s lap and put the Premiers Plate up for grabs with defeat. The Mariners were beaten by Melbourne Victory last weekend but were still good, and weren’t bad in defeat against the Roar the previous week. The `Nix had their great run brought undone by the Roar last weekend, but both teams will feel they have plenty to offer in the finals race. New Mariners signing John Sutton – a striker from Scottish club Hearts – is expected to make his debut. Youngster Tomas Rogic was impressive last weekend in just his third match and looks another find. Marauding fullback Pedj Bojic is also back from injury. Wellington regain defender Manny Muscat from suspension.
Key: Mariners central defenders Alex Wilkinson and Patrick Zwaanswijk have been excellent all season, though the usually bulletproof defence has conceded four goals in two matches. How they deal with Phoenix match-winner Paul Ifill is crucial.
BRISBANE ROAR v MELBOURNE VICTORY at Suncorp Stadium, 7.45pm
Head-to-head: Roar 6 Drawn 4 Victory 10
Last meeting: Round 13, 2011-12: Roar 3 bt Victory 1 at Suncorp Stadium
TAB Sportsbet: Roar $1.80 Draw $3.40 Victory $4.25
Two big wins in successive weeks, and the Roar look back to their swashbuckling best. Striker Besart Berisha can’t stop scoring, and has just signed a new two-year deal to celebrate a season in which he could well finish the competition’s top scorer. Victory need to keep winning to make the top six, and their upset of Central Coast last weekend was a huge start. Even a point here for the away side could keep the momentum simmering. Victory striker Archie Thompson is in doubt with a hamstring niggle – perhaps opening the way for Jean Carlos Solorzano to start against his old club. Expect no changes for either side unless they have to.
Key: Victory’s Mark Milligan has been excellent since signing mid-season, and his shift to a holding midfield brought the team alive last weekend. More of the same will be needed to hold off the Roar.
PERTH GLORY v NEWCASTLE JETS at nib Stadium, 10pm
Head-to-head: Glory 9 Draw 5 Jets 6
Last meeting: Round 13, 2011-12: Jets 1 drew with Glory 1 at Ausgrid Stadium
TAB Sportsbet: Glory $1.90 Draw $3.35 Jets $3.85
A home final is on the line in the battle of two in-form sides. Glory are in the box seat, sitting fourth. But the Jets are climbing ominously, now fifth after three successive wins and looking more at home with coach Gary van Egmond’s high-pressing style at the right time of the season. Losing central midfielder Jobe Wheelhouse, who has been inspirational in their recent run, with a groin injury hurts. Who the Jets deploy centrally to deal with Perth midfielders Liam Miller and Jacob Burns, who was this week rewarded with a new two-year deal, is an interesting conundrum. The Jets can also sneak further away from the chasing pack at the fringe of the top six with maximum points.
Key: Rare for Glory striker Shane Smeltz to go goalless in three successive matches. He will if he doesn’t hit the net in this game. So watch out.
SUNDAY, February 19
ADELAIDE UNITED v SYDNEY FC at Hindmarsh Stadium, 5pm
Head-to-head: AdUtd 9 Draw 3 SydFC 10
Last meeting: Round 12, 2011-12: SydFC 2 drew with AdUtd 2 at Sydney Football Stadium
TAB Sportsbet: AdUtd $2.40 Draw $3.25 SydFC $2.75
Adelaide need wins and miracles elsewhere to make the top six. Sydney FC could put them out of their misery with all three points here. The Reds have to back up just three days after their Asian Champions League playoff, and three games in seven days will test them. The Sky Blues’ recent form is pretty good – just one loss in their past five matches. The return of skipper Terry McFlynn will bolster the engine room and put some grunt behind the skills of Nicky Carle and Brett Emerton. Sydney FC must also keep winning to keep alive their top six hopes, and need to keep their slip-ups to a minimum as their goal difference is poor.
Key: Sky Blues striker Bruno Cazarine has been in good recent form and scored last weekend. Likely to lead the line in bustling style again, and needs to find the net regularly to help his side to the top six.