Preview of A-League Round 25 matches (all times AEDT).
FRIDAY, March 16
Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix at AAMI Park 8.00pm
Head to Head: Victory 7 Phoenix 3 drawn 6
Last clash: Round 11 2011-2012 – Victory 3 bt Phoenix 1 at AAMI Park
Tab Sportsbet: Victory $2.30 Phoenix $2.85 Draw $3.35
Wellington need just a point to ensure a home final. Unlike a lot of clubs, they have consistently scored goals this season. Now they can win away from home regularly, they loom as a big finals wildcard. Few will relish having to travel to New Zealand for a first final. Winger Leo Bertos returns, so now the Phoenix have most of their squad available and coach Ricki Herbert has healthy selection headaches. The Victory are playing for pride and not much else, with Jim Magilton’s long-term coaching gig pretty much guaranteed. Plenty of Victory players have had their cards marked by the new boss, and some of those who play will be doing so to impress future employers ahead of a brutal squad clearout.
Key: Phoenix star Paul Ifill scored a stunning equaliser against Melbourne Heart last weekend, and is the most influential attacker in the competition.
SATURDAY, March 17
Central Coast Mariners v Adelaide United at Bluetongue Stadium 5.30pm
Head to Head: Mariners 9 AdUtd 6 drawn 7
Last clash: Round 17 2011-2012 – Mariners 3 bt AdUtd 2 at Bluetongue Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Mariners $1.55 AdUtd $6.00 Draw $3.65
The Mariners can secure the Premier’s Plate with victory, though wins have proved difficult in recent weeks for the table-toppers. they haven’t won in their past four outings, and Perth’s sapping heat as they fell 1-0 to the Glory last weekend did them no favours. The Reds held the Roar to a draw last weekend, but are out of finals contention and it will depend how revved up for the A-League they are ahead of their continuing Asian Champions League campaign. The Reds regain goalkeeper and skipper Eugene Galekovic, and prolific striker Sergio van Dijk from injury. Central Coast are at full strength with the return of midfielder Mustafa Amini.
Key: Mariners keeper Mat Ryan had a rare error last weekend which gifted the Glory the winner. A driven individual who won’t want a repeat, expect the brilliant youngster to return to his best.
Newcastle Jets v Brisbane Roar at Hunter Stadium 5.30pm
Head to Head: Jets 8 Roar 7 drawn 7
Last clash: Round 18 2011-2012 – Jets 1 bt Roar 0 at Suncorp Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Jets $2.80 Roar $2.35 Draw $3.30
While Brisbane are assured a finals berth, sixth-placed Newcastle sit in quite a precarious position with two games remaining. Should they lose this match the Jets will leave the door open for Sydney, who are lurking only a point behind, to take their spot. The Roar haven’t lost in six A-League matches but their Asian Champions League loss to FC Tokyo looked to have taken the wind out of their sails, with the defending champions only managing a draw with the lowly Adelaide last week. In a boost to the Jets, coach Gary van Egmond will have a full squad to choose from with Ruben Zadkovich making a timely return from suspension. The Roar meanwhile have added Luke Brattan (knee) and Rocky Visconte (ankle) to the injured list while Mitch Nichols (groin) and Massimo Murdocca (shoulder) look likely to make their returns.
Key: Thomas Broich. The classy German striker was uncharacteristically out of touch last week, spurning several chances to deny the Roar a win. Will he bounce back?
Melbourne Heart v Sydney FC at AAMI Park 7.45pm
Head to Head: Heart 2 SydFC 0 drawn 3
Last clash: Round 13 2011-2012 – Heart 4 bt SydFC 0 at Allianz Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Heart $2.30 SydFC $3.30 Draw $2.80
The last time these two teams clashed the Heart dismantled Sydney to beat them 4-0 – the Sky Blues’ biggest home defeat. But both teams have rediscovered timely form after a mid-season slump to keep themselves well in the hunt for a finals berth. And while the fifth-placed Heart sit two spots above Sydney on the ladder, only one point separates them ahead of what could be a do-or-die clash. Should the sixth-placed Newcastle beat Brisbane in the early match on Saturday, Sydney will have to do something they’ve never done before to stay alive – beat the Heart.
Key: Nicky Carle. The crafty forward is due a goal after a few fruitless attempts of late. Will he be able to find the back of the net?
Tip: Sydney FC
SUNDAY, March 18
Gold Coast United v Perth Glory at Skilled Park 6.30pm
Head to Head: Gold Coast 4 Glory 2 drawn 2
Last clash: Round 19 2011-2012 – Glory 4 bt Gold Coast 0 at nib Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Gold Coast $3.00 Glory $2.15 Draw $3.45
You’ve got to hand it to Gold Coast United. Despite all the upheaval, they have refused to roll over and since owner Clive Palmer was run out of town, they have made every club so far play for points. The Glory need just a point to wrap up a home final and would fancy themselves against the bottom side, even without injured midfielder Jacob Burns (ribs). Influential Liam Miller returns from injury to stabilise their midfield, and goal poacher Shane Smeltz always enjoys a return to the Coast where he played much of his junior football. Gold Coast’s young players continue to impress, with Adama Traore the latest to declare he is leaving. United centre-back Zac Anderson has also been impressive and it will be fascinating to see how he copes with the threat of Smeltz.
Key: Can Gold Coast attract the sort of crowd which might convince the FFA the region does have an A-League future?