A-League set for most exciting finish yet
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The Central Coast Mariners. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Could it have been scripted any better? The regular season is set for a grandstand finish as eight teams jockey for a place in the A-League’s top six and a chance to ultimately be crowned champions.
Central Coast’s relatively comfortable 2-0 win away at Adelaide United last night sets up a blockbuster final set of matches, although in truth much of the sting could be taken out of it midway through the round.
Should either Brisbane Roar or Sydney FC prevail in a winner-takes-all showdown at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night, they’ll sew up fifth place in the league and the finals place that comes with it.
That would ensure there’s everything to play for at Hunter Stadium the following evening, as Newcastle attempt to scramble into the six at the same time Western Sydney Wanderers look to secure the Premiers’ Plate.
The Wanderers need only a point to finish top of the league at their first attempt, however defeat to the Jets could open the door for Central Coast, who would finish top on goal difference by beating Melbourne Heart the following day.
And amidst the chaos, Perth Glory will be hoping they’re still in the running for a finals place when they host Adelaide United at the newly completed NIB Stadium.
The Glory will also hope a bumper crowd packs into a venue which has proved more of a hindrance than a help this season.
The Glory are working in conjunction with Football West to give away thousands of free tickets to ensure the new eastern stand is packed for the occasion.
And should Perth sneak into the six under the stewardship of new coach Alistair Edwards, it would mark a remarkable turnaround for a side which has struggled to find form all season on the back of last season’s controversial grand final defeat.
Glory’s dramatic 3-2 win over Melbourne Victory on Saturday had Victory coach Ange Postecoglou hopping mad, but in truth few of the top teams outside of the Wanderers are in anything like a rich vein of form.
And after much conjecture over the merits of the A-League’s new finals system, Football Federation Australia has been vindicated by the fact so many teams go into the final round with a chance of progressing to the play-offs.
After blowing the chance to wrap up the premiership against city rivals Sydney FC in the derby on Saturday night, the Wanderers may find the trip up the F3 to Newcastle to face a fired-up Jets side a similarly daunting prospect.
And although the Jets might only be considered an outside chance of making the six, there’s every possibility they’ll be liberated by the knowledge that nothing less than a win over the upstart Wanderers will suffice.
A-League fans could hardly have asked for a better Easter present from what will be a gripping round of football, though once again the issue of whether fixtures should kick off simultaneously bears some consideration.
It might be the done thing overseas, but it’s hardly a premise host broadcaster Fox Sports is going to champion and the current scenario ensures the excitement is spread over several days.
It starts with what will be a straight-up shoot-out between the Roar and Sydney FC, in what is an ideal precursor to the battle for the Premiers’ Plate over the following two days.
And with Mariners striker Daniel McBreen just ahead of Wellington’s Jeremy Brockie and mercurial Victory youngster Marco Rojas in the race for the Golden Boot, there’s still plenty for all 10 clubs to play for – even if the Phoenix and Melbourne Heart are already out of the race for the finals.
This has been an exceptional A-League season to date and the final round of action promises to continue that trend, as the premiership is decided and two teams say goodbye to the prospect of finals football for another campaign.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman