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Only finals can save this A-League season

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Expert
9th April, 2019
30
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It’s an all-too-familiar scenario for A-League fans and football-loving neutrals.

There are three rounds left and not much to play for.

Perth Glory has the premiership in the bag after an outstanding season, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC are jostling for second place – with the former striking a surely decisive blow at the SCG on Saturday night – and fourth through to six are simply looking to keep the Newcastle Jets at bay.

This website has been flooded with articles about promotion and relegation but not even a relegation battle would salvage much interest in the Central Coast Mariners’ campaign, such is the distance between them and the Brisbane Roar.

It also speaks volumes for the failure of equalisation that every year we seem to see such a disparity between the best and the rest – even if the teams which comprise ‘the best’ is subject to some change.

It was similar last campaign, when Sydney ran away with the premiership while Wellington Phoenix and the Mariners lagged behind.

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While they are not the purist’s favourite method of deciding the best team, it is for this reason that we do need to be thankful for the finals.

In a competition which so often proves stale and predictable once the first nine rounds are done and dusted, the finals are a beacon of excitement.

The chance for a surprise upset with meaningful consequences, for a champion to rise from nowhere, and for some of the best drama.

On paper, Perth looks far and away the most likely champions.

Tony Popovic’s side has been far and away the strongest team and the best performers, but a loss and two draws from their last four games shows that even a team which that lost two games all season has no room for complacency come May.

Tony Popovic

Tony Popovic (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Now, Popovic must toe the line between pushing his players back into winning form and nurturing their fitness levels to ensure the likes of Chris Ikonomidis, Diego Castro and Andy Keogh are fit and healthy.

Of course, the Glory will be hoping their match against Sydney FC is not moved to the SCG.

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Not that Melbourne Victory could escape that fate.

Whether or not the disastrous surface was to blame for Terry Antonis’ knee injury, the surface was not fit for a fixture, and Kevin Muscat absolutely nailed his assessment of the whole situation in his post-match press conference.

My Sunday league team plays on a better surface than what two of the best teams in the country were forced to play on at the weekend.

The loss of Antonis will be heavily felt by a Victory side that has consistently struggled with injuries. But, despite the weekend’s result, Muscat still has a winning formula in a squad that includes the mercurial talents of Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen.

Victory’s Big Blue conquerers are the other side with the potential to spoil Perth’s dreams.

It has not always clicked for Steve Corica in his first year in charge, but there remains the remnants of a championship winning team within his impressive collection of players.

Wellington looks the most likely to cause an upset out of the remaining three teams.

Mark Rudan has done a sensational job in his maiden A-League campaign as a head coach and he has serious title-winning credentials as a player.

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Adelaide United and Melbourne City seem to be merely making up the numbers, but both can present a credible threat in any given game.

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We still have three more rounds to go before the sweet release of finals gives us some much-needed compelling matches and stories to follow.

It is a terrible thing to be wishing away three weeks of football, but with no compelling narrative to end the season it is hard to deny that the lead up to the playoffs feels like a drag.

Here’s hoping the finals series can provide a crescendo and finish worthy of the great game.