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The Roar's A-League Men expert tips and predictions: Semi-finals, first leg

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9th May, 2024

Just four teams remain in the hunt for the 2023/24 A-League Championship and the action will be intense in the opening legs of the semi-finals.

Central Coast Mariners return to Australia with Asian silverware in hand and face up against Sydney FC in what looks a mouth-watering Friday night clash at Allianz Stadium. After a day of A-League rest, Melbourne Victory hosts the Phoenix at AAMI Park on Sunday.

Both matches will be called live here on The Roar, so be sure to join me and interact with fellow punters as all the action unfolds.

Just five remain in the tipping and after a slight malfunction last week, the table remains in a precarious state where all involved are still within reach of a glorious victory.

Good luck with your tips for the round and be sure to enter them in the sheet below to have a say in the voice of the crowd. The panel is hoping to shut out the fans and here is the way they see the first legs of the semi-finals playing out.

Texi Smith

Sydney, Wellington

Sydney FC have scored eleven goals in two games and Central Coast Mariners have won the last ever game of the AFC Cup. Hopefully, there are no hold-ups getting the Mariners home this time and they have plenty of rest before heading to Allianz Stadium to tackle the free-scoring Sky Blues.


The tyranny of a successful team’s fixture list at the end of the season is nothing new, and if the Mariners want to complete an incredible treble this season, they will not be thinking about excuses. Sydney have the perfect blend of youth and experience, and some heavy artillery to come off the bench at a moment’s notice.

Their home-ground advantage and playing towards the Cove in the second half will give them the perfect arena to pile the pressure on Danny Vukovic, and, as it did in Gosford earlier this year, the high press will yield mistakes and chances. Anthony Caceres continues his wonderful form, setting up Robert Mak for a magnificent opener on the break, and the reborn Jordan Courtney-Perkins rattles the bar from distance as Sydney threaten to ease away from the Mariners in the second half.

The home team press and press, but as the game opens up they become stretched, and Jack Rodwell clears off the line from a Brian Kaltak header to preserve the lead heading into the final ten minutes of madcap A-League finals action.

Ryan Edmondson leaps highest to equalise from a corner, the Mariners then win a penalty when Mikael Doka teases a cheap foul from Joel King. Andrew Redmayne saves spectacularly from Doka’s spot kick and Luke Brattan releases Caceres who races into the box to ping a cross off the retreating Jacob Farrell for a dramatic own goal.

The electric atmosphere gives Sydney a lift in the final throes of the game, but a slender 2-1 lead is all they can take to Industree Stadium next weekend for the most epic of second legs.


A battered Melbourne Victory will be without the unfortunate Zinedine Machach for their home leg against Wellington Phoenix. He was conned by Leo Natel’s pathetic antics into a ridiculous red card on the weekend, but they will be ready to unleash the beast once more, Leigh Broxham waiting in the wings for dramatic effect.

Two weeks since their dismantling of Macarthur FC, and with plenty of time to be ready for what was always going to be a trip to AAMI Park, the Kiwis will be rock solid for this one. Oskar Zawada ploughs a lone furrow up front in a defensive formation, but we know by now that a sniff of a counter attack and the Wellington machine roars to life.

Victory use Bruno Fornaroli as their target, but he is heavily marked to the extent that he can’t get a moment’s peace. Daniel Arzani pouts and dances past challenges like a matador, all he needs is a red cape and a montera, and with Kasey Bos thrown in for this one, Victory look lively for 70 minutes but cannot find a goal.

The pivotal moment comes when Kosta Barbarouses is thrown on to a mixture of boos and applause, and torments the home team for the final 20 minutes. His pace and vision creates multiple chances, and when Ben Old darts up the left unmarked, the former Victory man plays the sweetest of cross-field passes into his path and the first-time finish sees the small section of Phoenix fans in the corner go wild.

Victory never do say die, and they turn the screw at the end, looking for a route-one equaliser, but Wellington hold out and they have 90 minutes at home to get a draw in order to tee up a grand final appearance and a burglary of Australia’s famous toilet seat trophy.

Stuart Thomas


Central Coast, Wellington

Joe Lolley’s absence from Sydney FC’s line-up for the remainder of the season kills off their chances of winning the title. Robert Mak starred against Macarthur last week, yet will have less room granted to him by the Mariners’ defence on Friday.

Joe Lolley Sydney FC

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Sydney still appear to play in fits and starts and as long as Central Coast remain level or a goal down by half-time, they should run rampant over the Sky Blues in the second. They never give up the Mariners and that resilience will stand them in good stead during the finals.

Somehow Melbourne Victory snuck past Melbourne City in a thrilling encounter last Sunday and Wellington will be an even tougher hurdle for them to clear. An ability to sit and soak pressure will be key for the visitors and the Victory’s struggles to create enough clear chances for Bruno Fornaroli up front will see them frustrated early.

The Phoenix hit on the counter and a generally reliable Victory defence will be challenged to keep them at bay. It looks a tight one if the match does become an arm wrestle, with one key moment potentially deciding the fixture.

Andrew Prentice


Draw, Wellington

It seems manifestly unfair that Allianz scheduling has forced the Sydney-Central Coast game to Friday instead of later in the weekend, given the Mariners played in Oman on Monday morning our time. I guess one saving grace is that the A-League gets first use of a rain-sodden pitch before the Waratahs and Brumbies tear it to shreds.

The Mariners have overcome virtually everything thrown at them this season and have only a few more hurdles to claim an unprecedented treble of trophies for the season. They will be helped by the absence of Sydney FC winger Joe Lolley, cruelly struck down with a hamstring injury incurred in the process of his wonder strike against Macarthur.

The Mariners have been rock-solid defensively, led by the seemingly ageless Danny Vukovic. However, Sydney have scored 11 goals in their last two SFS appearances and even without Lolley, will be difficult to keep at bay. Jaiden Kucharski and Robert Mak have got among the goals, and Anthony Caceres is conducting the attacking midfield role with a maestro’s flourish.

It will depend on how Jacob Farrell and Storm Roux – the likely Mariners fullbacks – can deal with the wide threat posed by the Sky Blues while still having enough in the engine to get forward at every opportunity. Josh Nisbet’s GPS tracker is the hardest-working piece of equipment in the A-League and he’ll probably run back to Gosford post-game as a warm-down.

I fancy the Mariners will be happy to take a draw back to the coast for the second leg, and am feeling a 1-1 result in the humid Sydney air.


Did Melbourne Victory play their Grand Final last week? A fantastic backs-to-the-wall performance against City, playing with ten from the 37th minute onwards all the way to success in the penalty shootout was a stunning effort. Paul Izzo played the kind of match a goalkeeper dreams of, keeping Victory in the match time and again, as they trailed 0-1 until the 88th minute.

They’ll line up without the suspended Zinedine Machach against the Phoenix, who were relaxing last weekend as the Melbourne Derby epic unfolded. The return to fitness of Oskar Zawada will be a key ingredient for Wellington, and do you think Kosta Barbarouses isn’t looking forward to revisiting his former home?

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Maybe a laneway espresso before the match? The Phoenix defeated Victory 1-0 in their last clash in Wellington and picking them in this one is based primarily on the fact that the Victory may have drained the well with their win last week. Surely Izzo can’t repeat his heroics of last week and keep Kraev, Old and co. at bay? Wellington to sneak a win in their resolute manner and take a one-goal lead back to Aotearoa.

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