CC Image courtesy of Tiget Benji on Flickr
CC Image courtesy of Tiger Benji on Flickr

Only three rounds are left in the regular season of the Hyundai A-League and this week’s fixtures see a few timely match ups that will go a long way to deciding top-4 and top-6 finals qualification.

With Brisbane Roar having wrapped up the Premiership last week in their 1-nil victory over the Melbourne Victory, attention is now turning to the relative position of the other 5 teams in this years final’s fixtures, with positions 2 to 7 all within 6 points of each other. This week will see both the Wanderers and the Victory try to guarantee home semi-finals while Sydney FC, Wellington and Melbourne Heart will all try to keep their finals opportunities alive against higher-placed opposition.

Following 24 rounds of competition, the current state of the table is as follows:

Club P W D L F A GD PTS
1 Brisbane Roar 24 15 3 6 40 21 19 48
2 Western Sydney Wanderers 24 10 8 6 29 24 5 38
3 Melbourne Victory 24 10 6 8 35 39 -4 36
4 Central Coast Mariners 24 10 6 8 28 32 -4 36
5 Adelaide United 24 9 7 8 42 32 10 34
6 Newcastle Jets 24 9 5 10 29 30 -1 32
7 Sydney FC 24 10 2 12 33 35 -2 32
8 Wellington Phoenix 24 7 7 10 34 42 -8 28
9 Melbourne Heart 24 6 7 11 31 35 -4 25
10 Perth Glory 24 5 7 12 22 33 -11 22

The fixtures:

 

Brisbane Roar vs Melbourne Heart (Friday 28 March 7:00pm @ Suncorp Stadium)

With the minor premiership already secured, Brisbane will be turning their attention toward maintaining a strong finals run, which has seen them go four games without defeat. The Roar will also be motivated to build on their current 10 point gap at the tope of the table, and outdo the 12 point record Melbourne Victory set during the 2006-07 season.

At the other end, Heart still have a theoretical chance of making the finals this year, however they will be relying on quite a number of other teams to lose the plot entirely. The Heart are coming home with quite the wet sail, and do not have the easiest of runs in, with the Roar, Wanderers and Adelaide in their list of upcoming matches.

Perhaps more motivating for the team was the mid week announcement of retirement by Harry Kewell, who joined the Heart at the start of the season. Kewell, faced with a season of injuries and indifferent form, as well as a low prospect of joining the Australian squad at Brazil this year, decided to call time on a decorated career. The chance for his Heart teammates to send him out on a high might possibly be a stronger driving force for the team for this game. Form to note:

  • In their last fixture, Heart managed a 1-nil victory over the minor-premiers thanks to a 61st minute winner from Orlando Engelaar.
  • Roar are averaging a home win record of 75 per cent this season, with their only losses coming at the hands of Newcastle and Adelaide
  • Roar hold a record of 4 wins 1 draw against Heart when playing at Suncorp Stadium
  • Heart have managed just a victory away from their 11 away games this year, a 5-nil slaughter of Wellington Phoenix

Tip: Brisbane 2-0 Despite the prospect of their final campaign still being alive, the Heart’s away form this year does not warrant selection against the top team of the competition. Look for a potential big scoreline as both teams have a record of over 2.5 goals in their respective home and away games this season.

 

Central Coast Mariners vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Saturday 29 March 5:30pm @ Central Coast Stadium)

Both teams will be looking to secure a home semi final and gain some much needed mental edge leading into the business end of the season. The Mariners will want to get back on track after a disappointing run of losses through February and early March, while the Wanderers will hope to erase any memory of the recent losses to potential finals opponents Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets by solidifying their position in 2nd.

Despite a confident 3-nil home victory against the Glory, the Wanderers will be wary of facing the Mariners away, having yet to beat them at Central Coast Stadium in the Hyundai A-League.

Western Sydney will also be sweating out any potential punishment for their talismanic striker Brendon Santalab for his alleged racial abuse in their recent 3-1 loss to Sydney FC. While proceedings went ahead on Monday night, the hearing was adjourned to a future date, and it appears as if he will be playing with a possible finals ban weighing over him this weekend. Form to note:

  • The Wanderers are undefeated against the Mariners in this year’s fixtures (1W 1D)
  • The Mariners have lost only 3 home games this year (against the Roar, Victory and a 4-1 capitulation to the Wellington Phoenix)
  • Western Sydney have won only 1 of their last 6 away games (vs Perth on 26 Jan)
  • While the Wanderers have achieved the highest number of clean sheets this season (10), the Mariners have not managed one at home for the last 8 games

Tip: Wanderers 1-0 While their away form can be classified as anything but definitive, Western Sydney do seem to have had the advantage over Central Coast this season, and they will set aside some recent indifferent form to secure a home final.

 

Melbourne Victory vs Sydney FC (Saturday 29 March 7:45pm @ AAMI Stadium)

The biggest rivalry in the Hyundai A-League is set to continue with both teams looking to secure a finals berth for the 2013-14 competition, as well as snatch the short-lived bragging rights that accompany these matches.

Victory are fresh off the back of a narrowest-of-losses against the top of the table Roar last week, succumbing to an injury-time screamer from English-import Luke Brattan. Prior to this game, Melbourne had managed 4 wins from 5 games (the loss a 4-1 routing by cross-town rival Heart).

Sydney FC will be buoyed by news that stalwart defender Sasa Ognenovski has resigned with the club for another year after recent retirement speculation. One of the better performing players for the club this year, his presence at the back for this fixture will greatly boost the defending prowess of a team that has managed just three clean sheets this year.

Despite the domination of teams to the north in recent years, both clubs still consider themselves the premier sides of the A-League, and will both be looking to capitalise on less-scrutinised runs into the finals. As such, recent meetings between the clubs have favoured Sydney, with Victory earning just two wins in their last 9 games, a fact most likely not lost on Melbourne manager Kevin Muscat. Form to note:

  • Victory have solid home form (7W 2D 3L) with their only losses to Newcastle, Brisbane and Sydney
  • Sydney have ordinary away form (3W 1D 8 L) with their only victories coming against the two Melbourne teams and Newcastle.
  • Victory have conceded at least one goal in their last 14 matches and in their last 6 home games. Meanwhile, Sydney FC have scored at least one goal in their last 5 away matches
  • Sydney FC is undefeated against Victory this season in their home and away encounters (3-2 and 5-nil respectively)

Tip: Sydney 2-1

While Victory have terrific home form this season, and average 1.75 goals per game there, Sydney seems to be the achilles heel for them. I don’t expect a dominant performance from Sydney, I do expect the class of Del Piero and others to see them across the line.

 

Wellington Phoenix vs Adelaide United (Sunday 30 March 3:00pm @ Westpac Stadium)

The Phoenix will be looking to keep their modest finals hopes alive with a win at home this week, while Adelaide will want to try and maintain 5th position and the slight breathing room it has on Newcastle and Sydney. Form to note:

  • Wellington have a home record of 3W 5D 3L this season at home, with their only losses coming at the hands of the Road (twice) and Melbourne Heart in late February
  • Adelaide have an away record of 2W 4D 6L with wins against the Roar and Sydney FC (January and February respectively)
  • Wellington have conceded at least one goal in their last 9 games
  • Adelaide have not won in Wellington for their last 7 games (4D 3L)

Tip: 2-2 draw

 

Perth Glory vs Newcastle Jets (Sunday 30 March 4:00pm @ NIB Stadium)

The Glory have not won an A-League game since 10 January and since then have endured a run of 3 draws and 7 losses, after competing for a finals position in the early stages of this season. Form to note:

  • As already mentioned, Glory has not won in its last 10 A-League matches. Interestingly however is that they are undefeated at home against Newcastle in the 11 matches they have played there. They have also won the last 6
  • Newcastle are ranked third in the competition for away form this season, with 5 wins, 1 draw and 6 losses
  • Despite this, the Jets have an away goal average of 0.92 for this campaign

Tip: Glory 1-0 Call it wishful thinking, but the Glory’s home record against Newcastle should curry some favour in the tipping, despite their horrible 2013-14 season. So I’m calling an upset.

 

Special Mention:

CC Image courtesy of Nasitra on Flickr
CC Image courtesy of Nasitra on Flickr

Of course it was going to be Harry. It’s a funny thing that my first official blog post on the A-League should come at the same time as the announcement of retirement of Australia’s most talented footballer Harry Kewell.

If you’re like me, then there is probably a sentiment of sadness of raw talent that maybe went a little unrealised. Long spells of injuries whilst at Liverpool, and during his Socceroos career meant that we maybe didn’t get to see The Wizard of Oz hit the heights of world football that he showed himself capable of.

However, he remains a decorated Australian export with a trophy cabinet that at a club level includes a UEFA Champions League Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, and an FA Cup, as well as the PFA Young Player of the Year award for the 1999-2000 season. He was also part of Australia’s golden generation of footballers that saw the Socceroos qualify for their first World Cup in 32 years in 2006 and narrowly lose in the round of 16 to eventual winners Italy, carry on with qualification for 2010 and 2014 and make an Asian Cup final, with a narrow loss to Japan.

In short, he has been a large factor in Australia’s golden age of football. Despite Australia’s relative success and dominance in many sports, and thus the high expectations we place on our representatives, our recent achievements in football are a major step forward and deserve the proper recognition from the Australian public at large.

So thank you Harry, you have been a force for good in Australian football and deserve your place amongst the greats!