A-League 2013/14: Round Seventeen Preview

Friday January 31st: Melbourne Heart vs Sydney FC (AAMI Park)

With the news of the Manchester City FC buy-out now fully sun in to the staff and players at Heart, and some very decent football over the last couple of weeks (including that debut win for the season over the Jets), John van t’Schip must be feeling reasonably confident for getting all three points in this game. Even though the Heart still have a miss-firing striker in Michael Mifsud, they have been able to find the net five times over two games and it is almost certain that Mifsd will not be the focal point for their attack due to injury. Of course there will be the need for Kewell, Germano, Williams and Dugandzic to keep the forward momentum of the squad going, and it will be intriguing to see how the home fans will respond in terms of supporting numbers and passion for the game. However where the Heart will need to be at the best to win at home is in defence, as whilst they have scored 5 goals against the Jets and Reds in total since Round Fifteen, they have let in three. The manner in which the Reds snatched the win away from the Heart last round demonstrates certain weaknesses that a Sydney FC on song will exploit. I’m still not convinced by Kisnorbo, Behich and Wielaert in being able to support the work being done by the forwards and midfielders.

Then there is the salient fact that Sydney FC have traveled again to Melbourne and have the impetus of a 5-0 thumping of the Victory in their favour. Alessandro del Piero seems to have rediscovered his mojo and for the first time all season Farina’s coaching seems to have vision and purpose. The visitors will be hurt by the lack of Terry McFlynn, however Richard Garcia is back. The Serbian trio of Despotovic, Dimitrejevoc and Petkovic offers the Sky Blues good value across the entire field, and Gligor looks to be starting a half-decent career in the senior team. Assuming Sydney FC can use their strong talent in a cohesive fashion and break down a suspect Heart defence it could be another win on the road for Farina, and more soul searching for van t’Schip.

My Prediction: Sydney FC 1-2 win

Friday 31st January: Perth Glory vs Melbourne Victory (nib Stadium)

Both of these teams are in a mini crisis coming into this round, with the home team made to look very ordinary last week by the Wanderers out at Wanderland, whilst for the second week running Kevin Muscat’s team were hammered 5-0. So it may be argued that this will be a game where neither coach will want to play an attacking, open game, preferring to stay conservative and either pick up a draw or hope to snaffle a good win. Yet for Kevin Muscat his possible line of action would be to exploit all that excellence in his attacking forwards and midfielders. Rogic, Thompson, Finkler, Troisi, Barbarousos, Pain and Nabbout give him lots of options in being aggressive, yet as shown by their last two matches all this power can be undone if there is a problematic structure and a lack of support from their defensive capabilities. Contreras is back and frankly I think he is a major liability, and whilst Traore is quality and Geria important to Muscat it will be at the back that the game may go bung for Muscat.

Having said that Perth looked almost bereft of any creativity last round and whilst yes, Smeltz poached a nice goal it was only down to a Herculean effort from Vukovic that kept the score from blowing out into an embarrassment. The youth policy of previous gaffer Ally Edwards seems to have been given the arse by Lowe and his head office staff, as demonstrated by the recruitment of Serb journeyman Marinkovic and the return of Rostyn Griffith to his home town. It will be of benefit for the home team if Jamie Maclaren, Sidnei and Shane Smeltz can find form going forward, and Chris Harrold looks quite promising with his pace and determination. Playing at home will no doubt help the Glory, yet I have no great confidence in the squad’s goal scoring potential. It should be a fascinating game and if Muscat does draw out the more aggressive, talented capabilities of his attack Danny Vukovic could be in for a torrid time.

My Prediction: Melbourne Victory win 0-2

Saturday 1st February: Wellington Phoenix vs Adelaide United (Eden Park)

Nominally a home game for the Phoenix, the game is being played in Auckland which may see a small drop in the intensity of home support. That will not be of major concern to Ernie Merrick and his squad however, as the Phoenix have been in excellent form these last few rounds, and have every reason to be confident that can topple the Reds. The return of Costa Rican internationals Hernandez and Cunningham bolsters a line up that is looking more and more capable as the season progresses. Huysegems will be back for more goal scoring attempts, and Tyler Boyd should get more game time to demonstrate his potential. As for the visitors Adelaide have been unbeaten now for the last five rounds and nominally are the form team of the A-League. However there is still some degree of uncertainty over how capable Gombau’s team is when it comes to dominating matches and winning well. The adjustment in style from a tiki-taka format to more direct football has undoubtedly helped with their success rate, however as demonstrated last week against the Heart the Reds can drop off in intensity and their defence has moments of weakness. There is much to expect from the likes of Djite, Mabil, Malik, Jeronimo and Ferreira, whilst recent signing Ryan Griffiths should get plenty of opportunities to show his value. I have a sneaking suspicion this will be either a very free flowing game where goals may rain down, or more likely the result will pivot on a specific dead ball opportunity.

My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Saturday 1st February: Newcastle United vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Hunter Stadium)

Fans of the Jets must feel rather sick to the stomach over the horrid run of form recently shown by the Jets, having secured a solitary point from five games and of course seen the dumping of Gary Van Egmond for Clayton Zane. However what would really be galling is the manner in which the Jets have lost so many games this season. There appears to be a bankruptcy of ideas behind their tactical structures, and the wasted talent from the likes of Hoole, Brillante, Virgili, Goodwin and even Taggart is an indictment on both former and current coach. It’s also apparent that the older and more experienced players such as Zadkovich and Heskey are simply not performing consistently, nor up to the appropriate standards for a quality A-League squad. They may get a lift from the return of Joel Griffiths to the club, yet it’s not necessarily up front where Newcastle are stuffed; it’s an endemic problem across the entire pitch.

As for the visitors the Wanderers look to have returned to a near replica of the team and playing style that won them the premiers’ plate last season. Their dismantling of a tepid Perth Glory at home last week was down to almost every player lifting their game above and beyond past weeks’ level. Certain players such as Mooy, Hersi and Bridge, who provided much of the Wanderer’s go forward last season have come back into form. It must also be said that the use of Spiranovic as a CDM by Tony Popovic added new depth to the squad’s playing style. Throw in the good work shown by two non-regular starters in Dean Heffernan and Shannon Cole, and you can see that the Wanderers have emerged nicely from their mini-slump. Unfortunately their right back rock Jerome Polenz is still MIA due to injury and his presence will be missed. Tomi Juric returns for striker’s duty and he and Brendon Santalab are becoming a solid pair of goal scorers.

My Prediction: Western Sydney Wanderers win 0-3

Saturday 2nd February: Brisbane Roar vs Central Coast Mariners (Suncorp Stadium)

Nominally the match of the round and one that should give either the Roar a chance to put one hand over the premier’s plate, or for the Mariners to secure second place on the table, this game has swung decisively in the home team’s favour due to changes in both teams’ personnel. For the Roar Besart Berisha returns to the line up after serving his match suspension last week, and whatever anyone thinks of his personality he is a proven goal scorer. As for the visitors the Mariners have lost McBreen and Sainsbury (who have both taken advantage of transfer opportunities to leave the club) and whilst he hasn’t been listed in the team’s line up defender Eddy Bosnar has just been acquired to help bolster their backs. On paper the Roar have major advantages thanks to the likes of Broich, McKay, Brattan and Hingert, whilst Devante Clut demonstrated last week against the Phoenix that there is plenty of talent being developed in the home team’s younger squad members. Yet of the two teams the form over recent weeks has been with the Mariners, and the Roar have not always found the going easy against their major rival during the era 2010/11 – 2011/12. Whilst last week the Mariners gave the Jets a 3 goal shellacking their performances this season have generally been less florid, grinding out results as needed. This could be the opportunity forgotten Socceroo striker Mitchell Duke needs to reassert not just his own personal talents but also to give the Roar lots of trouble at the back (where they have shown some fragility now and again).

My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

A-League 2013/14: Round Sixteen Preview

Friday January 24th: Brisbane Roar vs Wellington Phoenix (Suncorp Stadium)

Well in any other round of this season I would naturally go straight for a Brisbane Roar win. However the last few rounds have shown that the Kiwi team is no bunch of mugs, and whilst the Roar are not in anyway in crisis there are going to be some serious hurdles for them to jump to secure all three points. The absence of Berisha through suspension will possibly be an advantage for the home team, as much energy and fan focus would’ve been on the turbulent Albanian’s work with news he was leaving Brisbane at the end of 2013/14 coming through midweek. I would argue the more damaging absentee for the Roar is the injury to Ivan Franjic, who I will admit has been one of my favourite non-Wanderers players this season in the A-League. Wellington have that amazing 5-0 win against Melbourne Victory in their history and a 3-1 win over the Wanderers away, so if they can knock off the Roar at home they will have beaten all three top teams. They will miss the presence of Kenny Cunningham and Carlos Hernandez, however the skill in which coach Merrick has covered his gaps in playing staff and got relatively lower profile or younger players like Huysegems, Boyd, Muscat and Hicks performing is very praiseworthy. It will probably come down to how well does the Phoenix defence cope with Broich and the unsung Brattan, whilst for the Roar to complete a win it will help if Huysegems is stopped from his left flank runs.

My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Saturday January 25th: Adelaide United vs Melbourne Heart (Coopers Stadium)

A few weeks ago these two teams met in what may have been described as the sack race, and after a 3-3 result where both teams scored with seeming ease there have been some big changes. The Heart is now finally sitting on a win, and has changed its coach from the luckless Aloisi to returning mentor John van t’Schip. However most astoundingly the news broke midweek that the Heart will be part-owned from the end of this season by a consortium including Manchester City, and this incredible investment must lift spirits and attitudes for all at the wooden spoon contenders. As for the home team, they have not lost a game for five rounds now, and their scrappy win over the Wanderers last week took them from ninth to fifth in one fell swoop. So with two clubs on the ascendant and some major changes in personnel, capabilities and form this match should be very rewarding. Adelaide should be considered favourites even though they are without Cassio, Cirio and Zullo. Carrusca was in very good form last week and the defence of McKain, Malik and Boogard stood tall when pressured by the Wanderers. Bruce Djite will also be a vital cog in Gombau’s machine, whilst over in the visitors’ camp van t’Schip will be hoping that Dugandzic can replicate his form from their victory over the Jets. Engelaar cut an imposing figure in his first A-League match last round and he could be a threat to the Reds if he can get a longer run, and of course there is Harry Kewell to help formulate or deliver attacks. The match will probably be won and lost by the Heart defence; if they can stay solid the visitors have a very good chance of pulling off at least a draw. However the run of form and the style of play is with Gombau’s charges so I’m leaning towards the home team.

My Prediction: 2-1 Adelaide United win

Saturday January 25th: Central Coast Mariners vs Newcastle United (Blue Tongue Stadium)

The F3/M1 derby has a solid history of spite and passion and this week’s game should add to that tradition, particularly with the Jets wanting to wipe out the blot on their season that was last week’s loss and the dumping of coach Gary Van Egmond. The return of their talented younger players from national duty will no doubt be a potential fillip to the team, and you simply can’t discount the potential of Taggart, Hoole and Brillante. There is the added expectation of what may be produced in terms of managerial style from new coach Clayton Zane. For the Mariners their season has ground along with several bumps, and whilst they got the points last week no one can say they are a polished unit. McBreen really needs to find his radar when it comes to shooting at goal, and absence of Flores due to injury has been felt badly. There are some familiar faces in the home team’s line up that should do good service, particularly Sterjovski, Rose and Hutchinson, and it will be intriguing to see how Ibini plays now he has returned on loan to his old club. In the visitors’s ranks there is no doubt that Heskey and Zadkovich need to lift and their defence is certainly weaker than it needs to be (aside from Birighitti in goal). This should be a close game with the pendulum most likely to swing towards the Mariners

My Prediction: 2-0 Central Coast Mariners win

Sunday January 26th: Melbourne Victory vs Sydney FC (Etihad Stadium)

Another ‘Big Blue’ comes around and if ever the two teams playing were in more confusion or disarray in terms of previous results then I sure as hell don’t recall a worse situation. Victory’s toweling at the hands of a rampant Wellington Phoenix was simply the upset of the season and after their similar surrender to the Roar it has to be said that Kevin Muscat’s team has not performed optimally, particularly whilst some of his younger players have been absent with the U/22 Socceroos. However there are plenty of reasons for MVFC fans and club members to be optimistic coming into this match, as not only will they get back several of those young Socceroos, there is every likelihood that current loan player from Celtic Tom Rogic will get a run, adding to their attacking potency. Throw in Finkler, Troisi, Thompson, Barbarouses, nabbout and Pain there is lots to worry SFC’s fragile defence. Admittedly the home team has not got Nichols any longer and their defence has been weakened by the suspension of Adam Traore, but the manner in which Sydney FC are playing right now it is highly unlikely the visitors can trouble Muscat’s men. Frank Farina is certainly skating on thin ice with the abysmal recent form of his squad, and as demonstrated time and time again the reliance on a tiring and slower del Piero is crumbling into chaos going forwards and back. The two Serb imports Despotovic and Petkovic are going to be bolstered by yet another fellow country-man, in the form of Milos Dimitrijevic, yet aside from the first two players and arguably Gamiero, Janjetovic and McFlynn ever other sky blue player has no quality form behind them. If the Victory are given any leeway with their attack the likes of Warren and Bojic will undoubtedly be under the pump. If ADP can play a full game and perhaps the Victory find themselves down an early goal or two then Frank’s bacon may be saved. If not and the home team do the deed on Sydney FC then it may well be bye bye Farina.

My Prediction: 2-0 Melbourne Victory win

Sunday January 26th: Western Sydney Wanderers vs Perth Glory (Pirtek Stadium)

Any Wanderers fan who is satisfied with the results in recent weeks would probably be considered a little deluded, as losses to Wellington, Melbourne Victory and Adelaide have stopped Popovic’s team from climbing higher up the ladder and really threatening the Roar. Injuries to major defensive stalwarts Polenz, Poljak, Topor-Stanely and La Rocca, combined with some fairly shoddy play from Mooy and Hersi has hardly helped the cause of the Wanderers replicating last season’s success. Then there is the ‘r’ word, and how Popa has been cycling through players repeatedly, at times using Santalab instead of Bridge, or Appiah Kubi instead of Hersi. So this first meeting with the Glory this season is a must win for the Wanderers who will find it harder yet again to catch Brisbane and keep at bay the Mariners on the ladder if they lose. Glory have been playing better than expected since Kenny Lowe was given the coaching role, and they will be bolstered by the return of their young Socceroos, plus the now fit again Jamie Maclaren. Willie Gallas will try to put his stamp on the game, and it will be intriguing to see how the absence of suspended Tomi Juric and Adam D’Apuzzo influences Popa in structuring his team. Whilst nothing is perfect at the Wanderers right now there is no reason to believe that they can’t bounce back with a win at home in front of a Australia Day crowd and the usual exultant RBB.

My Prediction: 2-1 Western Sydney Wanderers  win

2013/14 – The Season So Far (Brisbane Roar/Wellington Phoenix/Central Coast Mariners)

After some delay here is my third survey of how I see three more of the A-League clubs after fourteen rounds of the 2013/14 A-League season. This series will be completed by a full examination of the Wanderers in a future entry. (Please note I have excluded from the statistics below the results and goals from Round Fifteen matches)

Brisbane Roar (10 wins/0 draws/4 losses/+15 goal difference goal difference/30 points)

In a season that for some revisits the earlier regime of Ange Postecoglu at ‘Roarcelona’, Mike Mulvey has taken the Brisbane Roar into arguably unassailable territory. A club that in 2012/13 had problems internally with coaching changes, a tired roster and arguably motivational issues has turned things around spectacularly in 2013/14. As part of that rejuvenation and climb back into league dominance there have been some familiar faces (e.g Thomas Broich, Besart Berisha, Mike Theo, Jade North, Luke Brattan, Shane Stefanutto, Jack Hingert, Ivan Franjic), some exciting new ones (Kwame Yeboah, Dimi Petratos) and one returning stalwart (Matthew McKay). However it is not so much the personnel that has excelled this season, more the manner in which Mulvey has grafted a new soul and determination into a squad that on paper does not drastically different from that which didn’t live up to last season’s expectations.

The most significant individual efforts that have led to the success of the Roar in 2013/14 have come from the likes of Broich, who is still possibly the best marquee to have ever graced any A-League club, Berisha (who has missed several games due to injury but has scored more often than note when available) and McKay (returning after some years in Asian football wilderness and finding his form again to make his post-season trip to the World Cup in Brazil I think a certainty). Having said that for me the best player in this team is Ivan Franjic, who has become not just a key part of the defensive structures at the Roar, he has also formed a deadly goal scorer. If Ange Postecoglu doesn’t follow up with his selection of Franjic for the Socceroo’s Costa Rica friendly late last year with an invite for Ivan to attend Brazil 2014 it will be a major boil over in national team selection news.

Having heaped praise on those players who have plenty of longivity or experience in the Roar, much needs to be said about Yeboah and Petratos. Kwame Yeboah (who has left the club and joined Bundesliga team Borussia Monchengladbach) scored one of the goals of the season against the Mariners at Blue Tongue in Round Five, and followed up with a late goal against the Wanderers two rounds later. He is an exciting prospect and whilst questions may be legitimately asked over the earliness of his move to Germany, if he can grow further as a footballer then it will be a win-win for all relevant parties. Petratos helped execute his previous club Sydney FC in the second massacre wrought on Sydney FC by the Roar this season, scoring a hat trick in the 5-2 win. He could be a major young signing for the Roar who have a solid mix of experience and potential in their ranks.

For all the excellent results and their much deserved position as table leaders there have been some less than satisfactory games for Mulvey and his squad. Their home game against the Heart in Round Four may have ended as a cakewalk however the wooden spoon favourites did keep the Roar under the pump for at least the first half. The Wanderers also dominated their game against Brisbane after going 2 goals down, and in the most surprising fashion the Jets have knocked off Brisbane in both games played so far in 2013/14. The loss to Adelaide at home in Round Fourteen must be most troubling in that for the first time all season not only were the Roar outplayed, they also looked ragged and ill-disciplined in trying to respond to the Reds. For this to come after the demolition of Melbourne Victory in Round Thirteen, which included a sublime team goal from Matt McKay would not necessarily set off alarms. However Mike Mulvey must be careful to ensure that their current lead on the table is not squandered through similar efforts.

Prospects and Predictions: I just can’t believe that Roar won’t top the table at season’s end assuming that they stay fit with all their major players remaining available for selection. If Broich, McKay, Hingert, Berisha and Theo continue to serve as the spine of their successful structure then it would take a miracle for any club to surpass them on the ladder. The run into the semi-finals will also be of interest in that whilst they will be playing three of their last four games of the home and away part of the season at Suncorp, they will be sharing that venue with the Rugby League, and as shown by the Jets the Roar can be susceptible when ground conditions are not optimum. There is some possibility that the Round 24, 26 and 27 games against Victory, Wanderers and Mariners will put the Roar either in the box seat for a clean champion’s plate collection, or see them slip only the odd point behind one of the chasers. As for individual players I expect Franjic and McKay to go to Brazil 2014 with Broich staying around for yet another season at least with the club he has helped become one of the best ever in Australia.

Final Ladder Position Prediction: First

Wellington Phoenix (3 wins/5 draws/6 losses/-3 goal difference goal difference/14 points)

The Kiwis were last season’s wooden spoon winners, and with new coach Ernie Merrick and his ex-Melbourne Victory star player Carlos Hernandez the major acquisitions over the off-season, the possibility of a renewed vigour within the club’s fortunes was looking up. Unfortunately the perennial problem for Wellington in terms of its reliance on players who feature in the All Whites meant that at the beginning of the 2013/14 season Merrick was consistently battling absences and fatigue due to national team duties. With New Zealand having to go through a long distance final qualification process against Mexico, it was hardly surprising that the Phoenix failed to win a single game during the period leading into the match, then suffered lingering issues up to Round Eleven.

Having said that there were several indications that before their first victory in 2013/14 the Phoenix would not be as easily written off may have been done in past seasons. Their away game versus the Wanderers in Round Two showed they had plenty of capability with the likes of Ifill, Brockie, Lia and Hernandez each causing problems for last season’s A-League champions. Brockie and Ifill again gave Merrick a sniff of something positive in their Round Four loss away to the Victory. There were other losses and other draws to come for the Phoenix but for neutrals and fans alike observing somewhat dispassionately most performances from Merrick’s squad gave hope that there was a kernel of quality somewhere there.

So when in the last few rounds one of the better imports in the A-League finally stood up as he had promised (i.e. Belgian Stein Huysegems) and Merrick got plenty of mileage out of young Kiwi Tyler Boyd, it was as if the rough hewn work in progress that was Phoenix’s first half of the season got the polish it needed. The win against the Wanderers in Round Thirteen was undoubtedly their finest moment up to that stage of the season, and whilst the likes of Ifill, Fenton, and Hernandez have all suffered major injuries their gaps have been filled very nicely. Manny Muscat has been excellent as a harassing midfielder, and long term Kiwi goalie legend Glenn Moss still can perform feats of keeping skills that put some of his younger rivals at other clubs to shame.

Prospects and Predictions: Whilst the last few rounds have been incredibly positive for Wellington Phoenix and they have been able to craft some excellent performances, I still doubt their capability to get into the finals. I am unsure of their capability to surpass the ladder positions of Perth Glory and Sydney FC, though the latter of those two teams could be ripe for the picking. Ernie Merrick is a solid coach and his players now have the confidence to win more games, but has the slow start to their season shackled them to the lower reaches of the A-League? Also, can the likes of Huysegems and Hernandez stay injury free?

Final Ladder Position Prediction: Ninth

Central Coast Mariners (6 wins/5 draws/3 losses/-2 goal difference goal difference/21 points)

Another club and squad that has been very inconsistent, yet for all their own and off field changes last year’s grand final winners still are keeping up with the league leaders. Having lost club great Patrick Zwaanswijk pre-season due to retirement, and the likes of Bernie Ibini, Pedj Bojic, Mat Ryan and Tom Rogic to 2012/13 transfers, Graham Arnold must’ve been aware of the problems relating to the capability of his squad to rejuvenate for 2013/14. The key acquisition in playing staff was Marcos Flores, ex-Reds, ex-Victory Argentine player and as early as the first round match against the Wanderers at home at Blue Tongue stadium he demonstrated his value.

However there were and continue to be gaps in the Mariners’ squad that haven’t been fileld as well as hoped, and the most obvious example of this is Arnold himself. Having left to take over as the coach of J-League team Vegalta Sendai, Arnold’s departure did not help the reconstruction of the Mariners’ squad. Phil Moss has yet to stamp his vision on the playing style of Central Coast, and to be honest some of their results under his stewardship have been very ordinary. The 4-0 loss away to Adelaide in Round Ten was just such an example of faltering standards, and the Round Twelve 2-0 defeat to the Wanderers also showed that the Mariners are more vulnerable this season than those of the recent past. To add to this malaise Marcos Flores is now out for the remainder of the season and key defenders Trent Sainsbury and Marcel Seip have been having indifferent performances in an area of the game that the Mariners usually excel.

There are also queries over the value of Daniel McBreen, who is definitely not as successful at accumulating goals in 2013/14 as he was last season. Mitchell Duke has been enigmatic, and in goal both Liam Reddy and Justin Pasfield have committed some howlers. Yet through all these bumps and seemingly damaging developments to their A-League progress, there have been some important wins secured when needed.  Knocking off Adelaide, Glory (home and away) and Sydney FC has done their cause no harm and their Round Two draw with the Heart when down 2-0 also indicates how strong their determination is not to lose. Even their big loss to Adelaide wasn’t all one way traffic against the Mariners.

Prospects and Predictions: I don’t believe the Central Coast Mariners will be able to climb back into a top two position, and with Flores gone for the remainder of the season, no Arnold, no McGlinchey and McBreen particularly wayward, Moss will be relying on a lot of draws and ground out wins. We certainly won’t be seeing any six or seven goal sprees coming from the Central Coast as we saw last season.

Final Ladder Position Prediction: Fourth

A-League 2013/14: Round Fifteen Preview

Friday January 17th: Melbourne Heart vs Newcastle United (AAMI Park)

The travelling horror show that is Melbourne Heart’s 2013/14 season returns home this week and there is one bright sport for those who have been playing and supporting the current cellar dwellers. This may well be the match we finally get to see Orlando Ongelaar, the Dutch midfielder who sadly broke his leg in a pre-season game. His probable role as a substitute may not bring too much influence to bear on the match however it will be helpful for van t’Schip and Ongelaar’s fellow players to finally have a chance to work with one of the two major Heart acquisitions made this season. The home team will be at some disadvantage thanks to the continued absence of several of their best and brightest young talent in the Asian FC U/22 cup, with Hoole, Taggart and Brillante among the absentees. They will also be without returning local hero Joel Griffiths who has replaced Nathan Burns, who has returned to Korea. However it is not necessarily in attack where the Jets need bolstering, as Heskey is almost certainly going to figure again up front for Van Egmond. The back is of more concern and there will be some smiles for Jaliens’ return from suspension. For the neutral there isn’t too much to get excited about, although the prospect of watching and waiting for when will Heart’s win drought end is a little tempting. If Kewell can start dragging the rest of his Heart comrades into some quality football passages maybe a miracle may happen. Or not

My Prediction: 2-1 Newcastle Jets win

Friday January 17th: Perth Glory vs Brisbane Roar (nib Stadium)

Perth are again hamstrung by the absence of some of their younger players, away in Oman on national representative duties, with also some injury casualties depleting their ranks, however the prospective return of Willie Gallas to the playing team is definitely going to be a filip to their chances. The Roar are similarly affected by the U/22 Socceroos representative claims, however they still have a superior squad on paper. Berisha is more than likely to get more game time than that he had last round against Adelaide. There are also the heavy (and perfectly understandable expectations) on the likes of McKay, Brattan, Petratos and Theo. Broich is a possible absentee and if he is not playing it will give the Glory some hope when it comes to stifling the Roar’s offensive structures. The absence of Franjic will also be problematic for the visitors. Whilst the Glory were able to give the Heart a right seeing to last round their indecisive structures when on attack can’t be enough to get them through this round. If Burns and Smeltz can lead the way from midfield to box there could be a shock result.

My Prediction: 0-1 win Brisbane Roar

Saturday January 18th: Wellington Phoenix vs Melbourne Victory (Westpac Stadium)

The Victory had a great win midweek over the Wanderers and even though they are still missing several of their younger stars, plus are lacking the services of heavily concussed Adrew Naboout, they still have a very strong squad to travel to windy Wellington with. Of recent weeks Kosta Barbarouses has been in excellent form and he will be one to watch for his compatriots in Yellow and Black. Contreras returns to help strengthen the defence of the Victoru, who will be on the lookout to keep recently rampant Belgian ace Stein Huysegems quiet. In a tale of two different strikers Archie Thompson has been scoring goals when fit, whilst for the home team Jeremy Brockie is yet to do anything to remind observers of his banner season in 2012/13. I don’t think the short turn around in match time will hurt Muscat’s team, and of course there will be some intriguing aspects to the old master (Ernie Merrick) coaching against his once-favoured stalwart (Kevin Muscat). The Phoenix will ask some serious questions of the Victory however I don’t believe they can sustain what has been a flowering of form over recent weeks.

My Prediction: 0-1 Melbourne Victory win

Saturday January 18th: Sydney FC vs Central Coast Mariners (Allianz Stadium)

One of the all time best Australian football players will sign off his professional career at this match with SFC Australian marquee Brett Emerton announcing his retirement this week. Emerton’s career had many highs and was certainly of high value before he returned to play for the Sky Blues, however since becoming one of the most well-played veterans of Sydney FC his effectiveness has declined, in part due to injury problems. It would be hoped that his fellow squad members will lift, particularly after a reasonably good effort in the derby last week was undone at the end by a combination of inattention, defensive flaws and (arguably) the problems related to del Piero’s active role in the team. Garcia is till out alongside the likes of Triantis and Antonis, however the Serb duo of Despotovic and Petkovic will be in place. For the visitors the absence of Flores (who will not be returning for the remainder of the season), the off-target shooting of Daniel McBreen, and the general lack of punch and vigor encourages the neutral to think that the home team will have the measure of the visitors. For CCM if someone like Ibini can reinvigorate the team and if Mitchell Duke asserts more of the talent we saw in spades last season then they have every hope of coming away with all three points.

My Prediction: 1-1 draw

Sunday 19th January: Adelaide United vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Coopers Stadium)

Whilst the Wanderers are hardly in a crisis the last few weeks have not been kind to the 2012/13 premiers. Two losses where the opposition scored 3 goals, major playing assets like Jerome Polenz, Mateo Poljak and Iacopo La Rocca injured, great differences between one match to the next and to add even more discomfort to all in red and black it’s been confirmed that Shinji Ono won’t be back after the end of this season. So heading over to Adelaide and expecting to come up against a side that has improved drastically in recent weeks, possibly in some of the severest heat seen all summer is going to make Popa’s task just that bit more difficult. The Reds are not holding every ace in the pack; they are still missing important players like Cirio, Cassio and Ferrera. However Djite is back as is Carrusca, and their last gasp win over the Roar away from home must have increased their self-confidence immensely. If the Wanderers can get some of their stalwarts playing at their best, such as Covic, Topor-Stanley, Spiranovic, Ono, Hersi and Mooy then they can win, but it’s going to be a huge ask. Of course as a WSW fan there is no way I would predict against them, but this game has me more nervous than others that have come before this round this season.

My Prediction: 1-1 draw

A-League 2013/14: Round Fourteen Review

Newcastle United vs Melbourne Victory (1-1 Draw)

With both teams severely depleted by a combination of junior national team requirements, and with them also losing in the preceding round the ability of either team to play attractive and confident football was always going to be in questions. Another factor (which needs to be looked at by the relevant people) is the surface of Hunter Stadium, which is in no way conducive to the best play. In what was ultimately a fairly innocuous game for the neutral, the only real class came from Mark Birighitti who again showed his improvement as a keeper. One of the better acquisitions by the Victory this season was Barbarouses, and when he was in on the Jets goal in a one-on-one he should have scored, however Birighitti protected the net admirably. Contreras was again at the centre of a yellow card incident, however to his credit he helped save the visitors from going a further goal down from a free kick. As for the other overseas marquee player present, Heskey played a bit better but unusually for him the goal drought this season continues. Whilst the Jets goal was a tad fortunate (coming from a Mitch Nichols deflection) the same can’t be said for Nabbout who finished off a nice piece of work from his team to get the equaliser just after half time. Birighitti was able to ward off Thompson late potential match winner, leaving both Van Egmond and Muscat somewhat peeved as to the effect of their missing young guns.

Perth Glory vs Melbourne Heart (3-0 Glory win)

The coach may have changed but the inherent deep and abiding flaws in the Heart’s playing squad again led to another bad result, with the club now equal with the defunct New Zealand Knights for the longest streak of games without a win (19). John van t’Schip must be feeling very ambivalent about taking on a squad that simply cannot or will not shoot accurately or defend tenaciously. Most of the game was poor quality, with almost all the shooting come from outside the box in the first half and into the second, with Harry Kewell trying a ridiculous lob shot and Iain Ramsay striking an audacious but woodwork-bound thunderbolt being the best chances for the visitors in that time. Sidnei and McGarry were near the goal for the home team, however it took a heavily bandaged Adrian Zahra to start open the sluices on the Hearts goal, with a wonderful strike that zipped into Redmayne left corner on the 60 minute mark. More desperation, disaster and dismay came from the Heart, as Macallister got himself sent off and then Dugandzic missed a golden chance to score. Glory and their substitute striker Shane Smeltz didn’t give the visitors any mercy, and in the last few minutes the Kiwi veteran scored a well deserved brace. The season looks a little brighter out west under Kenny Lowe, whilst for the Heart it’s yet more misery and depression.

Brisbane Roar vs Adelaide United (1-2 Adelaide win)

The previous round saw one of the upsets of the season when the Phoenix knocked off the Wanderers at home, however this victory for a travelling Reds who were missing several of their first rank players must be just as remarkable, particularly considering the manner in which the result was secured at the death by Jordan Elsey. Even though they were depleted, missing their strongest stalwart from the last few games in Bruce Djite, plus the likes of Cirio and Carrusca, it was the presence of a previously crucial player to Gombau’s squad who got the goal scoring started. Jeronimo was egregiously taken out when one-on-one with Theo (who should have been given a straight red in my opinion) and whilst the offending keeper saved the resulting penalty kick he wasn’t able to completely secure his grasp on the ball, with the trickling deflection turning into net bound fodder for Jeronimo’s boot. There were other moments that seemed to indicate the Roar weren’t all there at the game mentally, most notably in the red card for Ferreira. Down to ten men and not finding the same success from their usual aces Broich, Franjic, McKay and new wunderkind Petratos, it took a substitution returning Besart Berisha to the playing team to get the home team back in the game. His goal on the 80th minute was vintage Roar, and it normally would be expected that from there the draw was secure at least for Mulvey’s team. Instead, with 2 minutes of injury time up recently recalled Jordan Elsey (who had come back from Hong Kong to be a sub for Gombau) jumped high enough to put his stunning header past Theo, winning the game for Adelaide.

Western Sydney Wanderers vs Sydney FC (1-0 Wanderers win)

After last round’s loss to Wellington the Wanderers were in desperate need of securing a win, not just to help chase down the Roar plus get back to form at home, they also wanted to make damn sure that their crosstown rivals did not have bragging rights in a derby that would be played in front of over 16,000 WSW fans. Sydney FC on the other hand were looking to find a way to not just secure their place in the top six, but even start taking back some of the points lag they had suffered with the previous few rounds of losses and draws. From the start the Wanderers looked more likely to score, thanks to some excellent shots on goal from Juric and Bridge that both met the woodwork. However it was the audacious lob of Youssouf Hersi that almost caught the visitors napping, and when the ball deflect above and behind Janjetovic off the cross bar only to fall at Juric’s feet. The resultant cannon shot also hit the crossbar and bounced safely away from the visitor’s goal, denying the home team a much deserved lead. During the first half there were some pleasing moments for those in Sky Blue, and as usual del Piero had arguably the best chance for a goal, which was saved by Topor-Stanley helping out Ante Covic. The second half was far more in favour of Sydney FC, and McFlynn and Despotovic both had opportunities to score. However in what may have been a blunder from under fire coach Farina, del Piero was pulled off the pitch with ten minutes to go in the match, and shortly thereafter a ragged Hersi shot/cross landed fortuitously in substitute Brendon Santalab’s range whilst on side in the box, and his shot snaffled a goal that sent the RBB and other Wanderers faithful into paroxysms of joy. A better match in terms of opposition from the older club, it was another derby victory for the Wanderers that in this instance too them just that little bit closer to defending last years champions plate.

Wellington Phoenix vs Central Coast Mariners (1-1 Draw)

In a seaosn where strikers have at times struggled to convert golden opportunities to score, Daniel McBreen is probably only a few steps above the likes of Michael Mifsud in the outsandingly bad misses stakes. Given the opportunity to put the visiting side up to 2-1 in the second half of a windy game at Wellington, his penalty kick was so overshot it was lucky to stay below the roof line of Westpac Stadium. Matt Simon was far more accurate earlier in the match with his first half strike giving the Mariners the lead. However a very well taken shot from Phoenix’s Costa Rican player Kenny Cunningham gave the locals plenty of reason to celebrate. Outside of these incidents the balance of the game was hardly the stuff of excitement, and whilst the Wellington Phoenix are continuing their recent run of good results the Mariners under Phil Moss must be considering how they can return to the successful patterns of previous seasons’ play.

Best Game: The Wanderers versus SFC derby may not have been technically excellent, however the emotion and meaning brought to the contest gave everyone associated with the match plenty to be grateful for.

Best Goal: Jordan Elsey (Adelaide versus Brisbane; whilst it may not have been as technically sexy as say Berisha’s goal for the Roar, or Cunningham’s effort to nutmeg the Mariners’ defenders, for a sub to sink a header in such empahtic fashion as such a vital time deserves recognition. Adrian Zahra’s goal for the Glory was also classy).

Best Team: Adelaide United (down several regulars, playing away from home against the league leaders and to win in style with a last gasp header…a great result for a much deserving team).

Worst Team: Melbourne Heart (Whilst this is getting repetitious it’s also 100% accurate. The Heart are the shot ducks of 2013/14 and have never really come close to living up to their players’ reputations)