Friday 28th March 2014: Brisbane Roar vs Melbourne Heart (Suncorp Stadium)
With the premier’s plate race done and dusted, and the Roar deservedly receiving it after last week’s win over the victory, there is some possibility that they may not come entirely motivated to do away with the Heart. However that is a minute chance; if there is one factor in the Roar’s success story this season it has been a commitment to consistency. The usual suspects will be there, with Broich, Mackay, Berisha, Henrique, Brattan, Theo, Petratos, Franjic and Stefanutto all part of the Mulvey narrative in 2013/14. It could be that having won the plate with three rounds to go Mulvey may be more creative with his line-up, and try and get more time on the pitch for his less-frequently appearing squad members. There is also the possibility of being conservative for next week’s match against the Wanderers, and the upcoming finals series. Yet I honestly can’t see this happening.
For the visitors the emphasis will be undoubtedly on continuing their revival, minus the recent hiccups, and show off to both their own fans and the neutrals what capabilities exist within a team and club that could break out in a big way next season. The impending retirement of Harry Kewell and the return of Engelaar to the Netherlands post this season will undoubtedly create an interesting atmosphere to the game and mood among the players. Throw in the lengthy continuation of their Heart careers under the new owners provided to coach van t’Schip and striker David Williams, and this match and the coming closing rounds could be one for the Heart to also look for future adjustments. With no chance of making the finals the visitors will probably throw caution to the win and attempt to stage a surprise win to remind their fans and neutrals alike that they are not as bad as their ladder position this season indicates.
My Prediction: 2-1 Brisbane Roar win
Saturday 29th March 2014: Central Coast Mariners vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Bluetongue Stadium)
In the short history of the Wanderers one of the biggest and most popular rivalries is that with the Mariners, and if this game is going to follow in the tradition of the last six meetings it will be well attended by the visiting team’s fans and a close and tense battle. The home team have had an uneven preparation for this match in terms of recent results, and a long season of problematic developments in terms of squad changes, injuries and coaching changes has taken its toll on the Mariners. Yet they have had two good wins in recent weeks and are playing at Bluetongue, where they are rarely beaten. The capabilities of their defence are arguably not as good as the Wanderers, yet they have every reason to believe they can hold out the likes of Juric, Santalab and Haliti. Duke and Simon will be the most logical source of goals for the Mariners, however the man who could be a worry for the Wanderers is Sterjovski. Playing in his last home game for the Mariners this stalwart ex-Socceroo has been in some of his best domestic form ever in recent months, and there is a possibility he will be driven to greater heights due to the emotional context of the match.
Having said that the Wanderers are coming into form at just the right time, with some good wins in recent weeks in both the A-League and the AFC Championship. Hersi and Polenz are almost back to the same devastating form they wreaked on opposite clubs last season, with their right flank work against Perth an encouraging indication of this improvement. The left flank has been strengthened thanks to the absence of d’Apuzzo, and Bridge has found the back of the net in general play after what seems to be a long and dour drought in his form. Most importantly Juric is fit and should figure prominently, giving the Wanderers a capability to score goals that hasn’t always been there this season. Popovic will undoubtedly be looking at this game with a weather eye on the team’s mid-week ACL requirements, however he has already demonstrated that he can and will switch players as required for both local and international competitions, and getting wins as a result.
My Prediction: 0-1 Western Sydney Wanderers win
Saturday 29th March 2014: Melbourne Victory vs Sydney FC (AAMI Park)
The visitors are in a rather unique position insofar they have the opportunity to close out the entire season’s matches against their longest and arguably biggest rival in the A-League if they win, following on from earlier 3-2 and 5-0 defeats of the Victory. However Sydney FC are under the pump in their efforts to reach the finals thanks to a loss and a draw in their last two games plus the good form of rival clubs such as Adelaide and Newcastle. There will be plenty for the visitors to play for, and the re-signing of Sasa Ognenovski is probably the best off-field action undertaken by Sydney FC in the entire 2013/14 season. Yet their style of play is nowhere near pro-active nor creative as required to seriously threaten their opposition.
The Victory have more than enough motivation to win this match, including the obvious requirement to beat the Sky Blues. If the Wanderers falter at Bluetongue the Victory can leap frog them and return to second place on the table. Then there is the growing need for existing players to validate themselves for the future, such as Archie Thompson, Guilliame Finkler and Tom Rogic. Throw in the reshuffle of the home teams’ backs, with Contreras, Traore and Ansell returning, it will be vital they back up the immense power of the Victory’s forwards. Muscat’s team have the capability to do a lot of damage to Sydney FC if they are able to exert a more creative influence on the match, yet it is possible that with Sydney FC staying passive and relying on minor breaks or mistakes they could steal the game. Oh, and as for del Piero, his influence on the game will be far less than the hype around his coming or going from the visitors for next season.
My Prediction: 1-1 draw
Sunday 30th March 2014: Wellington Phoenix vs Adelaide United (Westpac Stadium)
The Phoenix were threatening to make a run for the finals only a few rounds ago, but since their last meeting with the Reds the impetus for such a charge has effectively died. Part of this failure to progress has been a result of injuries relating to key players such as Carlos Hernandez, however it must be said that an over-reliance on the non-Kiwi players to perform has not helped their cause. Huysegems and Cunningham have either been contained or failed to rise to recent requirements, and whilst Merrick has done a good job with the talent he has there is he can only shuffle a limited squad so far.
Josep Gombau’s Adelaide on the other hand seem to be coming right when it’s most opportune for their 2013/14 season hopes, and whilst they haven’t had all the results come their way the manner in which the team is playing and performing on the pitch gives their fans a reason to hope they may still win the grand final. The style that Gombau has instilled in his team with players such as Cirio, Ferreira, Isais, and the more direct play of Djite has formed a sizeable threat to almost every team they have met in recent weeks. The Reds defence is nominally superior to the Phoenix, and with the likes of Elrich, Malik and Boogard to anchor the more creative aspects of Adelaide play it will be a big surprise for the home team to knock off the visitors.
My Prediction: 0-2 Adelaide United win
Sunday 30th March 2014: Perth Glory vs Newcastle United (nib Stadium)
Not that long ago it appeared that Zane’s Jets were gone for all money this season thanks to indifferent form and a series of losses during the earlier part of the season that placed too big a hurdle in front of their hopes for qualifying. However thanks to a series of wins over teams above them on the table including Brisbane and Western Sydney, and last round a massacre of the Phoenix they are now sitting nicely primed for a finals berth. The undoubted qualities of Taggart and to a lesser extent Heskey are being backed up more and more often at the centre of the field thanks to great work by Caravella and Zadkovich. Whilst they don’t play the prettiest football they do have a solidity that will give their rivals for the sixth place on the end of regular season ladder cause for concern.
As for the home team, their 2013/14 A-League season can’t end soon enough. A club in crisis thanks to the serious in-fighting, a badly botched recruitment program and a series of errors in overall club direction has left almost everyone associated with the Glory looking for the off-season as the only hope for an end to their misery. The playing staff are a mish-mash of potential and long faded quality, with the likes of Gallas, Burns and Thwaite examples of the latter, and arguably Harrold, Woodcock and Edwards part of the former. Coach Kenny Lowe has partly inherited and partly created a mess that has allowed their opponents to chalk up three points even before they play. It is hard to see the Glory achieving anything between now and the final whistle in their Round 27 match other than the wooden spoon.
My Prediction: 0-2 Newcastle United win