Thursday 19th December: Central Coast Mariners vs Wellington Phoenix (North Sydney Oval – Round 6 Delayed Game)
The ghost of the NSL’s spectacular boom to bust club, the Northern Spirit will hang very heavy over their old home ground in this delayed game from Round Six. The Mariners have come down the M1 to what might be considered Sydney FC territory in an avowed move to appease northern Sydney fans of the yellow and blue, plus some cynics and conspiracy theorists would argue it is the first step in an abandoning of Blue Tongue and Gosford by owner Mike Charlesworth. To make matters even more murky CCM are coming into this game on the back of a thumping from Adelaide, uneven performances all season, the potential departure or Michael McGlinchey to follow old coach Graham Arnold to Japan. With only 5 days rest under the belt since the massacre at Coopers Stadium, if ever the Mariners were vulnerable to the Phoenix then this will be the game. However, considering the insipid and faulty performance of Wellington last round at home it is going to be most likely that the cracks in the Mariners’ make up will be papered over with a win.
My Prediction: 1-0 win Mariners
Friday 20th December: Brisbane Roar vs Newcastle United (Suncorp Stadium)
Last week’s game between the Jets and the Wanderers was perhaps a good indication of where this match at the Roar’s home will go, as the Newcastle team are again without Heskey and Burns, and to be honest the Roar are a grinding out their results just like the Wanderers have been. The defensive structures of the Roar may not be as efficient as the Wanderers in some respects however they should be enough to keep out Newcastle. The man who has been key to the recent run of good form for Gary Van Egmond, Adam Taggart, has been MIA in terms of goals over the last few rounds, and whilst this wasn’t felt so badly in their win against the Victory when Nathan Burns stepped up, without his cover Taggart may need to get his act together again if the Jets are to have a hope. The Roar on the other hand are getting great mileage out of Franjic, Berisha, Brattan and Mackay and they will challenge the visitors’ defence. Regan, Jalens and Pepper need to keep Birighitti protected from the best attack in the current A-League season so far.
My Prediction: 2-0 win Roar
Saturday 21st December: Melbourne Heart vs Melbourne Victory (AAMI Park)
Kevin Muscat’s charges showed last week against Perth that they can and will do the deed against an opposition that isn’t firing on all cylinders, and the Heart have all the hallmarks of just such an outfit. Harry Kewell is back in the starting line up for John Aloisi’s team, and he will be looking to atone for his abysmal penalty shot against Sydney FC. However he is not the cure all for a team that loses games through porous defenders going to sleep and strikers who can’t score goals. Kisnorbo is a key part of that faulty equation down the back whilst up front Michael Mifsud is the bane of everyone supporting the home team. In soe respects he reminds me of Dino Kresinger from last season’s Wanderers’ squad, in that his goals have been almost non-existent. However unlike the lumbering Croat Mifsud’s wayward shooting isn’t being supplanted by other players in the Heart line up plus he can’t perform the same pressing role for the Heart’s transition from defence to attack. Victory have a full complement and with several of the usual suspects ready to help out with shots on goal (i.e. Pain, Troisi, Thompson, Nichols, Barbarouses), or stay solid at the back (Traore, Leijer and in goal Coe) I can’t see them being beaten. Here’s hoping that the second big Victorian derby of 2013/14 is far more entertaining than that match which opened the 2013/14 season.
My Prediction: 2-1 win Melbourne Victory
Sunday 22nd December: Wellington Phoenix vs Sydney FC (Westpac Stadium)
If ever two sides should be convicted for crimes against enjoyable football from last round it should be these two. The Kiwi team butchered chances on the Roar’s goal, earned a penalty through what most people would say was a dive, and have generally through this season failed to deliver. Sydney FC were effectively reliant on two players for about two minutes of decent football to get them the win last week against the Heart, and even their coach Frank Farina believed that the drab effort from his players was not in itself worthy of the win. Now in past rounds I’ve looked at the Phoenix and thought they had a fair fist of a win, particularly with a relatively full complement of their so-called ‘stars’ plus playing at home. However to be blunt Merrick has a team that only excels at disappointing, and their innocuous attack is only equaled by their generally porous defence. It says a lot about the Phoenix that their best player this season has probably been keeper Glen Moss. Sydney FC will have several of their best players available, including most importantly del Piero and Despotovic. Goalie Vedran Janjetovic is becoming the quiet achiever of this team so whilst his protective screen can and does fail on a regular basis he is very competent in keeping out most shots. The sky blues are riding their luck against all teams except those that are ahead of them on the ladder this season, so I can’t see this pattern of results not repeating in this round.
My Prediction: 1-0 win Sydney FC
Sunday 22nd December: Perth Glory vs Adelaide United (nib Stadium)
Well the last week has been one where the Perth Glory have decided that internal staff dysfunction and player mutinies are the way forward, and coach Ally Edwards has been given the arse as a result of a power-play between himself, Tony Sage and key senior players in the Glory squad (particularly Jacob Burns). Which leaves us in the strange situation of casting an eye over Gombau’s team and seeing them as a paradigm for unity, form and style. As they say, football is a funny old game and the Reds are extracting themselves out of a mire of criticism and negative press thanks to good football and a much welcome win against the Mariners. I would argue that this is effectively due to one man, and that isn;t the coach. Bruce Djite is the catalyst for the Reds reversal of bad results and bad football, and whilst Cirio, Isaias and Carrusca have all played their part if it wasn’t for the sometime Socceroo bringing clarity and drive to the Adelaide offensive structures then it may have been Gombau’s neck on the block. For the home team they may rally around Burns and other veterans who have led the anti-Edwards push, such as Vukovic and Thwaite, or they may collapse in a seething rabble of squabbling factions. The two Edwards boys must be considered lame duck members of the team and I can’t believe they will have any important future role with the squad. Gallas looks to be out again, making his signing look as valuable for the Glory as Heskey’s has been for the Jets this season, though at least he has got on the park (unlike Heart’s Engelaar). Sidnei is back for the home team and he could be the link between the cranky old bastards who facilitated Edwards’ sacking and the younger players like Jamie Maclaren who Edwards was brought in to develop. However I can’t see the funk of internal division and controversy parting enough to defy the visitors.
My Prediction: 2-0 win Adelaide United
Monday 23rd December: Western Sydney Wanderers vs Central Coast Mariners (Pirtek Stadium)
In the first meeting between the two grand finalists back at Wanderland since the last defeat for the Wanderers at home, the pressure will be on the Mariners to repeat the dose. With a short turnaround since their game on Thursday night against Wellington there is every expectation that the Mariners will find it hard to maintain their intensity over the full 90 minutes. Whilst they went on to win against the Phoenix they are still nowhere near the same quality of team that kept out the Wanderers from winning the premiership and grand final for 2012/13. Having said that the home team is also not without issues, with injuries to Mooy and Santalab nominally keeping them out of the squad. Tomi Juric may play although I don;t expect this to happen until late in the game if at all. The two major overseas players yet to secure new contracts with the red and black, i.e. Shinji Ono and Youssouf Hersi will need to do very well and whilst there may be some thought from Popa to return Michael Beauchamp I’m sure he will stick with Mat Spiranovic to partner Polenz, Topor-Stanley and D’Apuzzo at the back. For the visitors McBreen has been merely adequate this season and if they are to win they will need big games from him, McGlinchey and Flores. Reddy’s goal keeping has been up and down so if someone like Hersi, Haliti or Juric do threaten he will need to be at his best, whilst for the Wanderers I expect Covic to again keep better than his own exacting standards.
My Prediction: 2-0 win Wanderers