2014/2015 Round Nine Preview: December 5th-7th

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Central Coast Mariners vs Melbourne Victory (Friday, 5th November 2014, North Sydney Oval)

This match has been overshadowed by the issues facing the Mariners future as well as the controversy of taking another game away from Gosford to North Sydney Oval. Whilst there are intriguing and arguably positive reasons for Mike Charlesworth to take the Mariners into broader markets that are not that far away from their central coast base, there has already been a negative reaction from many of the more rusted on fans. Then there is the hostility shown to the venue from Melbourne Victory’s coach Kevin Muscat, who has already voiced his concern over the potential for injuries to his players on the hard surface.

All this controversy and media huffing and puffing means that assessing the actual possible result is almost a secondary concern. Melbourne will be undoubted favourites even if they do not play their full and best team. The absence of Finkler may cause some problems for Berisha, but in Ben Khalfallah Muscat has a great alternate. Again there may be defensive concerns with the continuing absence of Delpierre however this iteration of the Mariners do not look good enough to take advantage of that issue. Whilst they may be able to maintain a high possession rate against the visitors, going forward and convincingly attacking their opponents with the resulting goals doesn’t seem to be happening for Moss’s team.

Final Verdict: Victory may be discomforted by the venue and the Mariners will want to maintain the same stolid work that has seen them only lose one of their last four games this season. However the visitors should be able to win well. My Prediction: 0-2 Melbourne Victory win

Newcastle Jets vs Wellington Phoenix (Saturday 6th December 2014, Hunter Stadium)

Two of the least fashionable clubs of the A-League meet in this match and it will be most interesting to see what kind of crowd come along to see the home team who are struggling this season, or the visitors who are playing well but are poor purveyors of traveling fans. The Jets have been finding it hard this season, and whilst they have found some degree of stability in the last two rounds with draws against the Wanderers and Mariners there is still no definitive expectation that they can run rampant against any opposition. Flores and Carney are playing well and the switch of Birighitti with Ben Kennedy in goal seems to have corrected some of the defensive woes Phil Stubbins’ team has had.

As for the visitors, even with the departure of goal scoring ace Jeremy Brockie to South Africa there is lots to like up front. McGlinchey, Burns, Bonevacia and Krishna have helped give the Phoenix their best ever start to an A-League season. It would be a foolish person to consider them less than an even chance for reaching the top six in April next year, and Ernie Merrick is getting the best out of a team that is hardly filled with stars.

Final Verdict: Wellington Phoenix may not be the best team away from home in the past, however this season they are looking much better. This should be a win for the visitors, even though the Jets won’t die wondering. My Prediction: 0-1 Wellington Pheonix win

Adelaide United vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Saturday 6th December 2014, Coopers Stadium)

The Reds are at home and have plenty of reason to shine against the last placed Wanderers after their defeat away to their nemesis the Victory last round. Plus, like every club who will be playing the Wanderers this season the added incentive of knocking off the AFC Champions’ League winners must give Gombau’s players another motivation. Adelaide are looking very good this season thanks to the growing depth and cohesion of their team on the field. Up front Djite and Cirio have been scoring goals, Carrusca has been arguably the best playmaker in any club and at the back Elrich and Mabil have been able to switch defence into attack regularly, The Reds will be missing the multi-talented Osama Malik however that shouldn’t be fatal for their chances.

As for the Wanderers, well almost everything that can go wrong with their 2014/15 A-League campaign has indeed gone wrong. They had been improving in their performances against the Mariners, Jets and Sydney FC at home, and whilst the goals weren’t coming in great floods the combination of Rukavytsya, Bridge, Juric and Castelen looked very potent. However on Wednesday night their effort against a Broich-less Brisbane Roar was simply not good enough. There are issues all over the park, particularly in relation to the sub-par returns from two key imports (Saba and Adeleke), and if it wasn’t for the likes of Covic, Topor-Stanley and Hamill the RBB and other fans would be starting to doubt the wisdom of Tony Popovic. Throw in the impending trip to Morocco for the Club World Cup and it is almost as if their success has laid the foundations for their current faults.

Final Verdict: I would love to believe that the Wanderers can come back, confound teh critics and win this week. However I don’t believe they are going to be able to bring away all three points. They may well jag a draw though. My Prediction: 2-1 Adelaide United

Melbourne City vs Brisbane Roar (Sunday 7th December 2014, AAMI Park)

Brisbane played well enough to keep a stuttering Wanderers out of their goal on Wednesday night, however they hardly set the world on fire with their own offensive efforts. Therefore coming down to Melbourne and facing a Melbourne City that was thumped by the Phoenix last round gives them an intriguing challenge, especially as Thomas Broich will again be absent. Defensively City do have problems, and with a core of Heart players in the backs and midfield John Van t’Schip must be hoping the likes of Paartelu and Mooy replicate their efforts from the first match between these two teams this season. In fact the area where the game will be won or lost will be in the midfield; Matt McKay played very well against the Wanderers and Mooy has been possibly the best City player all season so far. If the Roar midfield can get service to Henrique then he will cause problems for the home team. Conversely Williams can punish the City opposition so it could be one of those games that swings on one magic moment from the centre of the pitch. It will be interesting to see if and how Adam Sarota plays for Brisbane; he could be a quality addition to a Brisbane squad that still has some big gaps.

Final Verdict: I don’t think either team is really of a sufficient quality to get a huge win, but of the two Roar look better in defence and have been arguably better across the board even though they have lost more matches than won. My prediction 0-1 Brisbane Roar win

(N.B. as I missed the chance to post before the Sydney FC vs Perth Glory match I will only give a review for that game)

2014/2015 Round Eight Preview: November 28th-30th

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Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United (Friday 28th November 2014, AAMI Park)

This should be a great match with both teams undefeated this season, both with full squads and lots of history weighing on each club’s shoulders. Last time they met at Adelaide Oval the Reds looked to be slightly better for most of the match and arguably should’ve won, however a blemish in their defence at the death meant that both home and away teams went away with a point each. Muscat has possibly the better attacking options, due in no small part to Berisha, Thompson, Finkler and Khalfallah. However this is not any sleight on the opposition, who with Sanchez, Cirio and Djite also have plenty to offer in front of goal. Admittedly Djite is coming back from injury and may not start, however Gombau can also look to Carrusca and maybe Mabil for goals. Defensively both teams have a positive goal difference, and it will be intriguing to see if the continuing absence of Delpierre from Victory will be a problem for them.

Final Verdict: This is a match that is too close to call. Both teams could win and win well with their offensive capabilities, hence I think they will cancel each other out. Unless there is some major error or brain snap from someone I think honours will be shared. My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Brisbane Roar Vs Perth Glory (Saturday 29th November 2014, Suncorp Stadium)

With Mike Mulvey deposed and various other members of the home club looking askance at their position, their team mates and the overall position of the Roar on the ladder it looks as if this could be another bad result for last season’s champions. In terms of playing personnel no one is under any illusions that they are as well structured, balanced or talented as previous iterations, and the ongoing absence of goalkeeper Mike Theo will be a headache for interim coach Frans Thijssen. In the past at other clubs there have been teams that have pulled together when a coach is jettisoned, and if anyone understands that it will be Kenny Lowe, brought in last season when his predecessor Allie Edwards was given the arse. Like Lowe in 2013/14 Thijssen has a rather shakey hold on some dubious reins at the Roar, so it will be unlikely for him to get all three points.

Glory on the other hand are motoring along nicely, if not too spectacularly. Their squad has plenty of quality across all parts of the park and for the first time arguably in their entire A-League history they’ve discovered how to win away from Perth. Whilst no one is really emerging as a true matchwinner, the likes of Keogh, Hersi, Marinkovic and Maclaren up front and Vukovic at the back means that they will be hard to keep out of goal and hard to get through for shots on goal.

Final Verdict: Brisbane are in a world of pain and I honestly cannot see them winning, or indeed drawing. Perth should win in what be an intense tussle, but one they have have every reason to believe can be won. My Prediction: 0-2 Perth Glory

Western Sydney Wanderers vs Sydney FC (Saturday 29th November 2014, Pirtek Stadium)

There’s no doubt that the Wanderers are coming into this match as underdogs following a very ordinary beginning to their A-League season. However in the last two games at home against the Mariners and Jets they have begun to exert some quality pressure on their opponents, thanks in no small part to the growing cohesion and increasing match fitness of key players like Juric, Castelen, Rukavytsya, Spiranovic, Saba and Topor-Stanley. Whilst Ante Covic has been a rock in goal there have been some chinks in Popovic’s back four, as the likes of Mullen, Adeleke, Golec and Cole have all struggled to fill their roles as well as last season’s players or as demonstrated in the ACL. Perhaps the key player will be Adeleke; if he can bolt down a hold on the left back position then that gives someone like Cole or maybe even Hamill a chance to play right back, thus setting the Wanderers with a firm base.

The visitors are obviously having a far better season and will come to Wanderland confident they can win for the first time there since the very first derby played against the Wanderers, all the way back in 2012/13. The absence of Gameiro and Dimitrijevic due to injury and suspension respectively does weaken Arnold’s squad somewhat, however there is depth across all parts of the park for him. Janko, Brosque, Ibini and Smeltz are certainly an equal to the forwards available to Popa, and in the middle it will be intriguing to see how Terry Antonis plays against what may be Poljak and La Rocca.

Final Verdict: The Wanderers are a work in progress still and who knows if they really have settled down to the normal hurley burley of league football with the combinations and structures needed to win. It must be said that the RBB and home fans will undoubtedly want to exert as much a positive influence on their beloved team, and Sydney FC will not have the comfort of a reasonably well-stocked Cove for their support. This should be when the Wanderers finally come good, otherwise they may as well forget the rest of the domestic season and build to the Club World Cup and defending their ACL title. Sydney will be a stiff challenge but as always I must back my Western Sydney Wanderers: My Prediction: 2-1 Western Sydney Wanderers win.

Wellington Phoenix vs Melbourne City (Sunday 30th November, Westpac Stadium)

Melbourne City are traveling to windy Wellington hoping to rediscover some of the form that saw them help contribute to the Roar’s woes only a few rounds back. They are still without Koren, their Slovenian marquee, and whilst Duff, Mooy and Williams can all threaten it’s not really going to be up front where the issues lie, especially against a Wellington who have shown at home (and occasionally away) a propensity to score and score well. Redmayne, Wielaart and Kisnorbo are still out the back at City after being part of Heart’s very ordinary 2013/14 campaign, and throw in midfielders like Mauk, Ramsay and Garuccio there is still a whiff of past mediocrities forming the core of van t’Schip’s squad. Throw in the very inconsistent form throughout the early stages of the current A-League season and it will be hard for the visitors to be ultra-confident going into this match.

Merrick’s Phoenix are playing fairly good football this season and whilst they have had their bumps on the road back at Westpac they are a higher quality opponent. The return of McGlinchey from All Whites duties will be a big fillip to the team, as he is arguably their best attacking player (even though Nathan Burns has been scoring more goals). Then there is the improving Roy Krishna and Dutchman Roly Bonevacia, who is quietly building up a rep as being one of the best value for money imports in the A-League this season (and arguably better than his compatriots in other teams such as Hersi, Castelen and Jaliens).

Final Verdict: Phoenix at home should be a moral for all three points, especially if Burns, Krishna, McGlinchey and perhaps Brockie are given too much time on the ball near the City box. Whilst aaron Mooy can and will create problems, especially in dead ball situations, the traveling City are not looking as well structured or performed around the park as Wellington. My Prediction: 2-0 Wellington Phoenix.

Newcastle Jets vs Central Coast Mariners (Sunday 30th November, Hunter Stadium)

If ever a stage was set for a player to exert an influence over one of the fiercest rivalries in the A-League, the old F3 derby between Newcastle and Central Coast is laid out for Marcos Flores to do his thing. The Jet midfielder has the creative capability to pull apart most defensive structures, and whilst his recovery from injury and lack of match fitness may still impede him as demonstrated against the Wanderers he only needs a moment and he can swing a match. Defensively the Jets have also improved on the back of last week’s performance, and David Carney is another Jet who is giving reasonably good service in a misfiring squad.

The Mariners on the other hand are looking flat after a less than happy result against Adelaide at home, and the ruckus over possible internal problems and even the ongoing drama around Mike Charlesworth’s plans for the club must be drawing away some of the energy and positive feeling in the squad. Duke is not scoring enough to warrant high expectations and whilst there is plenty of solid work coming from John Hutchinson the rest of the team seem uninspired. Kim and Bosnar need to be contributing more and Caceres needs to be more creative.

Final Verdict: Neither side looks like a top six club so far this season, and whilst they have each drawn with the Wanderers away from home neither team looked superior to their lower ranked NSW-based rival. If Flores sparks expect a Jets win, but… My Prediction: 0-0 Draw

2014/2015 Round Four Preview: 31st October- 3rd November

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Friday 31st October: Melbourne City vs Adelaide United (AAMI Park)

Whilst the wheels have not fallen off the Sheik Mansour-owned Melbourne City just yet, they looked wobbly last week and are in danger of coming loose from the axle if John van t’Schip can’t get more value from his players. Of course much of the attention will be on David Villa up front, especially considering he has had his ten game guest player stint reduced to four. However the Spanish superstar’s final match should not be about him for City to win and put things back on track. Solid performers Duff and Mooy need to lift, but more importantly the likes of Kisnorbo, Ramsay, Partaalu, Hoffman and Germano need to deliver. aside from Partaalu the others were part of the old Heart squad and so far they are showing the same up and down form that consigned City’s previous entity to the bottom of the table in 2013/14. It may be helpful if David Williams returns and brings with him the goal scoring boots he had last season as well, but it’s the midfield and back where City need to do better.

As for the Reds their lot is a far happier one, thanks to some quality performances on the pitch since the 2014/15 season began, and the stability of the squad in terms of delivering effective football based on Gombau’s technical direction. Bruce Djite makes a welcome return from injury, however it is the Latino/Iberian quartet of Carrusca, Isais, Cirio and Sanchez that forms a vital engine for Adelaide’s progression. It’s also good to see how well Awer Mabil and Tarek Elrich, one a relative youngster, the other a season veteran, are playing. This is a quality squad playing away from home and they’re deserving of favouritism.

Final Verdict: There will be plenty of people to see Villa say farewell to the A-League, and again on paper City look decent. However the Reds are a boss machine right now and I can’t see them losing. My Prediction: 1-3 Adelaide United.

Saturday 1st November: Perth Glory vs Newcastle United (nib Stadium)

These two teams conceded six goals inn total against their opposition last round which indicates they both may have defensive issues, yet in all honesty it’s not as ugly as the raw stats predict. In fact Perth have a nil balance on their for and against record as it stands after three rounds, and Newcastle’s shocking effort last round against the Phoenix has warped what was a reasonable start to the season. Perhaps the biggest disparity is that the Glory have discovered a goal scorer in Andy Keogh, whilst for the Jets no one has really put their hand up to replace Fulham’s Adam Taggart in 2014/15.

Another issue that will be sure to bedevil the Jets is they are still on the road and not yet to come home to Hunter International Stadium, whereas the Glory are back from a jaunt cross the Nullabor to Adelaide, and are at home. There may be some tired legs in the purple and white thanks to their extra-time win midweek over Melbourne Victory in the FFA Cup, however there should be no excuses in a side brimming with youth and experience. The combination of Maclaren and perhaps de Silva from the younger ranks with Garcia, Nicholls, Hersi and Keogh should be a winning one. As for Newcastle this is the ideal opportunity for someone like David Carney or Marcos Flores to remind fans and neutrals alike why they were once icons of the A-League is seasons past.

Final Verdict: Perth should do the job on a struggling Jets, who are nowhere near as blessed when it comes to potential and talent both in front of their own goal nor the opposition’s. My Prediction: 2-0 Perth Glory

Sunday 2nd November: Sydney FC vs Central Coast Mariners (Allianz Stadium)

A tantalizing clash between two clubs that have plenty of history, plus the added piquancy of the relationship between FC coach Graham Arnold, the Mariners and their coach Phil Moss, this will be a match that could finally establish the home team as a favourite for title honours this season. With a near full squad and at home Arnold must feel very confident of snaring all three points, even though the Mariners will be no push overs. The defensive effort against the Roar has probably silenced many who saw chinks in Sydney FC’s backs, whereas the undoubted quality of the likes of Janko, Ibini, Gameiro, Brosque, Antonis and possibly Smeltz means that Sydney can go all out. as for the visitors, their squad is not exactly equal in terms of depth or on paper quality. However as shown in past seasons any game involving Central Coast is not one resolved at a desk; they will give all, and in the likes of Montgomery, Duke, Bosnar, Roux, Caceres and Simon they too have some players to be reckoned with.

Final Verdict: The week’s break for the visitors won’t be that beneficial, and the Mariners have hardly set the world on fire with their form before the enforced lay-off. Sydney FC look the goods for another win. My Prediction: 3-1 Sydney FC

Monday 3rd November: Melbourne Victory vs Wellington Phoenix (AAMI Park)

Arguably the match of the round, it is nicely set up thanks to the preceding weeks’ form from both the home team and the visitors, plus perhaps more importantly the after effects of the Victory’s loss against Perth in their midweek FFA Cup match against Perth Glory. The suspensions to Leijer and Giorgevski will undoubtedly unsettle the Victory, and Delpierre, Berisha and perhaps Thompson could all be in doubt due to injury. Up front this shouldn’t be too big a problem for Muscat as he can still call upon Finkler, Barbarouses and Tunisian international Ben Khalfallah to deliver goals, However at the back there may be some concerns, especially considering in each A-League game played this season Victory have conceded at least one goal, and arguably if there is a squad with plenty of goals in them that they are yet to meet so far in 2014/15 it’s Wellington.

The Phoenix will undoubtedly find their cross-Tasman journey a challenge however they are certainly up for it thanks especially to the front trio of Brockie, McGlinchey and Burns. Burns is probably the pick of the three and some in the media are already talking up his chances for a return to the Socceroos. Bonavecia is going to cause headaches for the Victory midfield, but the question is how well can Wellington’s backs contain a possibly undermanned Victory? Ernie Merrick is a cagey coach with a wealth of experience if not of funds for his squad, and he will give his protege and friend Kevin Muscat plenty to think about.

Final Prediction: this match will be determined by fitness issues for either Berisha and/or Delpierre. If one of those two  can play then the momentum may well be with Melbourne. If neither plays then watch out for a possible upset in favour of Wellington. My Prediction: 2-1 Melbourne Victory

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