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A-League Preview: Week 2

After an opening round which saw a great deal of excitement and plenty of goals, Wellington joins the fray as the rest of the competition settles down. John Takemura brings us his preview of the second week’s action.

The opening round of the 2010/11 Hyundai A-League season saw some cracking goals, dramatic endings and it left fans wanting more of the same. Round 2 sees Wellington Phoenix kick off its campaign, a Melbourne Heart side desperate to get a win on the board at Newcastle and Central Coast trying to make it two out of two against Adelaide.

Five Burning Questions from Week 1

  1. How long will it take the Melbourne Heart to gel as a team?
  2. Will a lack of firepower be the downfall for Newcastle and Adelaide?
  3. Has North Queensland Fury been grossly underestimated?
  4. Will Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory square off in the Grand Final again?
  5. Is Brisbane Roar the best passing side in the A-League?


Wellington Phoenix v Gold Coast United

 Friday 13 August, 5.30pm AEST at Westpac Stadium, Wellington (Fox Sports 3)

 Following an opening-round bye, Wellington Phoenix takes the stage for the new season with a home fixture against Gold Coast United. The Kiwi side was desperately unlucky to lose in last year’s preliminary final, following a controversial Chris Payne goal for Sydney FC, and will be looking to start this campaign on a high. However, Gold Coast is aiming to erase the memories of a 6-0 thrashing on its only visit last season. Last week’s performance against the Brisbane Roar was fairly lacklustre, failing to have a single shot on goal in the first half and relying on some outstanding shot-stopping from Glen Moss to earn a point. Shane Smeltz looked out of sorts, but a return to his home country may just be the spark he needs to perk up his performance. The Phoenix, despite losing defender Jon McKain to Saudi Arabia, have strengthened their squad in the off season with the likes of Socceroo Jade North, Argentine playmaker Oscar Roberto Cornejo and strikers Dylan Macallister and Mirjan Pavlovic joining, and they should be around the top six again this season. They are unbeaten in their last 19 matches at the ‘Cake Tin’ and in this encounter they should make it 20.

Team News: Wellington is likely to be without its marquee signing, Socceroos defender Jade North, as he is on international duty in Slovenia, but otherwise coach Ricki Herbert should have a full squad from which to choose. For Gold Coast, defender John Curtis will have to pass a fitness test on his calf, but no fresh injuries were suffered on the weekend.

Prediction: Wellington Phoenix 2-1 Gold Coast United 

Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Heart

Friday 13 August, 8pm AEST at Energy Australia Stadium, Newcastle (Fox Sports 3)

Newcastle created plenty of opportunities in a 0-0 draw away to Adelaide United, but just lacked that cutting edge in the final third to gain all three points. Kasey Wehrman was as solid as a rock in the centre of the park for the Jets and his battle with Josip Skoko will potentially decide which team will dominate the encounter. The Heart showed in patches against the Central Coast Mariners that they will play some of the most attractive football this season in the A-League. However, the glimpses were all too fleeting, and it will take time for the team to gel together as a unit. Brazilian recruit Alex Terra was lively in attack and will quickly become a crowd favourite, while Nick Kalmar who was plucked from Victorian Premier League club Oakleigh Cannons showed he was definitely up to A-League standard with an assured display in midfield. An interesting side plot to the match will the reception both ex-Jets skipper Matt Thompson, who was an extremely popular figure at the Hunter-based club, and Jason Hoffman receive from the Jets supporters. Newcastle generally plays well at home and will be confident of obtaining a positive result and although Heart would love to get the three points, taking a point from a difficult road trip would probably satisfy. 

Team News: Newcastle coach Branko Culina will have to make a change to his starting 11, after Sean Rooney was ruled out for a month with a hamstring tear, while Nikolai Topor-Stanley should be fit after his knee injury turned out to only be a corked muscle. For the Heart, Josip Skoko and Matt Thompson should overcome slight injury concerns, while Jason Hoffman could come into contention to play his former team following injury, along with Wayne Srhoj.

Prediction: Newcastle Jets 1-1 Melbourne Heart 

North Queensland Fury v Sydney FC

Saturday 14 August, 5.15pm AEST at Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville (Fox Sports 3)

North Queensland put in a terrific display away from home against one of the fancied title contenders, Perth. It was a performance which was full of self belief and spirit. Chris Grossman’s injury-time goal got the Fury a deserved point, and they will look to build upon this in their first home encounter of the campaign. Sydney would have been terribly disappointed to only get a draw against the Melbourne Victory, especially after being two goals ahead early in the second half, eventually needing a stunning goal from Shannon Cole to avoid defeat. The Fury were very impressive in attack last week, with Chris Payne and David Williams getting on the score sheet with cracking goals and, combined with the blistering pace of winger Isaka Cernak, they will be a formidable challenge for any side. The Sky Blues will be relying on their midfield trio of Nicky Carle, Terry McFlynn and Stuart Musialik to stifle the Fury’s supply and create chances for players like Alex Brosque. North Queensland will be desperate to show that last week’s performance was not a one-off; however Sydney FC will not want to drop points for the second week in a row and should be too strong, despite the heat.

Team News: North Queensland captain Ufuk Talay should be back from a calf injury and Ugandan recruit Eugene Sseppuya has received his visa and should feature, while new signing Brad McDonald could be a surprise inclusion. André Kilian is their only long-term injury concern with an ankle problem. Sydney FC will be without talisman Mark Bridge, who strained a hamstring late in the match with Melbourne Victory, so Kofi Danning should replace him in attack.

Prediction: North Queensland Fury 1-3 Sydney FC

Melbourne Victory v Perth Glory

Saturday 14 August 7.30pm AEST at AAMI Park, Melbourne (Fox Sports 3)

The Victory showed fantastic resilience in coming from two goals behind against Sydney FC, but will be disappointed in conceding a late goal after doing so much hard work. Perth only showed glimpses of what it is capable of in a topsy-turvy encounter with the Fury and will need to tighten up considerably away from home against the Victory. The Glory will not have fond memories of their last visit to Melbourne, which resulted in an embarrassing 6-2 thrashing with Robbie Kruse scoring a hat-trick. Fortunately for the Glory, their chief tormentor that night is injured. Melbourne will be looking to come away from its first competitive match at new home AAMI Park with a win and following an outstanding display last week Mate Dugandžić will be licking his lips to go up against a Perth defence which was as leaky as a sieve last weekend. However, Perth does have the attacking arsenal to trouble Victory keeper Michael Petkovic, through the outlets of Mile Sterjovski, Branko Jelic and Robbie Fowler. Expect it to be a high-scoring encounter again with Victory getting the win.

Team News: For Melbourne, Robbie Kruse will miss out again with a hamstring injury, while Billy Celeski and Nick Ward will be pushing to start. Perth has concerns of its own, with defenders Andy Todd and Chris Coyne still out with injury and loan commitments respectively, while Michael Baird and Josh Mitchell are still waiting for their international transfer clearances to come through and are unlikely starters.

Prediction: Melbourne Victory 4-2 Perth Glory

Central Coast Mariners v Adelaide United

Sunday 15 August, 3pm AEST at Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford (Fox Sports 3)

Central Coast put in a typically workmanlike display in Graham Arnold’s first game in charge, spoiling the party with an early goal from skipper Alex Wilkinson – only his second goal in 111 games. After that, the Mariners were just happy to sit back and soak up the pressure. Matt Simon really impressed in his new man-marking role on Heart lynchpin Josip Skoko and this weekend he will try to negate the influence of Marcos Flores and Matthew Leckie. Last week, the Reds experienced the same issues they have had in recent seasons, which is scoring goals and coach Rini Coolen has surely ordered extra shooting practice this week. Coolen has only started working with the team so it is hard to expect a lot of things to change quickly; however from just watching their opening match it seems he has them working as a more cohesive, disciplined unit compared to last season. Central Coast should play a more expansive game at home, especially with the inclusion of Patricio Pérez and this could be too much to handle for the Reds, who will be happy to head back to South Australia with a point.

Team News: Central Coast should welcome back Argentinean playmaker Patricio Pérez, who was a late withdrawal last week, while Josh Rose has finally received his international clearance and should slot straight into the left back slot for the Mariners. Adelaide receives a boost with the return from injury of its own South American star, Marcos Flores, but Nigel Boogaard misses out with an ankle problem, joining a long injury of walking wounded, that includes Travis Dodd, Fabian Barbiero and Robert Cornthwaite among others.

Prediction: Central Coast Mariners 1-0 Adelaide United

John Takemura is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.

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