Round three of the A-League saw some dramatic finishes, controversial refereeing and Perth pull away slightly on top. Round four sees top play bottom, two unbeaten sides square off, another two winless sides do battle and a NSW derby. Can Wellington beat the travel sickness and knock off Brisbane in the opening game of the round?
Five Burning questions from Round 3:
- Is Matthew Leckie the next wonder kid of Australian football?
- Is it too early to say Perth Glory and premiership favourite in the same sentence?
- Is Sydney FC in crisis?
- Where is the standard of refereeing at?
- Was the Melbourne Victory v North Queensland Fury the most dramatic and entertaining match in A-League history?
Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoenix
Friday 27 August, 8pm AEST at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, (Fox Sports 1)
With four points from their opening two fixtures, the Brisbane Roar has proven to be one of the league’s surprise packets so far. They absolutely dominated their opening game against Gold Coast United, but failed to score.
Last week, they made the defending champions Sydney FC look second rate and realistically deserved to win by a bigger margin. Their expansive passing game has been a delight to watch, with Thomas Broich and Erik Paartalu leading the way, while the leadership of new skipper Matt McKay has been another major factor in their marked improvement, culminating in the winning goal last week.
Wellington Phoenix makes their first visit across the Tasman to an unhappy hunting ground. They have never won at Suncorp Stadium and only won one of nine against the Roar. However, the Phoenix will see this encounter as the best chance they have had to break the hoodoo. In their opening two games, their attacking play has been the highlight. With the likes of Paul Ifill and Chris Greenacre in red hot form they have the manpower to shoot down the Roar. Ifill, through his brilliant technical ability, incisive running and goal-scoring nous, has continued where he left off last season and established himself as potentially the best import to ever grace the A-League. The contrasting styles of both teams should be entertaining; the Roar with their high tempo passing game against the counter-attacking Phoenix. Roar to win at home due to Wellington’s travel sickness.
Team News: Brisbane will have to make two changes for this encounter as Ivan Franjic and Luke Brattan have been ruled out with injury. However, midfield tyro Massimo Murdocca returns from his quad strain and Rocky Visconte is a good chance to finally make his debut for the club after signing from Scottish club Hearts in the off season. Wellington’s only selection dilemma is whether to hand a debut to keeper Danny Vukovic after his contract with Turkish club Konyaspor was dramatically cancelled or keep faith with New Zealand World Cup hero Mark Paston.
Prediction: Brisbane Roar 2-1 Wellington Phoenix
North Queensland Fury v Adelaide United
Saturday 28 August, 5:15pm AEST at Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville (Fox Sports 3)
Two of the league’s unbeaten sides square off in what should be an intriguing encounter. North Queensland have been the surprise packet so far and won even more admirers following their gutsy 2-2 away draw with Melbourne Victory last week, in which they bravely held out with only nine men. However, the biggest test is likely to come this week as they take on an Adelaide outfit brimming with confidence, without two key defenders Chris Grossman and Eric Akoto. The Reds attack was simply scintillating against Melbourne Heart with precocious youngster Matthew Leckie leading the way. Leckie is the future of Australian football. His blistering pace, touch and creativity makes him a lethal weapon and his performance last weekend was one of the best in the six years of the A-League. If he continues this form then surely a long and distinguished Socceroos career awaits. Adelaide should get Sergio Van Dijk from injury this week, which will make them even more potent and they shouldn;t have trouble scoring goals against a makeshift Fury defence. But it is whether they can hold out the rampaging Fury attack of Chris Payne, David Williams, Eugene Sseppuya and Dyron Daal that is likely to decide the outcome.
Team News: The Fury has defensive lynchpins Chris Grossman and Eric Akoto unavailable through suspension, following Sunday’s fiery 2-2 draw with Melbourne Victory. Brad McDonald, Panni Nikas and Brett Studman are amongst those in contention to come into the side. Adelaide United has Sergio Van Dijk and Adam Hughes returning from injury and suspension respectively. Ex-Chelsea and Melbourne Victory winger Joe Keenan also joins the squad on a short-term injury replacement contract for Nigel Boogaard.
Prediction: North Queensland Fury 2-2 Adelaide United
Sydney FC v Central Coast Mariners
Saturday 28 August, 7:30pm AEST at Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney (Fox Sports 3)
Where has it gone wrong for Sydney FC? Is there a premiership hangover? These are among the questions bandied about in the notoriously fickle Sydney press this week. They have only one point from three games, which makes the game with near neighbours Central Coast Mariners one they simply must win. Yes, they have had injuries, particularly up front, but to blame that for their predicament would be denial.
So far they have looked disjointed and lacking the hunger needed to win games. They have played well in patches, but this has been all too fleeting. In positive news, Mark Bridge will return to the lead the front line and quite simply they need him to fire against a Mariners side known for disciplined defence. The Mariners were rather disappointing last week in a limp 2-0 defeat to Wellington; therefore they will be desperate to atone. However, their record at the SFS is ordinary so say the least having lost six of ten at the venue, including two grand finals. Coach Graham Arnold confirmed during the week that Argentinian recruit Patricio Perez will finally unleash some South American style in the A-League in what is likely to be their only change. An advantage for the Mariners is that they have a very settled squad and they may just be to steady and consistent for the Sky Blues.
Team News: Sydney FC have their concerns ahead of this pivotal encounter. Star striker Alex Brosque is still to overcome his ankle injury, while skipper Terry McFlynn has been ruled out for a fortnight with a quad injury. The Mariners look set to finally unleash hyped-up recruit Patricio Perez who has overcome his injury worries and should replace the injured Brad Porter in a straight swap.
Prediction: Sydney FC 0-1 Central Coast Mariners
Gold Coast United v Melbourne Victory
Sunday 29 August, 3pm AEST at Skilled Park, Gold Coast (Fox Sports 3)
Two sides without a win square off on the glitter strip in a match where the loser will be well off the pace in the race for the top six. Gold Coast has drawn their first two games, albeit not looking too convincing in either and will be up against a Melbourne Victory side steaming following the events of last Sunday. United suffered a huge blow this week when it was announced that star striker Shane Smeltz was going to move to the Turkish Super League, finally ending his long running transfer saga. This leaves them short upfront, so expect Joel Porter to step up and take more of the responsibility. The Victory will still be wondering how on earth they didn’t beat the Fury last weekend. They had 25 shots to two, a one man advantage for most of the game, which turned into two and Adrian Leijer missed a sitter with the final kick of the game. Victory won two of three encounters between the teams last season so they will be confident of heading up there and taking the points. Billy Celeski and Grant Brebner are likely to return, meaning they should have their strongest side available for the season. Combine this with United’s problems, Victory should win but, as we all know in football, nothing is a given.
Team News: Gold Coast has suffered a huge blow with the loss of talisman Shane Smeltz who looks set to complete a move to Turkish Club Genclerbirligi. But in better news ex-Manchester United John Curtis looks set to make his debut after injury, while strikers Andrew Barisic and Gol Gol Mebrahtu are every chance of being included. Melbourne looks set to include Billy Celeski and Grant Brebner after they recovered from injury, meaning Marvin Angulo and Diogo Ferreira could miss out.
Prediction: Gold Coast United 1-3 Melbourne Victory
Melbourne Heart v Perth Glory
Sunday 29 August, 5pm AEST at AAMI Park, Melbourne (Fox Sports 3)
Melbourne Heart put in their best performance of the campaign last Friday night but still came away empty handed. Their attacking play seems to have come along in leaps and bounds with Rutger Worm and Matt Thompson in particular showing what they are capable of. However, they continue to be ailed by silly defensive errors, which have cost them in all three games. Until this is sorted out the Heart will struggle to win games. They will need to be on guard as the ladder-leading Perth Glory hit town for the second time in a fortnight. How many years has it been since we said that? The answer is the last season of the old NSL. The Glory has been in fine form, staying unbeaten, and if not for a lapse in concentration in stoppage time during their round one game with North Queensland they would have three wins from three games. Their attacking play has been a feature so far with the likes of Mile Sterjovski, Branko Jelic and Steven McGarry having a pronounced impact, while their defence has slowly been getting better and two consecutive clean sheets can attest to that. Despite both Sterjovski and defender Jamie Harnwell being ruled out due to injury the Glory should do enough to stay top of the table against a Heart team who will need more time to gel.
Team News: Heart suffered yet another injury blow during the week as Socceroo defender Michael Beauchamp was ruled out for a fortnight, courtesy of the ankle injury he suffered in the defeat to Adelaide. This has left them very short on defensive depth, meaning Brendan Hamill could make his first start. Alex Terra will return from injury, but John Aloisi is another week away. Perth’s 1-0 win over Newcastle came at a cost with Mile Sterjovski and Jamie Harnwell suffering injuries. Josh Mitchell should replace Harnwell in defence, while Michael Baird could come in to replace Sterjovski if his transfer clearance from infamous Romanian side Universitatea Craiova finally comes through.
Prediction: Melbourne Heart 1-2 Perth Glory
John Takemura is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.