Phil Dando previews Round 10 of the A-League, including the F3 Derby at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.
Well, the first third of the season is behind us, all the teams have played one another and are we any closer to knowing a likely champion? No, we're not! Central Coast Mariners and Adelaide have been the form teams, sit in first and second spots, and appear the most likely to make the finals series. However, below them it's anyone's guess as to who will make up the top six, and this weekend could be pivotal to one or two teams finals aspirations.
Round 10 kicks off as usual on Friday night when second-placed Adelaide United host a rapidly improving third placed Melbourne Victory. The Socceroos- participation in the East Asian Cup qualifying tournament means the Reds will again be without goalkeeper and captain Eugene Galekovic, while Melbourne are missing Archie Thompson and Mark Milligan. Marcos Flores returns to his former stomping ground for the Victory and Kiwi striker Marco Rojas is on fire for them, scoring another classic goal last week to give him five for the season. Adelaide haven't been beaten in their last five home games, while Victory are on a five game unbeaten streak, so this could be a real tight one. I'm going to sit on the fence and tip a draw!
On Saturday evening Perth Glory return to AAMI Park for the second week running, this time to take on Mebourne Heart. Both these teams have had a rough trot lately. Heart have taken only two points from the last nine available, while Glory have only two draws to show for their last four games. The Heart did well to take a point at Sydney Fc last week considering they've got Behich, Marrone and Garcia away with the Socceroos and Jonathan Germano out injured. Captain and midfield destroyer Jacob Burns returns from suspension for the Glory who have Jamieson and Thwaite away with the Socceroos. Melbourne Heart have lost only once in their past ten appearances at AAMI Park but Perth have won two and drawn one of the three meetings there. Glory striker, Shane Smeltz has already scored six against the Heart and I'm tipping that he's due for a return to goal-scoring form. I think Glory can return to winning ways here.
That game is followed by the F3 Derby at Hunter Stadium with Newcastle Jets entertaining table-topping Central Coast Mariners. Discipline, or rather the lack of it, has been the focus at Jets training this week. While they don't seem to be any more physical than any of the other teams, they have more yellow and red cards than anyone else this season and will be without the suspended pair, defender Josh Mitchell, sent off last week, and striker Ryan Griffiths, who received his fifth yellow of the season. The Jets will also be without captain, Jobe Wheelhouse, who sprained his medial collateral ligament at training on Tuesday. Tiago Calvano is also unavailable for selection due to a heel injury and he will join Ben Kantarovski (knee), and goalkeepers Ben Kennedy (knee) and Mark Birighitti (cheekbone) on the sidelines, while Adam Taggart remains on Socceroos duty after making his national team debut against Hong Kong on Monday night. Fortunately for the Jets they have greater strength in depth this year than previously and it will be tested to the limit by a very impressive Mariners team that has lost only once this season - against the Jets at Hunter Stadium in Round 3. Central Coast who have keeper Ryan and midfielder Rogic still away with the national team, have come away with three points only twice in their last 11 trips to Hunter Stadium, while the Jets, who lost 1-0 at Brisbane last week, are yet to lose consecutive matches this season. The Mariners extended their unbeaten run to six matches last week and have now collected an impressive 16 points from the last 18 on offer. The Jets need to find more ways to get the ball to Emile Heskey's feet to create more goal-scoring opportunities than they have in recent weeks to win this game. These two have met one another 27 times, each team winning nine and drawing nine! It doesn't get any more even than that, and guess what? I'm tipping another draw this week!
On Sunday Sydney FC face the daunting trip across the ditch without their two marquee players, Alessandro Del Piero (hamstring injury) and Brett Emerton (Socceroos duty) to face Wellington Phoenix. Can new coach, Frank Farina, get his demoralised team up for what has become an almost insurmountable challenge for the Sky Blues in recent times? They've lost six times and won only one and drawn once in eight visits to the NZ capital. After a slowish start to the season, the Phoenix are finding some real form, with striker Jeremy Brockie hitting his straps in front of goal and currently being in second in the A-League's golden boot with six goals, while the Sky Blues have conceded 22 in nine games, an unwanted record for them! It's hard to see them getting a toe-hold in this game and I'm going to tip the Phoenix to beat a Sydney team for the second week running at the Cake Tin.
The final game of the round sees Brisbane Roar visit Western Sydney Wanderers for the first time. Livewire attacking midfielder Youssouf Hersi is back from suspension for the Wanderers who still have Aaron Mooy away with the Socceroos, while the Roar have centre-back pairing Smith and Franjic on national team duty. A gutsy Wanderers were undone by a freak goal in windy Wellington last week. Their biggest problem is a lack of goals - they've scored only five in the nine games to date - but they also have the second best defence in the league conceding only 8 goals in the same period of time. The Roar's makeshift defence held a ten-man Jets scoreless as they returned to winning ways and they'll be keen to atone for a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Wanderers (their first ever win) at Suncorp Stadium in Round 4. Roar midfield maestro Thomas Broich is free to play after having his red card for violent conduct rescinded by the independent Match Review Panel. Broich was shown a straight red card on 44 minutes after an altercation with Newcastle Jets' midfielder Josh Mitchell, but Brisbane appealed the red card decision on the basis that its issue was an "obvious error" by the referee. The Roar are yet to win away from home in four trips this season, but I think they showed last week that they are on the way back to their best and I fancy them to be a bit too strong for the Wanderers.