ABC Newcastle's Phil Dando previews Round 13 of the Hyundai A-League, including the Jets clash with Melbourne Victory.
Two games in a week will signal the half-way point passed in this year's A-League. Central Coast Mariners have proved themselves the form team having lost only once. Adelaide United weren't far behind them in terms of form until they got "bashed up" (John Kosmina's words) at Western Sydney Wanderers last weekend. Adelaide, along with Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar are the teams likely to not have a particularly merry Christmas as they all have a lot of work to do on the training paddock!
The round kicks off on Boxing Day with Adelaide United, looking for some redemption after their 6-1 drubbing at WSW, entertaining a luckless Brisbane Roar. That defeat could have been the kick up the backside the Reds needed. They are sure to be fired up for this one against a Roar side who I keep saying are bound to hit form again soon and showed glimpses of it last week in their 1-0 home reverse to Perth Glory. Both teams will be looking to improve on last week and I can see a draw on the cards here.
There are three games on Thursday night, starting with Perth Glory hosting the rapidly improving Western Sydney Wanderers. Glory will be full of themselves after a gritty win in Brisbane followed an impressive 3-0 defeat of the Jets the week before. WSW will also be on a high after they finally found their scoring touch, and made it three wins in a row, against Adelaide. They also won the last encounter in Perth too, but if they think this is going to be easy they'll get a rude awakening. For the Glory Shane Smeltz is due goals, McGarry is showing his best form since joining Glory, Burns is tigerish in midfield, Dodd has pace and the backline is tight and disciplined. I'm tipping Perth to carry on their recent good form.
Melbourne Heart have to cut their Christmas celebrations short and make the journey across the Tasman to face Wellington Phoenix. They will have been heart-broken (pardon the pun!) by Archie Thompson's late winner in the derby last week and I wonder if they will be able to pick themselves up off the floor? They have won just one of their last six and have been struggling to find the back of the net with any degree of regularity. Wellington are not setting the world on fire at present, either and have picked up just one point from the last nine on offer. Coach Ricki Herbert is stirring the pot by giving some of his younger players, such as Boyd and Fenton, a chance to prove themselves and it could be the catalyst to shake up a few older heads and get their minds back on winning games. I think they'll be too good for the Heart at their fortress-like "Cake Tin".
The final game on Thursday sees a struggling, bottom of the table, Sydney FC at home to table-toppers Central Coast Mariners. Sydney coach Frank Farina would love to have a fully fit squad at his disposal for this one. In last weekend's loss to the Jets he had Alessandro Del Piero start at obviously less than 100% with his hamstring injury, he was without Jason Culina who had another knee problem and then lost Brett Emerton with a stomach virus after just half an hour. Not an easy task for any coach, but even with those three in his team, there is no cause for any confidence, as the rest of the squad he has inherited is sadly lacking. The Mariners again showed their mettle in Wellington with a late equaliser (Daniel McBreen, who else?) and even though they are entitled to play with a swagger, their first concern is always to get the job done. They were forced to stay in Wellington for an extra day when fog closed the airport, but I don't see that making any difference to them. The Mariners have lost just once this season, while Sydney have lost eight of their twelve games. Can anyone see Sydney winning? No, I didn't think so! Mariners for me!
The final game of the round is on Friday night. Melbourne Victory, fresh and buoyant from their last-gasp derby win welcome Newcastle Jets to AAMI Park. The Jets will also be buoyed by their 2-1 defeat of Sydney FC, their first win in six games and they traditionally do well against the Victory. The new look back four will need to be on their toes and well organised to hold out the menace of Archie Thompson and Marcos Flores, together with the prodigious talent of Kiwi international striker, Marco Rojas. The Jets have their own dangers though in wide men Goodwin and Virgili, and strikers Heskey and Griffiths. I think this has the potential to be the most entertaining game of the round. The Victory's twelve games so far have produced a total of 42 goals, while the Jets' games have totalled 39. I don't think the Jets first clean sheet of the season is on the cards here and I'm going to tip a score draw for this one!