ABC Newcastle's Phil Dando previews Round 15 of the A-League, including the Jets game against Adelaide United.
With over half a season gone now it's apparent that there really only two teams showing any degree of consistency - Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC! The Mariners deservedly lead the table, while the Sky Blues have been awful and bottom of the league is the right place for them. Adelaide are shaping as the Mariners best contenders for the Premiers Plate, Newcastle Jets are in free-fall and don't appear capable of arresting the slide, while the others just keep knocking one another off!
Round 15 kicks off with a triple header on Saturday night. Newcastle Jets returned home pointless from their two-game, six day sojourn in Melbourne. They host second-placed Adelaide United. The busy Christmas schedule has also done for defenders Neville and Ritter, who miss this one with hamstring tears, as does Reds defender, Nigel Boogaard, who misses out on playing in front of his family and home-town crowd. A succession of injuries and the odd suspension to defenders have no doubt attributed to the Jets poor goals-against column, as most certainly do the injuries to defensive midfielders Jobe Wheelhouse and Ben Kantarovski. The Reds will know that if they press at the right times early in the game, they will win the ball and create chances, as the Jets have conceded six in the first 15 minutes of games (four of those in the first six minutes) this season. United coach John Kosmina loves to play the spoiler back in Newcastle and his teams never die wondering. I reckon he would settle for a point here though, and that's what I think he'll get!
Sydney FC must be desperate to get new signing Joel Griffiths on the park, but they can't do it until Jan 14 when the transfer window opens. What he'll think of this motley crew (Del Piero excepted), heaven only knows! Del Piero, Culina and Chianese all return from injury for the trip to Perth, though Reid, Bosschaart, Necevski, Fabio and Adam Griffiths are all sidelined. New coach Frank Farina knows he has a job on his hands to turn their season around. Unfortunately for him his squad is not blessed with any great depth or, it would seem, desire. Glory are one of those yo-yo teams - win a couple, draw or lose a couple! Surprisingly, they have scored fewer goals than anyone else (including Sydney) but it can only be a matter of time before Shane Smeltz re-discovers his scoring form. This could be the week, and although Sydney FC do well in Perth as a rule you can't see them doing it right now. Perth to win for me.
Saturday's final game is in Melbourne where the Victory entertain Wellington Phoenix. The Kiwis are not producing as they have done in recent seasons and have won only once away this season (3-0 at Newcastle Jets). They have beaten Victory only once anywhere in the last ten attempts! Victory's clever midfielder Giu Finkler, who was leading the assist stats with six, is out for the rest of the season after rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament in the loss at Western Sydney Wanderers, but they will be buoyed by the news that Marco Rojas has decided to put off any overseas move until the end of the season. He has been in sensational form, scoring nine goals already and is primed to play a leading role again against his old club. Phoenix are without influential playmake Paul Ifill, and I don't think they stand much chance of picking up any points against a Victory team desperate to get back to winning ways at home.
On Sunday, still in Melbourne, the Heart fresh from their win against the Jets which lifted them off the bottom of the table welcome Brisbane Roar. Are the Roar on the way back? New coach Mike Mulvey can take some credit for ensuring they've got their desire back and two wins on the bounce will give them a bit more confidence. The Heart were aided in their win over the Jets by a defensive error and, according to the referee, a goalkeeping mistake. They can't expect such charity from the Roar, who once again top the Completed Passes table. They think there is still room for improvement, and will be smarting from the 4-1 smashing they were on the end of last time they played the Heart here. I'm tipping the Roar to win and continue their march up the table.
Maybe we have to wait until last for the best on Sunday when third-placed Western Sydney Wanderers, unbeaten in five, meet table-topping Central Coast Mariners. They Wanderers star is definitely on the rise and marquee man Shinjo Ono is really starting to make an impact. The Mariners bounced back from their surprise defeat at Sydney FC to see the New Year in with a 1-0 defeat of Perth Glory. The Mariners welcome back top scorer McBreen and John Hutchinson from suspension but are still without injured central defender Patrick Zwaanswijk and the creative genius that is Tomas Rogic who is suspended. The Wanderers lose their captain and central defender Michael Beauchamp and midfield player Youssouf Hersi to suspension as midfielder Aaron Mooy returns from his one week off after card trouble. There should be a big and passionate crowd for this derby of sorts and right now, I can't split them and am sitting on the fence! A score draw is my tip!