ABC Newcastle's Phil Dando previews Round 17 of the A-League, including the Jets' game against Central Coast Mariners.
Let's start this weekend's preview with the match of the round - the F3 derby on Saturday. With one win apiece, this is the first meeting of Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets in Gosford this season.
The Mariners have been the stand out team this campaign, but they will be without star playmaker Tom Rogic who has signed Glasgow Celtic. By game day they could also be without striker Bernie Ibini (trialling at Club Brugge in Belgium) and goalkeeper Matt Ryan. There is also talk of midfielder John Hutchinson going to China. However, they do have strength in depth and central defender Trent Sainsbury returns from suspension. 35-year-old striker Daniel McBreen has found the secret to eternal youth and is scoring for fun, leading the league with 13 goals, including two in the last meetings between these sides and will love nothing more than notching again against his former home-town club.
Marquee man Emile Heskey returns from injury for the Jets as does defender Josh Mitchell. A young Jets team with, what at the start of the season was the Youth team back four, were outstanding in their 1-0 win over double champions Brisbane Roar and will have taken an enormous amount of confidence from that result. This fixture is a statto's delight, with barely a struck match between them over the history of the A-League! 10 wins to the Mariners, 9 to the Jets and 9 draws - talk about close. Bluetongue Stadium has been good to the Mariners this season, and they have now won six straight there, a club record. It hasn't been such a happy hunting ground for the Jets though - they've managed only one win there in the history of the A-League and have played seven there without a win since then. What place does history and form play in a derby game, though? None usually, and it will probably come as no surprise to you that I'm tipping a draw!
The round gets underway on Friday night when Melbourne Heart entertain Adelaide United. The Heart will be still reeling from Sydney's amazing comeback last week while Adelaide, who have lost just four out of its 16 matches this season, are just two points adrift of league leaders Central Coast Mariners with the intention of leapfrogging them into pole position tomorrow night. The Reds have injury problems though, with Boogaard, Carrusca, Djite, and Ferreira all missing, but the experienced pair of Jon McKain and Zenon Caravella are promoted back into the squad. The Heart are pretty much at full-strength with striker David Williams returning from suspension. A win for the Reds would be coach John Kosmina's 50th in the A-League, but as well as his team have been playing, I think he may have to wait another week as the Heart look to put last week's disappointment behind them. However, I do think Adelaide are good enough to get a draw here.
Perth Glory return home on Saturday hoping to put last week's disappointing performance at Adelaide behind them. They will need to counter the threat posed by in-form Melbourne Victory frontmen Archie Thompson and the Kiwi Messi Marco Rojas though as they have notched 15 goals between them this season. With Marcos Flores returning to form in behind them and the team as a whole getting better and more familiar with the style that coach Ange Postecoglou wants them to play, the Victory are a difficult proposition for any team. Defender Michael Thwaite may make a return from injury for the Glory. While Perth at home is normally a banker, this season they've blown a bit hot and cold and I've got the feeling that Victory are on the up and up. For those reasons I fancy Mebourne Victory to win this one.
The goal-machine that is Joel Griffiths makes his debut for Sydney FC in their home clash with Wellington Phoenix on Saturday night and Brazilian centre half Tiago Calvano will also make his first appearance after signing from the Newcastle Jets this week. Calvano has been signed as defensive cover for Pascal Bosschaart who is out injured for the season. As mentioned, I've sacked the Phoenix - they have lost their last three away games and only picked up four points out of the last 21 available. They're not playing well enough in my book to trouble a slowly improving Sydney FC , so a home win here for me.
Sunday's only game features Brisbane Roar hosting Western Sydney Wanderers. A re-structuring of the squad is new coach Mike Mulvey's priority right now and he has agreed to influential midfielder Erik Paartalu to join Chinese Super League outfit Tianjin Teda. His team is likely to feature new signing Jade North to stiffen up a defence that has been surprisingly shaky this season. The Wanderers have won both games against the Roar already this season, and have won their last three away games too. They are playing with some real confidence in their first season, sitting in fourth place, but I can't believe that the Roar's miserable form will continue. They have too many good players for it to do so and, not with any degree of confidence it has to be said I'm tipping the Roar to bounce back to winning ways.
Don't forget, you can listen to Phil Dando and Aaron Kearney call the Mariners v Jets game live on 1233 ABC Radio Newcastle from 7.30 p.m. this Saturday night.