ABC's Phil Dando previews Round 20 of the A-League, including the Jets' clash against Melbourne Heart at Hunter Stadium.
The Newcastle Jets kick Round 20 off with the visit of Melbourne Heart to Hunter Stadium knowing that a win is essential to their finals hopes. After winning four of their first six games and sitting just off the pace in third, they have won only two of the next fourteen and are outside of the top six and four points off the bottom currently.
Coach Gary van Egmond is likely to ring the changes with 34-year-old former English Premier League striker Michael Bridges expected to make the starting line-up for the first time this season. The thought of him teaming up with Emile Heskey should get the fans excited.
There are also changes at the back for the Jets as Connor Chapman is out injured and the coach hasn't been too enamoured with their defending either. Scott Neville and Josh Mitchell are rested and the impressive young tyros, Andrew Hoole and Sam Gallaway are expected to fill the full-back roles while local Taylor Regan and Swiss import Dominik Ritter will partner one another in central defence for the first time this season. New signing Zenon Caravella impressed enough last weekend to keep his place in midfield and van Egmond is looking for more goal threats and is likely to start Adam Taggart in place of Craig Goodwin.
The Heart sit in fifth place, one point ahead of the Jets and welcome captain Fred (quad strain) and experienced defender Simon Colosimo (calf) back from injury, while new Dutch signing, midfielder Marcel Meeuwis, has made the journey and is likely to play a part in the match after receiving his international clearance. Vince Grella (injury enforced retirement), Aziz Behich and Michael Marrone (overseas transfers) have all left the Heart in recent weeks so those holes needed filling and they also have Nick Kalmar back now and he found the back of the net in last week's win over Perth. The good news for the Jets is that Heart don't travel too well and haven't won away all season. This game is too important for the Jets to lose and I think a big Friday night crowd will cheer them on to all three points.
There's a huge triple-header on Saturday when most of the contenders are in action. First cab off the rank are Sydney FC who entertain Adelaide United with coach Frank Farina safely ensconced with the security of a two year extension to his contract. Farina took charge of the Sky Blues in late November and under his tenure they have won five matches, drawn three and lost four to move from bottom of the table to 6th position on the ladder.
The Reds have a new coach in Michael Valkanis and following three successive losses he certainly had his team fired up in their home win over Melbourne Victory last week. He also had himself fired up and will watch this one from the stands after getting expelled from the bench! Sydney FC haven't beaten Adelaide at home since 27 December, 2009 but now the Sky Blues are looking for a fifth home win in a row and I think they'll carry on their good form and just win this one.
After five consecutive defeats and currently sitting bottom of the table, last year's beaten Grand Finalists Perth Glory have decided that a change of coach is what is needed. Ian Ferguson is replaced by former player and FFA Assistant Technical Director Alistair Edwards and he gets to put his plans in place for the first time in a baptism of fire on Saturday when they welcome table-topping Central Coast Mariners.
The Glory haven't scored a goal in their last four games, while the Mariners smashed five past a hapless Wellington Phoenix last time out. Although the form guide would indicate an easy Mariners win (and in fact they've won 15 of the 24 games played between these two) last week's 2-0 defeat at Melbourne Heart was the first time the Glory have lost by more than one goal in their eleven losses so far this season. The change of coach could fire them back to life and I predict they'll get something out of this game, even if it is only a draw!
Saturday's final game should be a cracker with third placed Melbourne Victory hosting second place Western Sydney Wanderers. Young Australian defender Daniel Mullen has agreed to join Victory on loan from his Chinese club, a deal which will see him remain at the club for the rest of the season. The centre-back's arrival compensates for the loss of Nick Ansell who has a groin injury.
Victory coach Ange Postecoglou must make at least two more changes for this clash as Archie Thompson (calf) and Adama Traore (suspension) will also miss out. He will be disappointed with last week's submission to a fired-up Adelaide outfit last weekend after three consecutive wins. The Wanderers are aiming for a sixth win on the trot, while goalkeeper Ante Covic hopes to celebrate his 100th Hyundai A-League game with a win against one of his former clubs. This one should be A-League at it's best, and Victory usually get themselves up for the big ones, and I'm tipping them to halt the Wanderers impressive run.
Brisbane Roar return from a humiliating penalties defeat in their Asian Champions League qualifier in Thailand for a home clash with Wellington Phoenix. Fortunately for the Roar, the Phoenix are one of two teams who are actually going worse than they are! Both of them are completely devoid of confidence and the Roar are a mere shadow of the team that won back-to-back premierships.
In more bad news for them it was confirmed that captain Matt Smith will miss the remainder of the current season after having surgery on his hip injury. Smith hasn-t played or trained in over four weeks with his hip labrum tear. In a boost for the Roar's playing stocks Massimo Murdocca and Henrique are both set to be available for this game. Murdocca has recovered from an ankle injury while Brazilian winger Henrique has overcome a quad strain which has kept him sidelined for four weeks.
Phoenix has signed young Fulham striker Corey Gameiro on loan till the end of the Hyundai A-League season. Gameiro, 20, had an outstanding under-19 AFC championship for Australia, scoring all six of Australia-s goals at the tournament to help them qualify for the 2013 FIFA under-20 World Cup. Gameiro has recently been on loan with top Dutch club FC Eindhoven where he made eight appearances. The Phoenix never win at Suncorp, and although the Roar will be tired and dispirited from thier midweek exertions, I can't imagne Phoenix winning this one either. The Roar to get back on track for me.