ABC's Phil Dando previews Round 20 of the A-League including the Jets' clash with Western Sydney Wanderers.
An early start to Round 20 with the first game being played on Thursday night. Top of the league Central Coast Mariners welcome Wellington Phoenix who lifted themselves off the bottom of the comp with a win against Perth Glory last weekend. By the time you read this the game will be well and truly over. The impressive Mariners, 3 points clear of the field, can't lose to a disappointing Phoenix, can they? No, of course not!
Also impressive in recent weeks have been Melbourne Victory who travel to meet an Adelaide United side on Friday night who are in some disarray after the resignation of coach John Kosmina, a 4-2 home thumping by Western Sydney Wanderers and three successive losses. Conversely, Victory have won three on the trot and are hitting their straps at just the right time. After scoring three for the Youth team, Francesco Stella will make his starting debut for Victory, with Scott Galloway set to keep his place at right back and Jonathan Bru is also promoted as Mark Milligan is away on international duty and Nick Ansell is injured. It's anyone's guess who will start for the hapless Reds, and although Victory haven't won at Hindmarsh since September 2009 current form suggests this is their time and I'm going for the away win in this one.
The first of Saturday's two games sees Melbourne Heart entertain bottom of the league Perth Glory. Last season's beaten Grand Finalists, the Glory have had no luck this season. They have lost four on the trot, the last three games all by 1-0 (in fact all their ten losses so far have been by the odd goal), and have picked up only two points out of the last 21 on offer. The Glory have signed 28 year-old Argentinian playmaker Matias Cordoba after being impressed with him in trials, and he is set to make his debut this weekend. Glory have scored less goals than anyone else and they are hoping Cordoba can help set some goals up for a misfiring Shane Smeltz, who is normally so prolific, but has only netted four times this season. Heart's new signing Jamie Coyne could make his debut, while Dylan Macallister has proven his fitness, shaking an adductor complaint. Jason Hoffman will return from suspension but Sam Mitchinson and Josip Tadic (broken toe) are sidelined through injury this week. Heart have lost their last two so won't be confident, although they pushed Victory close last week, and I think the home advantage might just be enough to get them through in this game.
Western Sydney Wanderers break new ground by playing a "home" game against Newcastle Jets at Campbelltown. They will be looking to extend their winning record to five as they march imperiously towards the semi-finals in their first season. If they do so, they will be the first team to achieve it this season. Captain Michael Beauchamp returns to their squad after a groin strain and fullback Jerome Polenz is available for selection after serving a one-match suspension. They are at full strength with the exception of Tahj Minniecon who is out for the season with a broken foot. For the Jets, defender Sam Gallaway has been included in the squad after serving a one-match suspension, but midfielder James Brown is unavailable for selection due to family reasons. The Jets have not won away from home since Round 7 this season (against the Wanderers at Parramatta Stadium) but are unbeaten in their last five, having won one and drawn four, so they won't lie down. They showed great character to come from behind twice in the 2-2 draw with Sydney FC last weekend and I'm going to tip them for another hard-earned draw this week.
The round wraps up on Sunday with Sydney FC at home to Brisbane Roar. Both these teams have disappointed massively this season and are locked on 21 points. Brisbane, however, sit in sixth place, so both are in with a shout of the semi-finals and can't afford to lose this "six-pointer". Brett Emerton and Jason Culina are expected to return for the Sky Blues' 200th A-League game, while Roar captain Matt Smith is still sidelined with a hip injury. Sydney FC warmed up with a 4-0 friendly win against the Tahiti national team on Wednesday and they felt a little hard done by not getting all three points at the Jets last week. I think they can beat the Roar this weekend, thus leap-frogging them into sixth spot and possibly even fifth depending on other results.