Phil Dando from 1233 ABC Newcastle previews the penultimate round of the 2012/13 A-League season.
Only four games in Round 26 this weekend as the Wellington Phoenix v Jets game was played a couple of weeks ago to ease the Phoenix's international commitments. The Jets won that one 2-1 which leaves them sitting in that vital and precarious sixth finals spot.
The round kicks off on Saturday evening with Melbourne Victory entertaining Perth Glory. The Victory have already won the first two clashes between them this season and need a win after two draws to consolidate their third spot. The Glory's resurgence under new coach Alistair Edwards, who has just been rewarded with a three year deal, came to a shuddering halt last week with a 2-1 home loss to bottom placed Phoenix. Victory will be without Socceroos Archie Thompson and Mark Milligan and the injured Adama Traore, while Perth have Michael Thwaite away with the national squad and Shane Smeltz involved in the All Whites vital World Cup qualifier with New Caledonia. Although Glory can leapfrog a couple into the top six, I think Victory still hold too many aces for an inconsistent Perth and will take all three points.
Later on Saturday night Parramatta Stadium will be bursting at the seams when the fairytale story of Western Sydney Wanderers could reach its climax and they claim the Premiers Plate with a win against neighbours Sydney FC. The Wanderers stats are truly amazing. In their first season in the comp they have won an Australian record 10 games on the trot; they have had more shots on goal than anyone else, but are second bottom on the shots on target percentages; they have completed fewer passes than any other team and are bottom of the passing efficiency percentages. Budding coaches make of that lot what you will! Sydney FC have improved into fifth position, but are still not sure of a finals spot and haven't won away from home in the last seven. Everyone will expect the Wanderers to give their large and vocal support what they want but I'm tipping that they won't extend the record winning streak to eleven as I can see Del Piero and co lifting their game and hanging tough for a draw!
On Sunday Brisbane Roar also have a chance to climb into the top six at the expense of Newcastle Jets when they welcome Melbourne Heart to Suncorp Stadium. Although Heart have won the last two clashes between them this season they've been truly awful away from home picking up just one point. Not only that, but they've lost three on the trot now, two of them at home! Although the inconsistent Roar are missing Jade North on Socceroo duty, this one is no contest and they won't miss this chance to stake their claims for a finals spot.
The last game of the round on Sunday sees Adelaide United, currently fourth, squaring off against a Central Coast Mariners team who seem to be running out of puff at the wrong time. By kick-off the Mariners will know if they are condemned to second place or are still fighting for the Premiers Plate and that could influence the team Graham Arnold selects. If he knows that top spot is out of reach he may play a weakened team to save some of players for their Asian Champions League commitments. A-League top scorer Daniel McBreen hasn't scored in the last five games and the Mariners need him to refind his scoring touch if they are to keep their top spot dream alive. They are also missing goalkeeper Matt Ryan and midfielder Michael McGlinchey away on international duty with the Socceroos and All Whites respectively, while the Reds are also without their gloveman, Eugene Galekovic, who is also in the Socceroos squad. The Mariners have won the last seven clashes between the two teams, but if they do field a weakened team it is hard to see them winning this one. Because of that uncertainty I'm going have to sit on the fence here and tip a draw!