ABC's Phil Dando previews Round 4 for the A-League; including the Jets clash with Melbourne Victory at Hunter Stadium.
Another intriguing weekend of A-League football coming up! With three teams level on six points at the top, but only a three point gap between them and ninth place, it indicates already how close this competition is going to be this season.
The Jets kick it all off on Friday night at Hunter Stadium, when they entertain Melbourne Victory. Ange Postecoglou's new team hit their straps last week with a win over previously undefeated Adelaide United. Already they top the passing statistics chart, which is what he wants, with 1205 completed, almost twice as many as the Jets! Victory have signed a new goalkeeper too this week in former Young Socceroo, Martin Coe, and he is likely to be rushed straight into the team.
They have plenty of skill, pace and guile in the front third with Thompson, Rojas and Flores, but do they have enough ball players at the back to get it to them in the manner that Postecoglou wants? Especially as they are going to have their hands full with a young Jets line-up in their faces, looking to win the ball back high up the pitch.
Once that ball is won back the Jets have enough attributes themselves to finish them off, with Craig Goodwin on the left, James Virgili, now coming off age on the right, Ryan Griffiths clever and elusive in the number 10 role and then the impressive Emile Heskey leading the line.
This has the makings of a cracking game, flowing from end to end. Gary van Egmond has to decide whether to go with a back four, as he has for the last two games, or a back three. Whichever he decides on, I think the Jets are quite solid at the back and more likely to cope with the Victory's threats than vice versa. The Jets have beaten the Victory more than anyone else and have won 6 of 10 at home and I'm tipping them to win again.
On Saturday the only undefeated team after three rounds, Wellington Phoenix, travel to Adelaide to take on the league leaders. The Reds suffered their first defeat last week at Melbourne Victory and must deal with the threat of Paul Ifill. The Barbados international leads the shots on target stats, but the Reds lead the team shots on target percentages, so expect the goalkeepers to be busy! Phoenix are not particularly good travellers and they have to contend with an in-form Dario Vidosic, back after injury, who has a couple of goals and assists to his name already. I think the home team will get the points in this one.
Later on Saturday night, Brisbane Roar entertain new boys Western Sydney Wanderers. The Wanderers have set an unwanted record of going through the first three rounds without scoring a goal! Remarkably, they are second in the total shots stats behind only the Phoenix so it tells you something about the strikers they have. No doubt Wanderers coach Tony Popovic has had them working on their finishing, but how he must wish for a Besart Berisha, last season's leading scorer who has already notched three for the Roar this term. I see this as being a season of consolidation for the Wanderers - they won't shine but won't get smashed either - but you just know that Brisbane, playing a more direct game under coach Vidosic, and with the dangers of Berisha and Thomas Broich are going to be too strong for them right now.
Sunday sees sixth placed Melbourne Heart at home to seventh placed Central Coast Mariners. Both teams have won one, drawn one and lost one and have four points. Both lost last week, although the Mariners left Hunter Stadium with a "we wuz robbed" mentality. While they passed the ball well last week, the Mariners have lost some of the directness that we came to know them for previously and as a result are joint bottom of the total shots column. They have struggled with the loss of striker Matt Simon to Korea and need young Bernie Ibini, who scored after coming on as a substitute last week to hit his straps. The Heart have a good balance of youth and experience now and are hard to beat in Melbourne, unbeaten in their last eight in fact. This will be a tight one, so I'm sitting on the fence, and tipping the draw!
Round 4 finishes with Perth Glory heading over to the east coast to take on Sydney FC. Glory have been criticised by some for being too physical. I don't know if I'd go that far, but I did call them 'hard-nosed' last week - they probably have the highest average age of all the teams as well - and they did a clinical job in beating the Heart. Travelling to Sydney has never been easy for them though and the Sky Blues look to be getting it sorted now. The hype of Alessandro Del Piero's arrival will start to subside, and they will get down to the nitty-gritty of playing football and using him to his best advantage. With him pulling the strings and the young strikers working around him plus a big crowd behind them I think Sydney FC will win this in a tight one.
Tune into ABC Newcastle 1233 to hear Aaron Kearney and Phil Dando's call of the Jets' game each week.