ABC's Phil Dando previews Round 5 for the A-League; including the Jets clash with Perth Glory at nib Stadium.
Once again, no easy predictions in this weekend's games ! Who'd have thought that the goal-shy Western Sydney Wanderers would go to Suncorp Stadium last week and not only beat the reigning champions, Brisbane Roar, but keep them scoreless too? Here are my thoughts for this week, but I don't advise you to take your hard-earned to the TAB and have a bet on them!
The Jets face the daunting trip to Perth to face a well-organised and methodical Glory. Everyone knows how hard it is for the Jets to get a result there - they've only won 1 out of 10 in the west and it will be just as hard this time around, especially if super-striker, Shane Smeltz returns from injury for this one. Glory centre-back, Steve Pantelidis, is suspended after his red card in the defeat at Sydney FC last week, but experienced Dutch defender Bas van den Brink will replace him. He and Michael Thwaite are going to have their work cut out though, trying to keep tabs on leading goal-scorer, Emile Heskey who now has four in four.
I was talking to my mum in England last Sunday and she was reading all about Heskey's exploits in the papers over there. It may be tongue in cheek, but apparently there are even some calls for him to be recalled to the England squad. Wouldn't that be something? The Jets have been winning without playing glamorous football and will be full of confidence knowing that there is still improvement to come. Scott Neville comes back into the squad after missing the Jets- last two fixtures with a groin injury, while James Brown is in contention to play his first A-League match for Newcastle after missing the first four rounds of the season due to an ankle problem. Josh Brillante did a good job at right back last week, providing a beautiful cross for Heskey's first goal, but he-s away with the Young Socceroos, so Neville will return to his home town and his preferred position. Brown played a bit over 30 minutes for the youth team last week and apparently, he could have even done a little bit more. He will probably see some game time off the bench. Anyway, this one will be a big ask again for the Jets and I reckon they might just sign-off for a draw if asked now, and that's what I'm tipping!
The round gets underway on Friday night with Western Sydney Wanderers entertaining Melbourne Heart. The Wanderers will be on top of the world after recording their first win last week, especially as it was against the all-conquering Brisbane Roar on their home turf. Former Jet Mark Bridge scored the new-boys' first ever goal and his first in 12 games and I'm expecting them to go on with it now. They are solid at the back, but just need to start scoring more and if Dino Kresinger is fit again after missing last week, the former Croatian Under 20 striker will be a valuable ally upfront for Bridge. He's scored 55 goals in 220 senior appearances in Croatia, so should be due here! After a promising start with a win over Victory followed by a draw with Phoenix, Melbourne Heart have subsequently lost their last two. I feel they're going to have a hard time in front of a passionate Wanderers crowd who will be willing their team on to score their first home win. I think they'll see it too!
Also on Saturday, the Central Coast Mariners fans get their first chance to see the legend that is Alessandro Del Piero. Or do they? Del Piero has been struggling with a tight hamstring and didn't train until Thursday, but Sydney FC coach Ian Crook expects him to be fit. There could be a record crowd at Bluetongue Stadium for this one which is sure to lift the Mariners. The Premiers Plate winners have been in impressive form again early this season, lying third on the table having conceded only two goals in four games and those being in their only loss, a contentious one at the Jets. Traditionally tight affairs these games, and the record at this ground shows Mariners won 3, Sydney FC won 3 with four being drawn. Despite being good defensively, the Mariners have struggled to score goals with only 3 in the 4 games and they've had fewer shots than anyone else too. Despite the presence of Del Piero, this could be a dour battle and I'm tipping another draw.
On Sunday table-toppers Adelaide United travel to Champions Brisbane Roar. As in the previous two seasons, the Roar lead the completed passes stats and they will be smarting from last week's home defeat at the hands of Western Sydney Wanderers. The Reds on the other hand are still benefitting from being battle-hardened before everyone else with their Asian Champions League exploits. They lead the goals scored and the shots on target stat. Surprisingly, Brisbane have only beaten Adelaide twice in 11 games at home, however have not lost to them in the last six clashes and they haven't been held scoreless in back to back matches since February 2010 (67 matches). I can't see the Roar slipping up again and think that Berisha and Broich will see them through this one.
The round concludes on Monday night when Melbourne Victory welcome Wellington Phoenix. The Phoenix think they were hard done by as well last week in their first loss of the season to Adelaide. Centre back Ben Sigmund is out suspended as a result, so they could be a little frail at the back trying to contend with the pace of Thompson and Rojas, plus the guile of Flores. Victory coach, Ange Postecoglou, thought last weekend's defeat at the Jets was the Victory's best performance of the season and they were only undone by the finishing of Heskey and some inspired goalkeeping by Mark Birighitti. It's never easy for the Phoenix with the amount of travel they have to do, plus they can't seem to beat Victory in Melbourne. I expect Postecoglou to get the Victory really hitting their straps soon, possibly even as early as this week, and for that reason I'm tipping a home win here.