ABC's Phil Dando previews Round 7 for the A-League; including the Jets' clash with Wellington Phoenix at Hunter Stadium.
Another enthralling round last week left some tipsters (OK, me!) with egg on their face! I did get one right, and was very happy that it happened to be the Jets who dug in and ground out a win at Western Sydney Wanderers after going a goal down - something that hasn't happened too often in past seasons. The champions of the last two seasons, Brisbane Roar, went from bad to worse in their 1-4 capitulation to Melbourne Heart and now sit in the unfamiliar surroundings at the bottom of the league. Central Coast Mariners keep doing what they've always done and got their usual result (and something that no-one else seems capable of doing), winning in windy Wellington and now top the table.
And so, to Round 7 and I'm not tipping any surprises this week, I'm going with the form guide.
The Jets will beat the Phoenix on Sunday afternoon! Why? The Jets are playing well and have so many attacking options these days that you feel they are going to score every time they have the ball in the opposition half. Wellington are coming off three losses on the trot and have been conceding goals, especially away from home. They don't usually travel well, although they do have an even record at Hunter Stadium, played 7, won 3, lost 3, drawn 1. As well as a marquee player, the Jets have added another weapon to their armoury this season, too - character. You can tell this team wants to do well, they're not just going through the motions. After young Pepper was sent off late last week and it became a bit like the Alamo, the willingness to put their bodies on the line, including the extra defender, Emile Heskey, was a joy to watch! In days gone by, they would have conceded an equaliser, but this team is desperate to do well and will definitely be challenging for honours this season.
The round kicks off as usual on Friday night. Brisbane Roar and Sydney FC, two of the competition heavyweights, who are both struggling, meet in a game neither can afford to lose if they have top six play-off aspirations. "A bit dramatic" you say at this early stage of the season. I don't think so, as a bad result for either of these two could have massive repercussions for the rest of the season. Rookie Brisbane coach, Rado Vidosic, is still trying to get his team to play the way he wants them to and with the same hunger that they've shown for the last couple of years. If they can't find their mojo again, it's going to be a hard season for them as teams aren't frightened of them any more. The pressure of coaching Sydney FC proved too much for one of the genuinely nice-guys of football, Ian Crook, and the team is led in the interim by former Socceroo, Steve Corica. Letting a two goal lead slip with only twelve minutes to go last week could have damaged his team psychologically and, Del Piero excepted, I don't know if they have the players to fight their way out of the hole they are in. The Roar could be without 'keeper Michael Theo who has a calf injury, but they welcome back gun goal-scorer Besart Berisha after missing last week with a mystery groin and abdomen injury. Sydney have only beaten the Roar once in their last 18 meetings. and I don't think they are as good as this week's opposition, so I'm tipping the Roar to win at home.
On Saturday Adelaide United are at home to Melbourne Heart. Adelaide sit nicely in second place on goal difference behind the Mariners and coach, John Kosmina, has his charges super-fit and in good form. He will be pleased that they aren't conceding many goals - a big improvement on last season - but they were disappointed with a draw last week at home to Perth Glory after Kosmina tried a new-look frontline. It will be interesting to see what team he puts out this week. Melbourne Heart will have an unchanged squad and will be in great spirits after their 4-1 demolition of champions, Brisbane Roar last week. Captain Fred will remain sidelined as he recovers from a hamstring injury while Aziz Behich, who made his debut for the Qantas Socceroos in an international friendly against South Korea last night, will join up with his teammates. I'm tipping the Reds to beat the Heart in a close one.
The match of the round is surely at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night as the table-topping Mariners travel to meet Melbourne Victory. The Victory are starting to play the way their new coach, Ange Postecoglou, wants them to and are scoring goals at the same time - six in the last two games - although they are not quite as tight at the back as he would like. Their comeback from two goals down to beat Sydney last week was stunning and he has unearthed another gem in Andrew Nabbout who scored two after coming on as a late substitute. The Mariners were equally impressive in beating Wellington over there and it would appear that veteran striker, Daniel McBreen, is revelling in the responsibility of leading the line after Matt Simon's departure. He is joint leading goal-scorer with Emile Heskey on five and at age 35 he's running around like an eighteen year old and looks like he might have found the elixir of youth! Someone check his drink bottle, because I want some of it! I can't separate these two, so am tipping a draw.
The final game of the round on Sunday is in Perth as the Glory host Western Sydney Wanderers. WSW make the long trip over the Nullabor for the first time and will find out how hard it is to get a result over there against a team that has lost only once in its last eleven home games. While influential Glory captain, Jacob Burns, is still missing with a quadricep injury, Shane Smeltz and Michael Thwaite will both be available for selection on Sunday despite playing for New Zealand and Australia respectively on Wednesday night. Thwaite played a full 90 minutes for the Socceroos in their 2-1 win against Korea, and Smeltz was substitute for the Kiwi-s in their 1-1 draw against China. In a blow for the Wanderers midfielder Mateo Poljak will miss the match due to injury and they will be disappointed that they didn't get anything from the Jets game after dominating for large periods of the second half. They desperately need another quality finisher to take some pressure off Mark Bridge, who is leading scorer for them with just two goals. They will always be competitive the Wanderers in their first A-League season, but I feel that the Glory will be just a bit too strong for them in Perth.
Don't forget that you can listen to live commentary of the Jets v Phoenix game live with Phil Dando and Silas Moss on 1233 ABC Newcastle from 3 pm on Sunday.