ABC's Phil Dando previews Round 8 of the A-League; including the Jets' clash with Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park.
It's Round 8 of what has been a completely unpredictable A-League season to date. Anyone out there want to predict this season's champions based on what they've seen so far? Not me, anyway!
The round kicks off on Friday night with bottom against top! Sydney FC, who have conceded a whopping fourteen goals in the last three games (20 for the season to date), entertain Adelaide United, who have only conceded four times in eight games. However, Sydney have scored one more than the Reds, so make of that what you will! Jason Culina could make his return to the A-League off the bench for Sydney after almost two years out injured. Alessandro Del Piero has scored five of the Sky Blues eleven goals to date and if he can get some support, and interim coach Steve Corica can tighten up his defence, Sydney FC's season could take off. Defender Adam Griffiths returns for them too, as does Terry Antonis who has been away with the Young Socceroos, and dynamic young striker Joel Chianese is playing his way back to match fitness. The Reds are good, well organised and confident, but I think it's about time for Sydney FC to turn things around and for that reason I'm tipping them to win this one!
The Jets are first game up on Saturday at Melbourne Heart. Both coaches, Gary van Egmond and John Aloisi were exceedingly unhappy after last week's games and so will be looking for some redemption. Inspirational captain, Fred, returns from an eye injury for the Heart, and he has a happy knack of scoring against the Jets. The Jets couldn't get out of first gear last week as Wellington Phoenix let them play out from the back and then compressed the space in midfield which didn't allow the Jets to get any service into danger man Emile Heskey. I don't expect the Heart to play that way at home, they'll look to get at the Jets early, so it may make it easier for the Jets to play the way they like - balls into the feet of Heskey or to the wide men for crosses into the box for Heskey's well-timed runs. Both Craig Goodwin and Dominic Ritter are expected to return after injury for the Jets, who will have third-choice 'keeper Matt Nash in goal. He has proved before that he's up to the task and won't let them down. This will be a tight affair though, and I'm tipping a draw!
After an impressive and unexpected win in Newcastle last week, Wellington Phoenix now must tackle the "distance derby" on Saturday, the trip over to Perth Glory. The Glory were shocked by a ten-man Western Sydney at home last week so will be looking to bounce back from that defeat. Inspirational captain Jacob Burns returns in midfield for Perth after injury while regular goal-scorer Shane Smeltz is back to full fitness and is expected to start too. Phoenix top scorer Steyn Huysegems returns and Paul Ifill showed in the 3-0 win at the Jets that he is back in form. Still though, it's a big ask for Wellington to get a result in Perth and the Glory don't lose too many at home, so I don't expect them to lose two on the trot. I tip Perth for this one.
Unexpected winners in Perth last week, Western Sydney Wanderers now host Melbourne Victory on Sunday. It's fifth against sixth, with both teams on ten points and could climb to third with the right result. Wanderers will be missing suspended Youssoff Hersi who serves a two-game suspension following his red card in the upset 1-0 away win. WSW marquee man Shinji Ono has missed a bit of training this week with illness and may not be fit to start. Meanwhile, Melbourne Victory are starting to play the passing game that Ange Postecoglou wants them too and are hard to beat at anytime. I think the Wanderers defence will find it hard to keep the shackles on the lively front trio of Thompson, Rojas and Flores and I'm tipping an away win here.
In what is arguably the match of the round, Central Coast Mariners will take the field against Brisbane Roar on Sunday without their Dutch defensive rock Patrick Zwaanswijk who will serve a one-match suspension for his red card in last weekend-s 2-2 draw with Melbourne Victory. He will be replaced by one of the youngsters Zach Anderson or Brent Griffiths. Stability has been a key word for Graham Arnold's side this season - he's kept an unchanged team for the last five games - and they've had some impressive results because of it. Veteran striker Daniel McBreen's training workload has been reduced and it appears to have done him good as he leads the goalscoring table with seven goals. The Roar bounced back to form after three defeats with a big win over the troubled Sydney FC last week and looked a bit more like their old selves. They have plenty of potency in Berisha, Broich, Nichols and Henrique to trouble a makeshift Mariners defence, but the Mariners don't lie down easy for anyone. I can't split these two teams, and am sitting on the fence in tipping a draw!
Tune into ABC Newcastle 1233 to hear Aaron Kearney and Phil Dando's call of the Jets' game each week.