ABC Newcastle's Phil Dando previews Round 9 of the A-League; including the Jets game against the Roar.
Round nine of the A-League coming up and another interesting week behind us. Reports of internal bickering between players and coach at double-champions Brisbane Roar, Sydney FC's appointment of Frank Farina as coach wasn't met by delight from all their supporters - that after a disrespectful, back-door attempt to poach Gary van Egmond from the Jets - and the naming of a predominantly A-League Socceroos squad to contest the East Asian Cup qualifiers in Hong Kong, which means that a number of clubs will be without key players for this weekend and next have given the game much publicity this week.
It all kicks off again on Friday night when third-placed Melbourne Victory host fifth-placed Perth Glory. A ten-man Victory showed their class in last week's 2-0 win at Western Sydney Wanderers and while they will welcome back playmaker Marcos Flores, they lose dangerous striker Archie Thompson and defensive midfielder Mark Milligan to the Socceroos. Perth have gone off the boil a bit in recent weeks and are missing skipper Jacob Burns through suspension and defenders Michael Thwaite and Scott Jamieson, also to the Socceroos. Kiwi striker Shane Smeltz was back in the Glory line-up and on the scoresheet last week and will take some watching by the Victory's leaky defence, but I think the Victory will have just a bit more strength in depth and I favour them to get up at home.
The match of the round is first up on Saturday when top-placed Adelaide United travel to the Central Coast Mariners. Both teams will be without their first-choice goalkeepers, while the Mariners also lose young, influential playmaker Tom Rogic, all named in the Socceroos squad. It was another quality performance last week when the Reds won 2-1 at Sydney, who I had expected to bounce back to some sort of form. Fabian Barbiero is in line to replace playmaker Dario Vidosic, who was ruled out of the Socceroos squad after suffering a minor knee injury in the Reds win last week while Eugene Galekovic-s absence means either 17 year old reserve keeper Paul Izzo or Youth Team gloveman John Hall, aged 18 will be given the responsibility between the posts for them. Justin Pasfield is the likely replacement in goal for the Mariners, and that bit of extra experience could be the difference between the two teams. The Mariners looked good again last week in disposing of Brisbane Roar, and I think they'll win this one to go top of the table.
The second game on Saturday sees the stuttering champions, Brisbane Roar entertain Newcastle Jets. The Jets have a good record at Suncorp and could be meeting the Roar at the right time - missing two experienced central defenders away with the national team, and on the brink of imploding! Reserve central defender Matt Jurman will come in and will be partnered with either Japanese import Yuji Takahashi or the club-s two-time National Youth League Player of the Year James Donachie. Takahashi has played just once this Hyundai A-League season - three minutes against Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand - while Donachie made his debut in last season-s final match, a dead rubber against Gold Coast United and signed a senior contract in September this year. Takahashi and Donachie, both 19, have been playing for the Roar-s National Youth League team. The Jets, on the other hand, have only Adam Taggart away with the Socceroos and he hasn't been a regular in the starting line-up for them. Matt Nash proved a more than capable deputy for the Jets two injured goalkeepers last weekend, but the Jets do need to have fixed up their porous defence - only Sydney FC have conceded more than them - as you feel it's only a matter of time before Berisha, Broich, Nichols, et al cut loose for the Roar. The Jets of course always look likely to score, but are yet to keep a clean sheet this season, so this is going to be a tight one and I'm tipping a score draw!
Sunday's first game is at the Cake Tin with Wellington Phoenix at home and meeting Western Sydney Wanderers for the first time. Phoenix have played their way back into form with two good away results, a 3-0 win in Newcastle and a 1-1 draw at Perth Glory. They are likely to have a full strength team with Jeremy Brockie doing what he was signed for - scoring goals, five in the last four games - while Western Sydney are struggling to score goals and the absence of their best player in Aaron Mooy to the Socceroos is a major blow for them. Wanderers are also missing Youssof Hersi who is serving the last game of his two-match suspension. While the Wanderers will be competitive as always, I think the absence of influential midfielder Mooy will be difficult for them to overcome and the Phoenix should win this one fairly comfortably.
Round 9 wraps up with the now-Frank Farina coached Sydney FC receiving Melbourne Heart. The Sky Blues have Terry Antonis and Brett Emerton away with the Socceroos, while the Heart are minus attacking midfielder Richard Garcia, plus defenders Aziz Behich and Michael Marrone. The Heart will have been disappointed to have blown an early two goal lead, and then a 3-2 lead in the 3-3 draw with the Jets last week. Sam Mitchinson is likely to retain his spot in Heart's squad, while Nick Kalmar and Dylan Macallister are likely to be jostling for starting berths. How much say the new coach will have in Sydney's team selection is anyone's guess, as he only arrives back in Australia from Papua-New Guinea on Friday and will have just one training session with his new team. Sydney will feel that they performed better last week despite losing at home to Adelaide, but Farina will hope his assistant coach, Steve Corica, will have been working on a defence that has conceded a massive 22 goals already this season. A new coach often has a galvanising effect on a team and this could be the case for Sydney this week. I think that the Socceroos selections will affect the Heart more than the Sky Blues too, and for those reasons I'm tipping Sydney FC to win.
Tune into ABC Newcastle 1233 to hear Aaron Kearney and Phil Dando's call of the Jets' game each home game.