With more than half of the season gone the top of the A-League ladder is starting to take shape. Central Coast have charged to an 8 point lead, with Brisbane and Melbourne Heart locked in a tight battle for second spot. Most interest surrounds the fight for the remaining three places in the top 6. Just four points separate fourth placed Wellington through to ninth placed Newcastle, while Gold Coast are in last spot, but only three points behind the Jets.
CHEEKY WEEK 15 A-LEAGUE MULTI
Andy’s Bet: Melbourne Victory, Central Coast and Brisbane all to win @ 4.80 (TAB Sportsbet)
FRIDAY (JAN 13)
Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United (AEDT 2000)
Northern Irishman Jim Magilton takes charge of the Victory for the first time this Friday night, thrust straight into one of the league’s biggest rivalries. As a detective would say of a repeat offender, Melbourne and Adelaide have got ‘previous’, most notably the 2007 and 2009 grand finals, both won by the team in navy blue. Magilton will be hoping the new coach syndrome kicks in for his team in a similar manner to that which has seen Adelaide go four games without defeat since John Kosmina was appointed manager in December. The Reds recent formline is even more impressive as they have played each team from second through to fifth during the four game unbeaten run. The big question Magilton has to answer, the one which stumped his predecessor Mehmet Durakovic, is how to set up his team to maximise the attacking qualities of Harry Kewell, Archie Thompson, Carlos Hernandez and even Danny Allsop and Jean Carlos Solorzano. Melbourne midfielder Grant Brebner spoke this week about the excitement in the dressing and that Magilton has been instructing his players to get the ball down and pass it. Although Victory skipper Adrian Leijer is expected to again miss with a groin injury, Adelaide have the slightly longer injury list. All eyes will be fixed on AAMI Park this Friday night to see if Magilton can unlock the Melbourne Victoy mystery. Maybe he can get a set of Ernie Merrick’s keys cut.
Andy’s Bet: Melbourne to win @ 1.95 (Multiple Sites)
SATURDAY (JAN 14)
Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets (AEDT 1730)
The second derby of the weekend takes place at twilight on Saturday and sees Newcastle travelling to the Central Coast for the third instalment of the F3 derby this season. The clubs have shared the first two encounters, winning one each. Since losing to the Jets in Round 3, Central Coast have gone on a 12 match unbeaten streak, winning 10 of those matches to go from the foot of the table to be now perched at the top. The Mariners have lost leading striker Matt Simon to Korean K-League side Chunnam Dragons, so will need to rejig their attack, which should be do-able given the talent coach Graham Arnold has to work with. Bernie Ibini, Daniel McBreen and Adam Kwasnik are all good striking options, with the supremely talented Mustafa Amini linking the midfield to the attack. Newcastle have been rocked by the fallout from comments made last week by experienced midfielder Kasey Wehrman. Wehrman made an innocuous comment on a footballing website, describing the Jets tactics away from home as “a little naïve”. Newcastle boss Gary van Egmond subsequently left Wehrman out of the team last weekend and it is unclear when the midfielder, one of the Jets best players, will return to the park. Central Coast are clearly the better team and should win, and having only conceded once from their last five home games, a Mariners clean sheet looks likely too.
Brisbane Roar v Sydney FC (AEDT 1945)
I am really confident about Brisbane’s chances in this match as they have three things in their favour. The revenge factor – Sydney were the team to end the Roar’s 36 match unbeaten run just over a month ago. The current form factor – That win over Brisbane was meant to be the launching pad for Sydney’s season to spring into life, and for a while it did, but the Sky Blues enter this game on a three game losing streak. The Roar, meanwhile, are three games unbeaten. The Thomas Broich factor – The German midfield maestro is just about the best player in the A-League and it is no coincidence that Brisbane’s horror past month has coincided with Broich’s absence due to injury. The only doubt over Brisbane for this match is the heel injury which has prevented the league’s top scorer, Besart Berisha, from taking part in training drills throughout the week. Even so, Brisbane are in the better form and should win at home.
Andy’s Bet: Brisbane to win @ 1.65 (TAB Sportsbet)
SUNDAY (JAN 15)
Melbourne Heart v Perth Glory (AEDT 1600)
On first glance this should be a fairly straightforward betting game, with third on the ladder Melbourne playing at home against seventh placed Perth. It is not so easy to pick the winner though as Perth have the better form, coming off a win in Wellington, which followed a draw at home to Brisbane and a draw in Newcastle. Glory boss Ian Ferguson has a fully functioning attacking triangle rejuvenating his team’s season. Shane Smeltz is the point of the triangle and plays as the lone striker, with Mile Sterjovski marauding down the left flank and Travis Dodd feeding dangerous balls in from the right. The system has been hugely successful and the Glory should have scored a long time before their stoppage winner in Wellington last week. The big concern for Perth is still their defence, which is missing a number of first choice players due to injury. The Heart will be without captain and midfielder playmaker Fred as the excitement machine aggravated a groin injury last week and is set for a month on the sidelines. The red and whites looked tired in the second half last Sunday and I reckon Perth have enough about them to nick a point from this raid on Melbourne.
Andy’s Bet: Draw @ 3.50 (Centrebet, Sportingbet)
Gold Coast United v Wellington Phoenix (AEDT 1830)
This is simply a must win game for the Gold Coast if they wish to remain in the race to secure a top 6 position at the end of the season and a spot in the playoffs. United are currently bottom of the ladder, but given the evenness of the competition remain just four points from the top 6 and with a better goal difference than the sides directly above them. Wellington missed a great chance to consolidate fourth spot as they suffered a rare home defeat last weekend against Perth. Both teams are likely to welcome important attacking players back into their starting lineups for this one. Gold Coast’s powerful striker Dylan Macallister is fit again and the Phoenix are likely to include Paul Ifill from the first whistle after the link man has managed to get through two recent substitute appearances on his return from injury. Ifill came off the bench last weekend and provided plenty of intelligent balls for his teammates who were unable to take any of the chances provided to them. Wellington are yet to win in Australia this season, however I like the look of them with a fully fit Paul Ifill and will be backing them in for a surprise victory in this one.