The following are previews and betting tips for the 2012 A-League Preliminary Final.
SATURDAY (APR 14)
Central Coast Mariners v Perth Glory (AEDT 1700)
We’re now at the pointy end of the A-League season and these A-League finals are delivering like no other before them. There have been 19 goals plundered during regular time across the five finals matches played so far during the 2011-12 playoffs, which averages to 3.8 goals per game. To put this in perspective, there was an average of only 2.2 goals per game for the semi final games in the previous six A-League seasons.
Now that I’ve got you all expecting plenty of goalmouth action for this Preliminary Final, I’ll disappoint you with this comment – the Preliminary Final is traditionally the lowest scoring match in an A-League finals series. Apart from Sydney’s entertaining 4-2 win over Wellington two years ago, no more than 2 goals have been scored in any of the other five Preliminary Finals. Central Coast have been 1-0 winners twice on Preliminary Final day (2006 and 2011), while Perth have never made it this far before.
Ignore the free-flowing style of football played in the Mariners 2-2 draw with Brisbane last weekend. That game was only so open because Graham Arnold’s men threw caution to the wind in an attempt to retrieve a 2-0 deficit from the first leg. Defence-first has been Arnold’s policy this season and I am sure his number 1 priority for this weekend will be for his side to keep a clean sheet. Perth are the visitors and travel west as the competition’s form team having defeated Wellington in extra time last week on the back of a five game winning streak. And it has not just been at home where the Glory have been firing, the purple men have been dynamite on their travels, winning five of their last six on the road. That being said, Perth have never won in Gosford and will have to break their Bluetongue hoodoo if they progress to the Grand Final.
The defining match-up will be the battle between Mariners defensive pairing Alex Wilkinson and Patrick Zwaanswijk against Glory striker Shane Smeltz. If the dangerous Kiwi can be controlled, Central Coast should win. This one really could go either way, so I’ll sit on the fence and back a low-scoring draw, hoping the defining action will come in extra time or penalties.
Andy’s Bet: Draw at the end of 90 minutes @ 3.40 (Sportsbet)