The following are previews with betting tips for Round 26 of the 2015/16 A-League season.
Friday, 1 April
Western Sydney Wanderers v Central Coast Mariners
7:40 PM AEDT, Pirtek Stadium
After having their destiny in their own hands, Western Sydney now need a minor miracle if they are to become Premiers for the second time in their brief history. The 2-0 loss away to Melbourne Victory catapulted the Wanderers from first to fourth, and put them within striking distance of 5th placed Perth. For a side that was looking to consolidate their top position, it was a limp performance with a number of players lacking the intensity required. After taking the lead in Adelaide, it was a familiar story for the Mariners as they fell to a convincing 4-2 loss. Irishman, Roy O’Donovan, was the star man for the bottom club with an excellent striker’s brace to add some respectability to the result. In what was a flat start by the home side, O’Donovan’s opener only managed to “poke the dragon” with Adelaide United reeling off three goals in the space of 9 minutes to put the result beyond doubt.
With the other sides in and around top four facing tricky fixtures, the Wanderers are in a position to apply some pressure as hosts of the opening game, of the penultimate round. In the two previous meetings this season, the Wanderers were made to work hard for their wins with late second half strikes sealing the points, on both occasions. Spanish midfielder, Dimas, misses out through suspension with Castelen a possible replacement as Popovic goes for the jugular against the whipping boys of the competition. The Mariners welcome back skipper Nick Montgomery, from suspension, as the visitors look to record their first win at Pirtek Stadium in almost 3 years.
Saturday, 2 April
Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Victory
5:15 PM AEDT, Westpac Stadium
Melbourne Victory will hope to rubber stamp their participation in the finals series with a win against inconsistent Wellington. Sydney FC fans will be praying for just the opposite as their side, 6pts behind, hope against all odds that their side can sneak into contention. It seems unlikely as Melbourne Victory look to be back on course after a spirited 2-0 win against Western Sydney. Oliver Bozanic, not notable for his goal scoring feats, scored a rare double and just his third for the club, to give Victory a shot in the arm going into the finals. Wellington looked like a side with one eye on their holiday breaks as they were swept aside to the tune of a 3-0 defeat against Melbourne City. The lack of intensity and focus was evident from the off with misplaced passing and statuesque defending headlining a poor performance.
After four months out with a rare brain illness, Melbourne Victory are boosted by the return of club captain Carl Valeri. Although he is not expected to play a major role on the field, as yet, his presence in the matchday squad will be a welcome sight for all followers of the game. In further good news, Jason Geria returns after watching on as an unused substitute in Australia’s World Cup Qualifiers against Tajikistan and Jordan. The much-improved Tom Doyle is back for the Nix after serving his one match suspension. The last time Victory were in this neck of the woods, they went down 2-0 in what will be remembered as one of the worst adverts of the A-League. It is worth googling! Thankfully, this time round, the pristine pitch at Westpac Stadium will play host to a watchable game of football which should suit the visitors.
Nick’s tip: Melbourne Victory -0.25ah @1.91 (SBOBET)
Sydney FC v Adelaide United
7:30 PM AEDT, Allianz Stadium
Sydney’s A-League season is hanging by a thread with two games remaining. Any result for Melbourne Victory, in the earlier Saturday kickoff against Wellington, will seal Sydney’s fate, and perhaps Graham Arnold’s too. In what was a must win game against the Roar, Sydney fell just short despite a standout performance from import Filip Holosko. The 3-2 defeat was a bitter pill to swallow but Sydney only have themselves to blame for a mediocre season. All things considered, Adelaide United could not have chosen a better away trip with the title on the line. After just a point gained from two games, the Reds returned to winning ways with a relatively straight forward 4-2 win over Central Coast. It took the concession of a goal to awaken them from their lethargy and when Isaias’ long range strike crept under Paul Izzo, to level the scores, there was only ever going to be one winner.
With an ACL campaign to look forward to, all is not lost for the home side if lady luck doesn’t smile on them on the weekend. At the halfway mark of group stage qualifying, Sydney lead Pohang Steelers by 2pts, of which they play at home on Tuesday. For the league game at least, Jacques Faty and Shane Smeltz are both available after missing out last week through illness and injury, respectively. For the visitors, Tarek Elrich is the only major absentee so Guillermo Amor should have the luxury of fielding the same XI as last week. Adelaide United have enjoyed good success against Sydney over the last few seasons, in league and cup competition, losing just once in their last 13 meetings.
Nick’s tip: Adelaide United 0ah @1.77 (SBOBET)
Sunday, 3 April
Brisbane Roar v Newcastle Jets
5:00 PM AEDT, Suncorp Stadium
Following another exciting, high-scoring encounter at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane maintained their solid home record with a dramatic 3-2 win over Sydney. Henrique, better know as the “Slippery Fish”, is hard to handle at the best of times but the little Brazilian was in his element, in the pouring Brisbane rain, as he slotted in the all important winner to give Roar a share of first place (level with Melbourne City). Although Newcastle are out of the running for the finals, they showed good intensity in the unfortunate 2-1 defeat to Perth Glory. The Jets bossed the game for long periods but conceded sloppily from a set-piece before referee Kris Griffiths-Jones stole the limelight with several calamitous decisions – leading to two penalties and two sending offs, one for each side.
Brisbane welcome one of few sides that have managed to leave the “lion’s den” with something tangible this season. Back in December, Newcastle earned a deserving 2-2 draw, withstanding a second half onslaught from the hosts. The Roar though will feel they can get the job done as they welcome back key duo, captain Matt McKay and right full-back Jack Hingert. The Jets are at full strength with the return of Daniel Mullen (susp.) and Alivodic, while Nigel Boogard is available to play after the match review panel wisely overturned his red card. Brisbane better be on their guard as the Jets have it well within them to cause an upset.
Perth Glory v Melbourne City
7:00 PM AEDT, nib Stadium
In what is the most anticipated match of the round, the two hottest sides in the competition face off as fifth meets first (at the time of writing). Perth look primed to capture a home final as their winning form, stretching from as far back as January, doesn’t seem to be letting up. Their 2-1 win in Newcastle was not a convincing one but the Glory keep their momentum going with 27pts earned from the last 30 on offer. Melbourne City were a lot more emphatic in the way they dispatched Wellington, 3-0, as Fornarolli and Novillo coped admirably without the services of Socceroo Aaron Mooy. The two combined brilliantly for the opener, one of the goals of the season, while Nick Fitzgerald also continued his good form with some individual brilliance to set up the third.
With Australia safely through to the next stage of qualifying, both managers can breath a sigh of relief (especially after the Jordan tie) that their players have reported back in a fit and healthy state. Josh Risdon played the full 90 minutes in the 5-1 thumping of Jordan, on Tuesday, while Aaron Mooy played a combined total of 154 minutes, in the two qualifiers, but has had ample time to rest up for Sunday’s game. Alex Wilkinson was an unused substitute in both fixtures so should be raring to go. This will be a real test of both sides’ Championship credentials. Perth have been solid at home all season while Melbourne City have looked a more cohesive unit in the last month, scoring 10 and conceding just once in their last four outings.