Hyundai A-League preview: Phoenix v Victory

Will Victory - with Berisha free to play - win again or can the hosts leapfrog Newcastle into the six? It's Berisha v Smeltz in an intriguing Tuesday night catch-up clash at Westpac.

BLUFFER’S GUIDE

Phoenix moved within touching distance of the top six after a well-deserved win over the Mariners on Saturday.

Now in the second of a three straight home games in a week – they also host Brisbane Roar on Saturday - Wellington could move into the playoff places if they can topple the Hyundai A-League's most rampant outfit.

This fixture was deferred from Round 7 due to an earthquake in NZ and much has changed for both sides since then. For one, Phoenix is now under new management with Des Buckingham (head coach) and assistant Chris Greenacre in charge for the last six games.

Wellington Phoenix Coach Des Buckingham (left) was frustrated with his side's wastefulness in their 2-1 loss to Perth Glory.

And the duo has overseen a marked improvement, with just one defeat in six games since they took over from Ernie Merrick (and that loss was in Perth). But while Wellington has been strong over the last six matches, Victory has been nothing short of sensational.

Kevin Muscat has his side purring right now, with Friday night’s crazy thriller of a 3-2 win over the Roar their sixth on the bounce.

And they have the added incentive of knowing if they win this one and they’ll close within two points of unbeaten Sydney FC at the top of the Hyundai A-League ladder.

Victory tore Phoenix to shreds when they met earlier this season, with a Besart Berisha hat-trick helping them to a 6-1 drubbing at the end of October.

Besart Berisha.

For Phoenix, striker Roy Krishna returns from suspension to bolster their attacking options.

Can the Nix stop the Victory juggernaut and move into the top six or will the visitors march on and close the gap on league-leaders Sydney FC?

OPTA DATA

*Melbourne Victory has won five of the last seven clashes between the two sides, including a 6-1 demolition in October.

*The last clash between the two in Wellington was a 4-1 win for Victory. 

*Phoenix striker Shane Smeltz has 89 career Hyundai A-League goals, just four behind the competition’s greatest-ever scorer Berisha (93).

ROUTE TO GOAL

How good was it to see Michael McGlinchey back for the Nix on the weekend?

"Wee Mikey" has been sorely missed during his lengthy injury absence and showed just how important he is to the Phoenix side by notching the winner against the Mariners.

Michael McGlinchey's goal proved decisive as Wellington Phoenix downed Central Coast Mariners 1-0 at Westpac Stadium.

With Krishna now available again after serving his one-game ban, Wellington’s attack all of a sudden has plenty of different strings to its bow.

The guile of McGlinchey, the speed of Krishna, Barbarouses’ direct running and dribbling skill, Smeltz’s finishing and Finkler’s creativity. It means Victory’s defence will need to be on top of their game to stop the hosts.

Helping their cause will be the return of defender Alan Baro from suspension. For the first time in a few weeks, without the Spaniard's influence, Victory’s back four looked a tad vulnerable against Roar - his return is timely.

Alan Baro.

Berisha was sent off against Roar last Friday but had his red card overturned making him available for this one. And he has loved taking on Phoenix of late, scoring six goals in his last four appearances against the Kiwi side. In an interesting sub-plot, the Albanian (with 93 career goals) comes up against Smeltz (89), who is just four goals behind on the all-time scorers list.

Look for Kiwi Marco Rojas to have a big one as well. Rojas scored two and had two assists in the last meeting between the clubs and will want a big game going back to his former club.

WHO’S BEEN IN THE SPOTLIGHT THIS WEEK?

Kevin Muscat. The Victory boss has his side flying right now. Win this and they’ll be right on the tail of the unbeaten Sky Blues at the top of the ladder. Musky has 50 wins as a coach in the Hyundai A-League. Can he make 51 in windy Wellington on Tuesday night?

FORM LINES (last five games)

Phoenix: DDDLW

Victory: WWWWW

PREDICTION

Wellington Phoenix 2-2 Melbourne Victory