Preview: Gold Coast United v Wellington Phoenix

The Phoenix haven't beaten Gold Coast United for a season and a half, but they certainly came close last time they locked horns.

Gold Coast United v Wellington Phoenix Date: Sunday 15 January, 2012 Kick-off: 6.30pm AEDT, 5.30pm local Venue: Skilled Park

Head-to-head Played: 7 Wins: Gold Coast 2, Wellington 2, Draws: 3

Previous encounter Gold Coast 1, Wellington 1, 9 October 2011

History: The Phoenix haven't beaten Gold Coast United for a season and a half, but they certainly came close last time they locked horns.

It was Round 1 at Skilled Park and an early Chris Greenacre goal gave the visitors a lead they held onto for most of the match. Despite Gold Coast peppering the goal all afternoon, it looked as if Wellington were going to snatch a rare away win and kick off their season with a bang. That is, until the dying embers, when young gun James Brown popped up with a glorious late equalizer that salvaged United a point, and set himself on course for a breakout season in the Hyundai A-League.

Form: Past five matches: Gold Coast: WWDLD Wellington: LWLWL

Summary of form: Both these sides were tipped at the start of the season to finish down at the lower end of the ladder, but both have been playing relatively well of late.

While Gold Coast are bottom of the ladder, they've only lost once in their past six outings and have conceded a total of just four goals during that period. Three of them came against Newcastle on Big Wednesday, when the club says tiredness became a factor. United had to settle for a 1-1 draw against the Heart on the weekend, but they should have won easily - and finishing teams off has been their primary problem this term.

Wellington, on the other hand, weren't at their best in their last match. Deep in injury time against Perth, Josh Mitchell found the back of the net with a header that gave the Glory a smash-and-grab 1-0 win.

The game was in Wellington, and the Phoenix are rarely made to look second-rate at home, particularly by a team from halfway across the world in Perth - so perhaps it was an anomaly. But the fact is their formbook at the minute shows a team who are quite unpredictable, in a bad way.

Match Committee: Aside from long-term casualties Glen Moss (adductor), Chris Broadfoot (ankle) and Joel Porter (calf), United will take in a full-strength side with Dylan Macallister set to return from a hamstring injury. Wellington have no major injury concerns, with Paul Ifill expected to start having come off the bench in the last few weeks in his return to the squad.

Danger men:

Dylan Macallister - When Macallister makes his return to United's line-up - whether off the bench or as a starter - the side will take on a new dimension in attack.

In the tall marksman's absence, Gold Coast have previously relied on pace to do the business when counter-attacking. Now, with Big Mac back, they've got a towering, physical target man who can take the heat off their younger brigade and give the Phoenix defence a taste of their own medicine. The more options the better for Miron Bleiberg, really, and Macallister gives him another avenue to goal.

Alex Smith - If anyone has a point to prove, it's Alex Smith.

Unceremoniously axed by Gold Coast on the eve of the new season despite a one-year deal, the American was lucky to find a new home in New Zealand and has caught the eye a number of times. He broke through for his first goal a few weeks ago with a stunning finish, but he's yet to cement his spot in Ricki Herbert's starting XI.

Surely the Phoenix boss will give him the chance this week, when Smith returns to the ground he was supposed to be calling home, against a side who just a few months ago were his team-mates. No doubt he'll be keen to show United what they missed out on.

At the end of the day…

With that crazy holiday schedule now behind us, Gold Coast and Wellington find themselves with an opportunity to steady this ship and consolidate this weekend. They've both proven to be difficult teams to beat this season, despite what their respective ladder positions suggest.

United have been at pains to tell anyone who will listen that they don't deserve to sit in last spot, and it's hard to disagree. But the time to act is now. The Phoenix will travel to the Glitter Strip, which will put weariness in their legs, but they will come alert that improvement is needed after their loss to Perth.

Gold Coast's great worry is how on earth they're going to find the back of the net. For all their dominance against the Heart, they could only do it once. While the woodwork and Clint Bolton kept them at bay, they can't keep using the same excuses. Crunch time is now, three points is a requirement - they're capable, but so too are the Phoenix. We fancy Gold Coast to get it done at home, but it'll be close.


Gold Coast United squad: 20.Jerrad Tyson [gk], 3.Michael Thwaite (c), 5.Kristian Rees, 6.Paul Beekmans, 7.Golgol Mebrahtu, 12.Dylan Macallister, 13.Ante Rozic, 14.Ben Halloran, 15.Adama Traore, 16.Maceo Rigters, 17.Chris Harold, 18.James Brown, 21.Daniel Severino, 22.Peter Jungschlager, 23.Dylan McGowan, 24.Jonas Salley, 28.Daniel Bowles, 29.Mitch Bevan, 40.Chris O-Connor [gk] *four to be omitted*

In: 12.Dylan Macallister (return from hamstring injury), 21.Daniel Severino, 29.Mitch Bevan, 28.Daniel Bowles (all promoted) Out: Nil Unavailable: 1.Glen Moss (groin injury - 7 weeks), 9.Joel Porter (calf - 4 weeks), 19.Chris Broadfoot (ankle injury - indefinite)

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark Paston (GK), 2. Manny Muscat, 3. Tony Lochhead, 6. Tim Brown, 7. Leo Bertos, 8. Paul Ifill, 9. Chris Greenacre, 11. Daniel, 12.Nicky Ward, 13. Niko Tsattalios, 15.Cameron Lindsay, 17. Vince Lia, 18. Ben Sigmund, 19.Jimmy Downey, 20. Tony Warner (GK), 21. Dani Sanchez, 22. Andrew Durante (c), 24. Alex Smith *three to be omitted*

In: 12.Nicky Ward, 19.Jimmy Downey, 15.Cameron Lindsay (both promoted) Out: 14. Mirjan Pavlovic (knee - 1-2 weeks) Unavailable: Lucas Pantelis (knee injury - indefinite)