Preview: Gold Coast United v Wellington Phoenix
Two likely Hyundai A-League finalists meet at Skilled Park on Sunday in a match that not only gives us an early taste of finals action, but could seriously shape the respective championship prospects of both of these teams.
Date: Sunday February 7 Kick-off: 6:00pm AEDT, 7:00pm AEST Venue: Skilled Park, Robina
Head-to-head Played 2: Wins: Gold Coast United 0. Wellington Phoenix 1, Draws: 1
Previous Meeting Wellington Phoenix 6, Gold Coast United 0, October 2009
Past five matches: Gold Coast: Round 22: Gold Coast United 1, Adelaide United 1, Skilled Park Round 19: Gold Coast United 2, Newcastle Jets 0, Skilled Park Round 23: Sydney FC 0, Gold Coast United 1, Sydney Football Stadium Round 24: Central Coast Mariners 1, Gold Coast United 1, Skilled Park Round 25: Gold Coast United 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Skilled Park
Wellington Phoenix: Round 22: Wellington Phoenix 3, Brisbane Roar 1, Westpac Stadium Round 23: Wellington Phoenix 3, North Queensland Fury 0, Westpac Stadium Round 24: Perth Glory 2, Wellington Phoenix 0, ME Bank Stadium Round 19: Melbourne Victory 4, Wellington Phoenix 0, Etihad Stadium Round 25: Wellington Phoenix 1, Adelaide Reds 0, AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Analysis: Two likely Hyundai A-League finalists meet at Skilled Park on Sunday in a match that not only gives us an early taste of finals action, but could seriously shape the respective championship prospects of both of these teams.
Gold Coast is in a dogfight with both Melbourne and Sydney for the Premiers' Plate and currently sits second on goal difference behind Melbourne with two matches remaining. Sydney looms just two points further back, threatening to spoil United's hopes of finishing top two at season's end.
A top two spot is vital in terms of a team's prospects of making it through to the Grand Final, with a double chance for those teams, while third must go through a serious of one off elimination finals.
Gold Coast finishes off its campaign with an away trip to Townsville so a win against Wellington this weekend will be a huge boost in United's hopes of finishing top two. However, given the way the Phoenix demolished them when they last met in November, there is no danger of Gold Coast approaching the match with over-confidence, despite a sensational 1-0 win over Melbourne last week.
Gold Coast's form is the best in the league at the moment. Unbeaten in seven, including five wins, Miron Bleiberg's men are peaking at the right time of year. Their challenge for the title has been built on an imposing home record which reads six wins and a draw from their past seven matches at Skilled Park.
Steve Pantelidis is the only player missing from that impressive win over Melbourne last week, while Bleiberg has kept his options open by including James Brown, Andrew Barisic, Matt Osman and Steve Fitzsimmons in an extended squad.
Wellington's target is to first of all secure a finals place, which seems very likely, but more importantly take fourth spot which would see the Phoenix host their first-ever final. Given they have not lost at Westpac Stadium since 2008, it would be a massive boost to their chances if they could do that, but a win against Gold Coast this weekend is a must.
Ricki Herbert's side bounced back to form last week, eking out a 1-0 win over Adelaide thanks to an early goal from Jon McKain. It was a much-needed boost after back to-back away losses in the previous week.
The Phoenix would have appreciated an eight-day break heading into this match and Herbert can take close to the same squad into this match. The only change sees Vince Lia come back in for an omitted Diego.
Given Gold Coast's strong home record and the fact the Phoenix have managed just two wins on the road all season, you would think United would have the edge. But the manner in which Wellington took Gold Coast apart in that 6-0 win at Westpac Stadium sticks in the mind. Bleiberg has admitted in the build-up to this game that that result has entered his thoughts.
It will be a measure of the maturation of the Gold Coast team over the past two months if it is able to put that behind it and turn things around in this vital match.
Gold Coast United Squad: 1.Jess VANSTRATTAN (gk), 3.Michael THWAITE, 5.ROBSON, 7.Zenon CARAVELLA, 8.ANDERSON, 9.Shane SMELTZ, 10.Jason CULINA (c), 11.Charlie MILLER, 13.Bas VAN DEN BRINK, 14.Joel PORTER, 15.Tahj MINNIECON, 16.Kristian REES, 17.Matt OSMAN, 18.James BROWN, 19.Andrew BARISIC, 20.Scott HIGGINS (gk), 23.Steve FITZSIMMONS, 36.Dino DJULBIC *three to be omitted
In: James BROWN (promoted), Andrew BARISIC (promoted), Matt OSMAN (promoted), Steve FITZSIMMONS (promoted).
Out: Steve PANTELIDIS (suspended - 5 games).
Unavailable: Adama TRAORE (ankle injury - 2 weeks), Daniel PIORKOWSKI (ankle injury - indefinite).
Wellington Phoenix squad: 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Adrian CACERES, 15. Eugene DADI, 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (c), 40. Liam REDDY (gk) *one to be omitted
In: Vince LIA (return from suspension)
Out: DIEGO (omitted)
Unavailable: Mark PASTON (gk) (leg - season)