If Melbourne Victory aren't careful, they could easily be shown up by the teenage upstarts of Gold Coast United.
Date: Saturday 25 February, 2012 Kick-off: 7.45pm AEDT, 6.45pm local Venue: Skilled Park
Head-to-head Played: 9 Wins: Gold Coast 3, Victory 5, Draws: 1
Previous encounter Gold Coast 1, Melbourne Victory 1, 1 February 2012
History: It's been a while since Victory ventured up into the Sunshine State to take on Gold Coast, but the last time they did was memorable. At the start of last season's finals series, United hosted the Hyundai A-League heavyweights in a cut-throat battle - and it was Melbourne who were sent packing. A header from defender Dino Djulbic right at the end of injury time handed the Coast their first ever finals win, and they went on to fall just one match short of the big dance. But times have changed. Djulbic is in China, United are at the bottom of the ladder and Victory are a different proposition. The Victorians beat them once early in the season, and would have done so again earlier in the month were it not for another late goal, this time from Michael Thwaite.
Form: Past five matches: Gold Coast: DLLLD Victory: DDDWL
Summary of form: United haven't won a game since Boxing Day last year - there's no escaping the fact that their recent results have left much to be desired. But in their last outing, they were moral victors. A brave 3-3 draw with ladder leaders Central Coast answered any questions about the commitment and temperament of the Gold Coast dressing room. With so many injuries, they've been forced to field an abnormal amount of youth players and as always, that means inconsistency. But against the Mariners, and to a lesser extent against the Heart last Friday, they showed how dangerous they can be if everything clicks into gear.
Speaking of inconsistency, that's an issue Melbourne Victory have struggled to deal with all season. With just one win in their last five matches, their record reflects an unsettled side that is going through changes under Jim Magilton. There are two new defenders, Mark Milligan and Ubay Luzardo - when any club introduces fresh faces in such an important area of the pitch, there are bound to be hiccups. But in between those hiccups have been flashes of Victory's best, like in their 2-1 win at home to the Mariners or in parts of their 3-2 loss in Brisbane.
Match Committee: Mitch Cooper and Golgol Mebrahtu both came off with niggling injuries against the Mariners, but both are expected to line up for Gold Coast this Saturday night. There won't be many other changes - James Brown (ankle), Ante Rozic (hamstring) and Peter Jungschlager (hip) are still a few days off recovering from their injuries. Of course, Joel Porter (calf), Dylan Macallister (hamstring) and Glen Moss (adductor) are long-term propositions.
For Victory, Australian under-23 trio Diogo Ferreira, Matthew Foschini and Isaka Cernak are en route to Australia and will be hoping the pilot on their plane puts his foot down, so they can get to the Gold Coast in time to take part in this one. Grant Brebner is still carrying an injury, however.
Danger men: Ben Halloran - Watch this kid while you still can, because there's no doubt he has the potential to reach great heights in Europe. It's only a matter of time until the big clubs come knocking for Benny Halloran, and after his incredible goal against the Mariners, they'll soon be on red alert. His trademark pace was working to full effect as he burned four Central Coast defenders in his run from the halfway line, but most impressive was the way that he held his nerve with the finish. Other young players might blaze similar shots high or wide, but Halloran made his count.
Carlos Hernandez - The Costa Rica international had a day out against Gold Coast earlier in the season, but in recent weeks he's found himself on the wrong side of Jim Magilton. The Northern Irishman dished out some tough love to 'El Zorro', and it worked. He was brilliant in their win over Central Coast, and always presents a threat - no matter what vague off-field matters are complicating his spell at Victory. Youngsters of the Gold Coast, be cautious.
At the end of the day… If Melbourne Victory aren't careful, they could easily be shown up by the teenage upstarts of Gold Coast United. Few expected them to provide a challenge when faced with the Mariners on Wednesday night, and yet they came ever so close to what would have been the upset of the season. There's been plenty of turmoil at the club in recent days, and it's all been well documented. And it would only have led some fans to believe that the dressing room would have been quite distracted as a result. But clearly, after brave draws with Melbourne Heart and Central Coast, the side has proven they're hardly bothered by what's been going on off the field. If Victory show up and expect a stroll in the park, they'll be set for a shock. Even if they get an early goal, like the Mariners did, it still won't be enough for United to roll over. There are no certainties in football, and especially not in an even league like ours. Of course, Gold Coast will field another inexperienced side, and inconsistency is part and parcel of turning youth players into A-League stalwarts. And they're probably pretty tired - this will be their third match in just over a week. But it wouldn't be fair to them to write them off completely, given their gallantry. Perhaps a draw is the most likely outcome.