Preview: Gold Coast v North Queensland
Gold Coast faces one of the toughest challenges in its history as Miron Bleiberg tries picking up the pieces from last week's Wellington whitewash.
Date: Saturday October 31 Kick-off: 8:00pm AEST, 9:00pm ADST Venue: Skilled Park, Robina TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 1 and Sky Sports 3. To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.com.au
Head-to-head Played 1: Wins: Gold Coast 1, North Queensland 0. Draws 0
Previous meeting Gold Coast United 5, North Queensland Fury 0, Skilled Park, Round 2, October 2009
Past five matches: Gold Coast United: Round 8: Gold Coast United 2, Melbourne Victory 3, Skilled Park Round 9: Gold Coast United 0, Wellington Phoenix 0, Skilled Park Round 10: Brisbane 0, Gold Coast United 1, Suncorp Stadium Round 11: Gold Coast United 2, Perth Glory 1, Skilled Park Round 12: Wellington Phoenix 6, Gold Coast United 0, Westpac Stadium
North Queensland: Round 8: North Queensland 0, Adelaide United 2, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 9: Perth Glory 1, North Queensland 1, ME Bank Stadium Round 10: Central Coast 1, North Queensland 1, Bluetongue Stadium Round 11: North Queensland 1, Wellington Phoenix 1, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 12: North Queensland Fury 2, Perth Glory 1, Dairy Farmer's Stadium
Analysis: Gold Coast faces one of the toughest challenges in its history as Miron Bleiberg tries picking up the pieces from last week's Wellington whitewash. But it doesn't get any easier as the Fury arrive with some good form under their belts and, one imagines, a grim determination to atone for their own capitulation to United in Round 2.
Indeed, 11 weeks ago it was hard to see North Queensland challenging United. The 5-0 drubbing, which included four goals from Shane Smeltz, established United as the side to beat this season, while the Fury were regarded as an inferior team struggling to gel on the park. However the last two months have demonstrated most pundits may have over-estimated United while under-rating not only the quality, but the fighting spirit of the boys from Townsville.
In the last eight matches North Queensland has lost only once and even in that defeat to Adelaide, should have claimed at least a draw as Eugene Galekovic played a blinder. During this eight-match period, the Fury have claimed 11 points, the same amount as United. They may have only won twice in comparison to the Gold Coast's three victories, but the one loss demonstrates just how hard Robbie Fowler's mob are to beat, even after conceding early goals.
North Queensland is also coming off a confidence-boosting 2-1 win over Perth, while Miron Bleiberg will still be poring over tapes from last weekend's 6-0 thrashing, wondering how his defence capitulated so easily, conceding four goals in 11 minutes of mayhem during the second half.
Bleiberg hasn't rushed into dropping players. Instead, the only two omissions from United's team so far are injured centre-half Kristian Rees and goalkeeper Jess Vanstratten. Brazilian midfielder Jefferson has been brought in to make his first appearance for the club after seriously injuring his knee last June. He's joined in the side by compatriot Milson and the promoted James Brown, Golgol Mebrahtu and goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson in an extended squad. Rees' absence is a big blow to United's defence as his departure in the 24th minute last week preceded all the goals being scored. His understanding with Michael Thwaite and Bas van den Brink has underscored much of United's success and he'll be missed.
The Fury have also lost a significant player in the unfortunate Ufuk Talay, who can't seem to string consecutive games together. Talay's absence presents Ian Ferguson with a significant issue as the player best suited to replace him in Rostyn Griffiths is also proving one of his most capable defenders at present. But in a season blighted by injuries, Ferguson is proving adept at switching his charges around. His first choice back four may be absent with long-term issues but a makeshift defence featuring midfielders Griffiths and Chris Grossman look to be growing in confidence and it would be surprising if Ferguson changed this as he tries to contain Smeltz and Joel Porter. The coach will be delighted not to see injured United defender Adama Traore at left back, however, as the young Ivorian blitzed the Fury last time, creating three goals with his pace and attacking guile.
For all North Queensland's qualities, it's still only won twice and hasn't put any side away. It's still in last position on an increasingly congested table, while Gold Coast is third. United will want to restore some pride after last week's mauling and the mark of a good team is how it responds to setbacks. But the Fury have a big score to settle and with so much pride on the line, table positions will mean little come Saturday evening.
Gold Coast United Squad: 20. Scott HIGGINS [gk], 2. Steve PANTELIDIS, 3. Michael THWAITE, 5. ROBSON, 7. Zenon CARAVELLA, 8. JEFFERSON, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Jason CULINA (c), 11. MILSON, 13. Bas VAN DEN BRINK, 14. Joel PORTER, 15. Tahj MINNIECON, 17. Matt OSMAN, 18. James BROWN, 23. Steve FITZSIMMONS, 24. ANDERSON, 26. Golgol MEBRAHTU, 30. Jerrad TYSON [gk].
*three to be omitted*
In: 8.JEFFERSON (return from injury), 11.MILSON (promoted), 18.James BROWN (promoted), 26.Golgol MEBRAHTU (promoted), 30.Jerrad TYSON [gk] (promoted).
Out: 16.Kristian REES (hip injury - 2 weeks), 1.Jess VANSTRATTAN [gk] (back injury - 2 weeks).
Unavailable: 4.Daniel PIORKOWSKI (ankle injury - 5 weeks), 21.Richard GREER (groin injury - 3 weeks), 22.Adama TRAORE (knee injury - 6 weeks)
North Queensland Fury squad: 1. Paul HENDERSON (GK), 3. Chris TADROSSE, 7. Jason SPAGNUOLO, 9. Robbie FOWLER (c), 10. Jeremy BROCKIE, 11. David WILLIAMS, 14. Chris GROSSMAN, 16. Paul KOHLER, 17. Osama MALIK 18. James ROBINSON, 19. Daniel MCBREEN, 20. Justin PASFIELD, (RGK), 21. John TAMBOURAS, 24. Dyron DAAL. 23. Rostyn GRIFFITHS
Out: Ufuk TALAY (injured), Jack Hingert (not selected), Fred Agius (not selected), Beau Busch (not selected)
Unavailable: Jacob Timpano (hamstring - indefinite), Karl DODD (Knee -5 weeks), Shane STEFANUTTO (knee - indefinite), Scott WILSON (knee - indefinite)