Gold Coast United have the wood over the Phoenix if last season's results are anything to go by.
Date: Sunday, October 9 Kick-off: 5.00pm AEDT, 4.00pm local Venue: Skilled Park
Head-to-head Played 6: Wins: Gold Coast 2, Wellington 2, Draws: 2
Previous encounter Gold Coast 2, Wellington 0, 11 December 2010
History: Gold Coast United have the wood over the Phoenix if last season's results are anything to go by. In their three meetings, United took full points in the two fixtures at Skilled Park and managed to hold on for a 3-3 draw in the other match, which was played in torrential rain at Westpac Stadium. But given how different both squads look after a marathon off-season, you can pretty much throw the formbook out for this one.
Pre-Season Form: Past five matches: Gold Coast: DWWDW Wellington: WLDLW
Massive contrast between the two sides leading into this one. Miron Bleiberg has had weeks to play around with his squad, while Ricki Herbert has only just finished putting his together. United are settled, know their system well and went through the course of the pre- season undefeated. Wellington are threadbare, thanks to both financial and medical crises, and went winless in their three friendly matches against Hyundai A-League opposition.
Match Committee: For Gold Coast, there are few real injury concerns. Michael Thwaite is returning from shoulder surgery but is expected to play, while Joel Porter (hamstring) will probably pick up where he left off last season and resume his role as a game-changing super-sub. Kristian Rees (knee) is unlikely to figure - and so too is Dutch recruit Maceo Rigters, who is sweating on the clearance of his visa to allow him to play. For the Phoenix, Lucas Pantelis has done his ACL and won't be seen this season while Mirjan Pavlovic will miss up to two months with a broken arm.
Danger men: Dylan Macallister - His first match for the tourist strip club will be against his old team, the Phoenix, who let him go at the end of last season despite scoring seven goals in 14 starts. No doubt, he'll have a point to prove. A lot is resting on Big Mac's shoulders at United but he has embraced the challenge of following in Shane Smeltz's sizable footsteps and will be ready to give the visiting Wellington defenders a nice, physical welcome to Skilled Park.
Dani Sanchez - Attacking midfielder Sanchez - a product of Spanish club Málaga CF - was actually on trial with United early in the off-season but Bleiberg instead opted to sign Peter Jungschlager. Instead of just casting the former Inverness Caledonian Thistle man aside though, Bleiberg alerted the Phoenix to his talents and the Kiwis saw enough in the 26-year-old to offer him a deal. Sanchez is diminutive and slightly built, but is incredibly gifted in terms of technique and scored two goals in Wellington's last pre-season outing - so he's in decent touch, and he'll be coming up against the same players he spent a week training with a mere two months ago.
At the end of the day… Both sides have had fairly tumultuous pre-seasons leading into their first match of the new season, but for entirely different reasons. Gold Coast braced themselves for all the bad press that they knew they would cop in the wake of their massive player exodus at the conclusion of their finals campaign in March - and then when the focus switched to season 2011/12, they released a torrent of good news. At the head of it is that Bleiberg has put together a squad of promising youth peppered with experience and guile - impressive given the circumstances. The club has embraced the underdog tag, but the question is - will it all click straight away?
Across the Tasman, and this off-season the Phoenix have been about as stable as a one-legged drunk walking through a hurricane. Terry Serepisos' empire is crumbling, forcing him to relinquish his ownership of the club he founded with his own bare hands. New investors are already at the helm, but they haven't been there long enough to make an impact. Financially, the writing was on the wall for Serepisos and Wellington months ago - but the fact he held on for so long has clearly hampered the side's preparation and recruitment.
Gone are rising star Marco Rojas, reliable fullback Troy Hearfield and highly-rated assistant coach Luciano Trani, who was headhunted by Adelaide's Rini Coolen. There have been few arrivals of note to replace them in windy Wellington, leaving Herbert the task of this week completing his squad when all of his attention should have been focused on the Gold Coast. Those injuries to Pantelis and Pavlovic only served to rub salt into those gaping wounds.
There are still a lot of unknowns about United - nobody, not even themselves, are truly sure how they'll fare this season. It would be silly to put too much importance on pre-season results, but they were surprisingly impressive in their two matches against Hyundai A-League opposition - a win over a Kewell-less Melbourne Victory and a scoreless draw away to Adelaide a week later. Wellington are a side that are notoriously tricky to beat - but given their off-field troubles and how they've impacted on-field, we expect Gold Coast United to take the points in this one.