Preview: Melbourne v Wellington
Both Melbourne and Wellington head into Tuesday's Australia Day clash at Etihad Stadium looking for a win which would secure something precious.
Date: Tuesday January 26 Kick-off: 6:00pm AEDT, 8:00pm NZDT Venue: Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
Head-to-head Played 8: Wins: Melbourne 3, Wellington 1. Draws: 3
Previous Meeting Wellington Phoenix 1, Melbourne Victory 1, Westpac Stadium, December 2009
Past five matches: Melbourne Victory: Round 20: Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney FC 0, Etihad Stadium Round 21: North Queensland Fury 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 22: Newcastle Jets 3, Melbourne Victory 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 23: Melbourne Victory 6, Perth Glory 2, Etihad Stadium Round 24: Melbourne Victory 2, Adelaide United 0, Etihad Stadium
Wellington Phoenix: Round 20: Adelaide United 1, Wellington Phoenix 1, Hindmarsh Stadium Round 21: Central Coast 0, Wellington Phoenix 2, Bluetongue Stadium 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
Analysis: Both Melbourne and Wellington head into Tuesday's Australia Day clash at Etihad Stadium looking for a win which would secure something precious.
For Melbourne, a third home victory in ten days would mean it would sit top of the table with just three matches remaining. For Wellington, it would all but secure its first appearance in the Hyundai A-League finals, putting them seven points clear of seventh spot.
It would also put the Phoenix right back into the hunt for fourth position, which it will most likely battle out with Newcastle and Perth over the next three weeks. The reason fourth spot is so coveted is that it guarantees a home final in the first week, a massive advantage for a team like the Phoenix which has not lost at Westpac Stadium since October 2008.
But such home comforts will be a long way from the mind of Ricki Herbert's men who are completing the second leg of a difficult road trip. The first was to Perth last Friday, where they were beaten 2-0 handing the advantage to their rivals for that fourth spot. While some may point to that as an example that Wellington struggles on the road, its recent record during its travels has been passable with seven points from their past five away games.
Herbert has changed the make-up of his side in recent weeks, introducing experience at either end of the park with goalkeeper Liam Reddy and striker Eugene Dadi. Reddy has been solid, while Dadi's contribution has been much welcomed despite missing a penalty against his old club last week.
The addition of the veteran striker has allowed Paul Ifill, the club's most influential player this season, to become more of a creator of chances than a finisher and that has given another dimension to a midfield that had relied heavily on the likes of Leo Bertos this season.
Given it has been just four days since their previous game, Herbert may utilise his depth and switch things around a bit, but he will choose from the same squad which travelled to Perth with Daniel, Marco Rojas and Chris Greenacre included as options.
Melbourne is backing up after a 2-0 win over Adelaide on Saturday night, its ninth straight win over its rival. After a brief blip over the Christmas-New Year period, where it lost back-to-back games for the first time this year, Melbourne is back in championship winning form.
As mentioned, a win will put Melbourne in pole position for the Premiers' Plate and history tells you that when Melbourne finds itself in this sort of position, it rarely lets the opportunity slip.
Significantly, Melbourne has not picked up any more injury issues in the past couple of weeks and two key players, Evan Berger and Matthew Kemp, return to the squad for this match.
Youngsters Nathan Elasi and Diogo Ferreira have also been added to an extended squad but are unlikely to play given Ernie Merrick has said he will look to his experienced players over the next few weeks. Marvin Angulo is set to start for just the second time.
These two teams have played out two draws already this season, with a ten-man Melbourne scraping through with a 1-1 draw in their most recent clash in Wellington after Rody Vargas bobbed up with an 87th-minute equaliser.
Herbert certainly knows how to make things hard for Melbourne in terms of congesting the midfield and preventing them playing their usual flowing game. But in the current form the Victory are in, it is hard to see Wellington's defence holding out for 90 minutes.
Melbourne Victory: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7. Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 19. Evan BERGER, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 22.Nick WARD, 23.Adrian LEIJER, 25.Aziz BEHICH, 26.Marvin ANGULO, 28. Diogo FERREIRA *Four to be omitted
In: Evan BERGER (return from injury), Nathan ELASI (promoted), Matthew KEMP (return from injury), Diogo FERREIRA (promoted from NYL) Out: Nil
Unavailable: Billy CELESKI (knee, season), Mate DUGANDZIC (calf, 1 week), Steven PACE (abdomen, indefinite), Surat SUKHA (hamstring, 1 week)
Wellington Phoenix squad: 2. Manny MUSCAT, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. DIEGO, 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), 23. Costa BARBAROUSES, 40. Liam REDDY (gk)
*two to be omitted*
In: Chris GREENACRE (return from injury), Marco ROJAS (promoted), DANIEL (promoted) DIEGO (promoted)
Out: Tony LOCHHEAD (groin - 2 weeks)
Unavailable: Mark PASTON (gk) (leg - season)