Preview: Melbourne Victory v North Queensland Fury
With just two rounds left in the Hyundai A-League regular season, Melbourne Victory and North Queensland Fury meet at Etihad Stadium on Friday both desperate for three points for different reasons.
Date: Friday February 5 Kick-off: 8:00pm AEST, 7:00pm AEDT Venue: Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
Head-to-head Played 2: Wins: Melbourne Victory 1, North Queensland Fury 1. Draws: 0
Previous Meeting North Queensland Fury 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Dairy Farmers Stadium, December 2009
Past five matches: Melbourne Victory: 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 Round 19: Melbourne Victory 4, Wellington Phoenix 0, Etihad Stadium Round 25: Gold Coast United 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Skilled Park
North Queensland: Round 21: North Queensland Fury 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 22: Central Coast Mariners 1, North Queensland Fury 1, Bluetongue Stadium Round 23: Wellington Phoenix 3, North Queensland Fury 0, Westpac Stadium Round 24: North Queensland Fury 1, Brisbane Roar 1, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 25: North Queensland Fury 2, Newcastle Jets 1, Dairy Farmers Stadium
Analysis: With just two rounds left in the Hyundai A-League regular season, Melbourne Victory and North Queensland Fury meet at Etihad Stadium on Friday both desperate for three points for different reasons.
North Queensland needs a win if it is to keep its faint hopes of a finals appearance alive, while Melbourne needs a win to ensure it stays on top of the table and in the best possible position to finish top two and earn the double chance at season's end.
For North Queensland, the equation is fairly simple. It needs to win its final two games and hope one of Newcastle or Wellington fails to get a point if it is to make the finals. Essentially it has to focus on its own efforts and if results fall its way than it could scrape in.
So while the majority of teams which come to Etihad Stadium take a defensive mindset to the match in order to try and sneak a point, the Fury must attack and try for all three.
The issue is the quick back-up from the initially postponed match against Newcastle. While the Fury impressed in coming from a goal down to win that match thanks to goals from Chris Grossman and Chris Tadrosse, it was a sapping match and with just three days to recover, it will be hard for North Queensland to find the energy required to defeat Melbourne.
Added to that, Dyron Daal, who behind Robbie Fowler has been the best attacking player at the club all year, misses this contest with a hamstring injury, while Ufuk Talay, another vital cog in a fully-functioning Fury outfit, is also ruled out. Jason Spagnuolo and Osama Malik have been promoted.
While Fowler's first trip to Melbourne has dominated a lot of build-up to this match, the defending champions will do well to keep a close watch on Terry Cook, who was ultra-impressive with his excellent delivery into the box against the Jets.
However, Melbourne's headaches start well before it gets to analysing the opposition. Archie Thompson, the club's talisman for the past five seasons, has a small broken bone in his foot and will miss up to four weeks. To add to those worries, Kevin Muscat, the Victory skipper, is suspended for this match, meaning coach Ernie Merrick is minus two of his most important players.
Covering Muscat's absence in terms of position is nowhere near as replacing his leadership on the field. Matthew Kemp can help out in the centre of defence, helping negate Muscat's absence, while Adrian Leijer takes the captain's armband.
However, up the other end the absence of Thompson and the likelihood that Robbie Kruse won't front up having suffered a shoulder injury last week, leaves Melbourne a little short. Without a designated back-up striker, Melbourne has signed Nik Mrdja on a short-term deal.
Merrick will also look to his attacking midfielders to provide the spark. Nathan Elasi and Matthew Foschini have been included into the squad at the expense of Muscat.
The Victory hold top spot on goal difference, but after last week's loss to Gold Coast, know another slip-up could jeopardise their chances of making the top two with Sydney just two points behind in third place.
Only six weeks ago, North Queensland was able to upset Melbourne, albeit on its home turf. The 1-0 win reversed the result from earlier in the season. The fact that a prolific team like Melbourne has only scored one goal against the Fury in 180 minutes of football this season is an indication of what an awkward opponent Ian Ferguson's side has been for Melbourne.
Melbourne Victory: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7. Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 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 (c), 25.Aziz BEHICH, 26.Marvin ANGULO *one to be omitted
In: Nathan ELASI (promoted), Matthew FOSCHINI (promoted)
Out: Kevin MUSCAT (suspended - 2 weeks)
Unavailable: Billy CELESKI (knee - season), Mate DUGANDZIC (knee - 2 weeks), Steven PACE (abdomen - indefinite), Archie THOMPSON (foot - 4 weeks)
North Queensland Fury squad: 1.Paul HENDERSON (GK), 2.Robbie MIDDLEBY, 3. Chris TADROSSE, 7.Jason SPAGNUOLO, 9.Robbie FOWLER (c), 11.David WILLIAMS, 13.Beau BUSCH, 14.Chris GROSSMAN, 16.Paul KOHLER, 17.Osama MALIK, 19.James DOWNEY 20.Justin PASFIELD (GK), 23.Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 26.Matt SMITH, 27.Terry COOKE.
In: Jason SPAGNUOLO (promoted), Osama MALIK (promoted)
Out: Dyron Daal (hamstring injury), Ufuk TALAY (not selected)
Unavailable: Jacob TIMPANO (hamstring 2 - 4 weeks), Scott WILSON (knee - indefinite), Shane STEFANUTTO (knee - indefinite), Jeremy BROCKIE (broken leg) James ROBINSON (knee- indefinite), Karl DODD (knee - indefinite).