The Wanderers may be on the best run of form of any team this season but this clash looms as their toughest challenge yet.
Date: Saturday, February 16, 2013 Kick-off: 7.45pm AEDT Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Head-to-head: Played: 2 - Wins: Victory 1, Wanderers 1
Previous encounter: Wanderers 2-1 Victory, January 1, 2013
Form: Past five matches: Victory: DWWWL Wanderers: WWWWW
The Game The finals have come early in this clash between two sides with genuine designs on finishing with the Premiers Plate. While the Mariners have a nice four-point buffer from Western Sydney at the moment, the Victory are only two points further back in third and will come right back into contention with a win here.
The Victory were leapfrogged by Tony Popovic's side last weekend as a result of their hard-fought 1-0 loss to Adelaide. It wasn't just the defeat that hurt Ange Postecoglou, with Archie Thompson picking up a hamstring injury while left-back Adama Traore was harshly sent off and will serve a one-game ban.
There was some good news for the club with former Adelaide defender Daniel Mullen linking with the Victory for the rest of the season. It's been nothing but blue skies for the Wanderers though, with last weekend's 2-1 over Newcastle their fifth on the trot.
They should also be boosted this week by the return of skipper Michael Beauchamp from injury. Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic returns to Melbourne for the first time since he was dumped by Victory at the end of last season. The clubs have met twice already this season, with one win apiece including a 2-1 Wanderers victory on New Year's Day.
The Big Issue Melbourne: Victory are regarded one of the best teams to watch in the league but their attacking depth has been significantly doused due to injury. Already without Brazilian playmaker Gui Finkler for the rest of the season with a knee problem, they have now lost Thompson leaving much of the goal-scoring burden to fall on Marco Rojas.
Even considering the sublime form the "Kiwi Messi" has been in this season, it could be a hard task against the miserly Wanderers defence. Victory will need the likes of Marcos Flores and Andrew Nabbout to step-up and help Rojas out if they are to win this one.
Wanderers: While Western Sydney have known for a few weeks now they were going to play finals football, their sensational winning run all of a sudden has them within touching distance of top spot. But with a four-point gap between themselves and first-placed Central Coast they can ill-afford any slip-ups on the run home.
The Wanderers squad have thrived on proving people wrong all season but the pressure of fighting for a title is something totally different. There's no doubt their form on the field is strong, but it could be how they perform between the ears over the next few weeks which will decide how good their debut season finishes up.
The Gamebreaker Mark Bridge: It says a lot about the form of Bridge that even though he has scored in two A-League grand finals and won two championships, this is easily the best season of his career.
The 27-year-old is the Wanderers leading scorer with eight goals and along with Shinji Ono and Youssouf Hersi is forming a potent attacking force for the competition new-comers. Bridge, who has sworn off alcohol this season, is the fittest he has ever-been and the Victory will need to starve him of goal-scoring chances if they are to come out on top in this one.
Prediction: Victory 1-1 Wanderers The Wanderers may be on the best run of form of any team this season but this clash, the club's first-ever in Melbourne, looms as their toughest challenge yet.
Victory haven't lost on their home patch since the opening round of the season and they always seem to find something extra with their vocal support behind them. But the Wanderers have shown they are made of stern stuff, particularly at the back and that might be enough to ensure they escape Melbourne with a point.