Preview: North Queensland Fury v Melbourne Victory
You would expect a much-improved performance from the Fury this week, but the task of taking on a Melbourne side desperate for points is no easier than the previous two it has attempted.
Date: Saturday August 22 Kick-off: 5:00pm AEST Venue: Dairy Farmers Stadium TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 3. To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.com.au
Head-to-head No previous meeting
Season so far: North Queensland: Round 1: North Queensland 2, Sydney FC 3, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 2: Gold Coast United 5, North Queensland 0, Skilled Park
Melbourne Victory: Round 1: Melbourne Victory 0, Central Coast Mariners 2, Etihad Stadium Round 2: Melbourne Victory 3, Brisbane Roar 3, Etihad Stadium
Analysis: The pressure of being a new club is right on North Queensland at the moment after a promising opening round turned into a disaster in Round 2 with a 5-0 loss to fellow newbie Gold Coast last week.
If Ian Ferguson's men needed a reminder of the challenge they face this year then it came in the form of a rampant Gold Coast team, led by Shane Smeltz, who scored four goals. The Fury defence simply had no answer to the Kiwi striker, while up the other end of the field nothing seemed to be working, leading to a frustrating night for marquee man Robbie Fowler.
Ferguson has reacted by making four changes to his squad, with the good news being that experienced midfielder Ufuk Talay is in for his first game. Talay's experience and strength will be vital in the middle of the park and hopefully prevent a repeat of the sort of result that happened last week.
Dutch striker Dyron Daal returns after a week out, while Chris Tadrosse and James Robinson are both back in. Making way are Beau Busch, Jack Hingert and Kojiro Kaimoto, all defenders. Jason Spagnuolo is out for another two weeks with a hamstring injury in a huge blow, while Osama Malik will miss only another one.
Scott Wilson (foot), Jacob Timpano (hamstring) and Jeremy Brockie (quad) are all out for at least another month as the Fury medical staff work overtime to get their best team on the field.
There is also a fair amount of pressure on at Melbourne at the moment after two home games and just one point to show for them. That point came via a stirring comeback against Brisbane. Trailing 2-0, then 3-1, Carlos Hernandez rescued the Victory with two superb goals of his own while he set up Danny Allsopp for the other.
Perhaps that will be the turning point for the defending champions, who have been very sluggish early in the year. The long-term injury to Kevin Muscat hasn't helped and the skipper is still another 3-5 weeks away. However, Melbourne has made the significant signing of championship-winning defender Adrian Leijer, while Steven Pace and Matthew Foschini have been included in an extended squad with Melbourne looking to sort out a defence which has leaked five goals in two games.
Matthew Kemp's participation could hinge on whether his wife gives birth this weekend, while Ernie Merrick has some decisions to make on how he sorts out his back four, especially with Leijer now into the mix. Pace or Leijer could come in to the centre of defence, with Kemp back out on the right, or Kemp could maintain his spot in the middle with Surat Sukha and Nick Ward a chance to line up on the right.
That side of the park was of particular concern against Brisbane and Fury could use David Williams to expose similar flaws to those opened up by Henrique last week.
Up front, Archie Thompson will be desperate to find some goal-scoring form after going to first two matches with nothing to show, but Hernandez will be key if he can repeat his form from last week.
But perhaps the most important change for Melbourne this week will see Billy Celeski play 90 minutes in the middle of the park, lending some stability and strength at the back end of midfield.
You would expect a much-improved performance from the Fury this week, but the task of taking on a defending champion desperate for points is no easier than the previous two it has attempted. The challenge longer-term is to turn Dairy Farmers into a fortress, and the home side have to see this as an opportunity to get a significant early scalp, rather than having to endure another tough early-season fixture.
North Queensland Fury line-up: 1. Paul HENDERSON (gk), 2. Robbie MIDDLEBY, 3. Chris TADROSSE, 6. Ufuk TALAY, 8. Shane STEFANUTTO, 9. Robbie FOWLER (c), 11. David WILLIAMS, 16.Paul KOHLER, 18. James ROBINSON, 19. Daniel MCBREEN, 20. Justin PASFIELD (gk), 21. John TAMBOURAS, 22. Karl DODD, 23. Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 24. Dyron DAAL
In: Chris TADROSSE, Ufuk TALAY, James ROBINSON, Dyron DAAL
Out: Beau BUSCH, Jack HINGERT, Kojiro KAIMOTO
Unavailable: Scott WILSON (foot - 6 weeks), Jacob TIMPANO (hamstring - 6 weeks), Jeremy BROCKIE (quadriceps - 4 weeks), Osama MALIK (thigh - 1 week), Jason SPAGNUOLO, (hamstring - 2 weeks)
Melbourne Victory: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 4.Steven PACE, 5.Surat SUKHA, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7.Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 9.Danny ALLSOPP, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.NEY FABIANO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS (c), 14.Billy CELESKI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 19.Evan BERGER, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 22.Nick WARD *two to be omitted*
In: Steven PACE (promoted), Matthew FOSCHINI (promoted) Out: Nil
Unavailable: Kevin MUSCAT (hamstring - 3-5 weeks)