Preview: North Queensland v Brisbane

Brisbane heads north in a bid to keep its finals ambitions alive, but has to overcome a North Queensland side rapidly making Dairy Farmers Stadium a fortress.

Date: Saturday January 23 Kick-off: 8:00pm AEST, 9:00pm AEDT Venue: Dairy Farmers Stadium TV and Radio: Live and exclusive broadcast on FOX Sports 1, 1 HD and Sky Sport 1. To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.com.au

Head-to-head 2 A-League meeting: Wins: North Queensland 0, Brisbane 1, draws 1

Previous Meeting Brisbane 2, North Queensland 0, Suncorp Stadium, Round 19, December 2009

Past five matches: North Queensland Fury: Round 19: Brisbane Roar 2, North Queensland 0, Suncorp Stadium Round 20: Newcastle Jets 3, North Queensland 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 21: North Queensland 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 22: Central Coast 1, North Queensland 1, Bluetongue Stadium Round 23: Wellington Phoenix 3, North Queensland Fury 0, Westpac Stadium

Brisbane Roar: Round 19: Brisbane Roar 2, North Queensland 0, Suncorp Stadium Round 20: Central Coast 2, Brisbane Roar 3, Bluetongue Stadium Round 21: Gold Coast United 5, Brisbane Roar 1, Skilled Park Round 22: Wellington Phoenix 3, Brisbane Roar 1, Westpac Stadium Round 23: Brisbane Roar 0, Newcastle Jets 2, Suncorp Stadium

Analysis: Brisbane heads north in a bid to keep its finals ambitions alive, but has to overcome a North Queensland side rapidly making Dairy Farmers Stadium a fortress.

Having lost three on the trot, the Roar is four points adrift of sixth-placed Perth but could be even further back after the Glory and fifth-placed Wellington face off on Friday night. As a result, with four games remaining, the Roar have to make their move for chances are running out, while North Queensland also has to get cracking to secure an unlikely finals berth as the Fury are only one point behind Brisbane in ninth.

Despite winning more games this season than previous coach Frank Farina, Ange Postecoglou has admitted his squad changes have hurt the Roar's finals chances. Gone are long-time Brisbane stalwarts in Craig Moore, Liam Reddy, Charlie Miller and most recently Bob Malcom, while Danny Tiatto hasn't featured in a number of weeks, despite not appearing in the club's unavailable list.

Postecoglou is obviously shaping the side he wants and is looking towards the future with his young players. But in a last-ditch bid to get them over the line this campaign, the coach has brought in defender Pieter Collen during January to replace Craig Moore, while former Costa Rican international Steven Bryce appears likely to make his Australian debut this weekend. Despite only training with Brisbane for the first time this week, Bryce has been included in the squad along with David Dodd and Griffin Mcmaster, who both return from injury, with Andrew Packer promoted.

Bryce doesn't believe his team-mates deserve to be where they are on the table, but the facts are, they've lost the last three, conceding 10 goals along the way. Postecoglou certainly has his work cut out shoring up the back four if the Roar are to challenge, but the coach also has to find some way to inspire fluent football as well, for the Roar looked very short of ideas against Newcastle last weekend.

Fortunately for the Roar, they're coming up against the League's great enigma, North Queensland, albeit on its own patch. After a slow start to their home games, the Fury have rapidly established Dairy Farmers Stadium as an intimidating venue for travelling sides and have three consecutive wins there to prove it, including their most recent 1-0 victory over Melbourne.

The key to these wins has been not conceding early goals. In the 2-1 win over Adelaide in Round 16, they prevented the Reds scoring until the 92nd minute while North Queensland smashed Perth in a 1-0 result that flattered the visitors and dominated Melbourne too. At its best, North Queensland can certainly match it with most teams and has beaten each of the top three. But it has also struggled to win games after conceding first. Making matters worse, the Fury have found early goals hard to come by, having only scored three of their 24 goals in the first half hour. Coach Ian Ferguson certainly hasn't been helped by a horror run with injury this term that's robbed him of almost his entire back four, but what his side's lacked in personnel it's made up for in spirit and that spirit has a habit of coming to the fore at home.

The Fury have also been bolstered for this game by some big returns. Robbie Middleby lines up in defence after missing last week's 3-0 demolition by Wellington with an illness, while David Williams could boost the forward structure, although he may need an extra week to recover from a hamstring injury. Beau Busch has also been promoted to the extended squad, while Fred Agius, Jack Hingert, Osama Malik and John Tambouras have all dropped out.

With four games remaining, questions linger over whether these sides still have the fight left to challenge the top six, or whether they're just playing out the season. One suspects any side led by Robbie Fowler will always come out full of thunder but whether the down-on-confidence young Roar side can lift over the last month following three big losses remains to be seen.

North Queensland Fury squad: 1.Paul HENDERSON (GK), 2.Robbie MIDDLEBY, 3. Chris TADROSSE, 6. Ufuk TALAY, 7.Jason SPAGNUOLO, 9.Robbie FOWLER (c), 10.Jeremy BROCKIE, 11. David WILLIAMS, 13.Beau BUSCH, 14.Chris GROSSMAN, 16. Paul KOHLER, 19. James DOWNEY 20. Justin PASFIELD (GK), 23 Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 24 Dyron DAAL, 25 Grant SMITH, 26 Matt SMITH, 27 Terry COOKE

*three to be omitted*

In: Robbie MIDDLEBY (back from illness), David WILLIAMS (back from injury) Beau BUSCH (promoted)

Out: Fred AGIUS (demoted), Jack HINGERT (not selected), Osama MALIK (not selected), John TAMBOURAS (not selected)

Unavailable: Jacob TIMPANO (hamstring 2 - 4 weeks), Scott WILSON (knee - indefinite), Shane STEFANUTTO (knee - indefinite), James ROBINSON (knee- indefinite), Karl DODD (knee - indefinite)

Brisbane Roar squad: 1. Matt HAM (gk), 2. Andrew PACKER, 3. Luke DEVERE, 4. Pieter COLLEN, 6. David DODD, 7. Michael ZULLO, 8. Massimo MURDOCCA, 9. Sergio VAN DIJK, 10. Steven BRYCE, 11. REINALDO, 14. Adam SAROTA, 15. Matt McKAY (c), 17. Mitch NICHOLS, 20. Griffin McMASTER (gk), 21. Tommy OAR, 22. Ivan FRANJIC

*one to be omitted*

In: Andrew PACKER (promoted), David DODD (returns from injury), Steven BRYCE (new signing), Griffin McMASTER (returns from injury)

Out: Matt MUNDY (omitted), Isaka CERNAK (omitted)

Unavailable: HENRIQUE (hamstring - 1-2 weeks), Josh McCLOUGHAN (hip flexor 1-2 weeks)