Preview: Perth Glory v Gold Coast United
This clash is certainly promising something special, but at the same time there's a nagging feeling that the quality of both defences could lead to more of a tense struggle, rather than a shoot-out.
Date: Sunday September 13 Kick-off: 3:00pm AWST, 5:00pm AEST Venue: ME Bank Stadium TV and Radio:
Head-to-head 1 Pre-season meeting: Perth Glory 0, Gold Coast United 1, Hyundai Stadium, Mandurah
Season so far: Perth Glory: Round 1: Adelaide United 1, Perth Glory 0, Hindmarsh Stadium Round 2: Wellington Phoenix 2, Perth Glory 1, Westpac Stadium Round 3: Perth Glory 2, Newcastle Jets 0, ME Bank Stadium Round 4: Perth Glory 2, Melbourne Victory 1, ME Bank Stadium Round 5: Central Coast Mariners 2, Perth Glory 1, Canberra Stadium
Gold Coast United: Round 1: Brisbane Roar 1, Gold Coast United 3, Suncorp Stadium Round 2: Gold Coast United 5, North Queensland 0, Skilled Park Round 3: Adelaide United 0, Gold Coast United 2, Hindmarsh Stadium Round 4: Newcastle Jets 1, Gold Coast United 0, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 5: Gold Coast United 2, Sydney FC 1, Skilled Park
Analysis: Before the season began, anticipation was brewing for this match in Perth and why not, for this is shaping as a fantastic clash between teams with big ambitions this season. Billed as the Iron Ore Cup in honour of mining magnates Clive Palmer and Tony Sage, who own United and Perth respectively, there's no end of bragging rights for the winner. But away from the boardrooms, it's also the first time we'll see Qantas Socceroo Jason Culina and his men take on his Australian international team-mates Jacob Burns, Mile Sterjovski and Chris Coyne, while there's also a bloke named Smeltz flying in like a rock star from Jordan having scored eight goals in five matches this season.
This clash is certainly promising something special, but at the same time there's a nagging feeling that the quality of both defences could lead to more of a tense struggle, rather than a shoot-out. This time last season the Glory's defence had conceded 12 goals and was well on the way to the worst goal difference in the competition. But with Andy Todd and Chris Coyne teaming up at centre half, it's only dropped six during this campaign, with one of those a Leo Bertos howitzer from 35 metres and another being an uncharacteristic error from goalkeeper Tando Velpahi last weekend in a 2-1 loss to Central Coast in Canberra.
More than anything, last week's clash with the Mariners will be all the ammunition Perth needs for a huge game. In an odd encounter, the Glory were fortunate to receive the penalty that enabled Sterjovski to equalise, after Alex Wilkinson's 42nd-minute opener. But at the same time, luck was running against the Perth boys too as they hit the bar twice before Velaphi's mistake allowed Matt Simon to score a late winner. If training's anything to go by, a vocal and cantankerous Velaphi appears determined to make amends while the squad has looked very sharp, even when taken through a gut-busting session last Monday that assistant coach Kenny Lowe apparently borrowed from Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho's text book.
Two players who've struggled to train this week, though, are Dutch left midfielder Victor Sikora, who's taken a knock to his knee, and the ill Scott Neville. Neville is out of the side and will presumably be replaced at right back by former Glory captain Jamie Coyne, who's recovered from a knee injury. Another incoming player is veteran Jamie Harnwell, who returns from a two-month absence with a serious hamstring injury. Harnwell looked in brilliant touch during the pre-season before his injury and would appear likely to replace Matthew Mayora as the club's back-up striker off the bench, therefore forcing the unfortunate Eugene Dadi out of the squad.
The Gold Coast, meanwhile, has also had a tough week, despite returning to the top of the Hyundai A-League table through an impressive 2-1 win over Sydney. Making that result even better, was the fact it was achieved without skipper and key playmaker Culina, who was in Seoul on national duties, while the under-rated Joel Porter was also forced off the park in the 20th minute with a calf injury. However, two goals from Smeltz got United over the line against the previously unbeaten Sydneysiders, although there were a few tense moments towards the death.
Culina's return for this week's clash is a major boost, with the skipper joined by Steve Fitzsimmons and Daniel Piorkowski, who've both been promoted. But United will still miss Porter's influence, as he's created several goals this season, while Matt Osman is out as well after suffering a hip flexor strain. United coach Miron Bleiberg has already indicated Brazilian Milson will take on Porter's role in the side and the coach must be confident his charges can adapt to structural changes, particularly as they did so with such ease against the Sky Blues last weekend. Bleiberg also hasn't had to make any changes to his settled defence, which has conceded just three goals this season, although he may be somewhat concerned with Smeltz's readiness for the match as the New Zealand international played a friendly against Jordan on Thursday morning in the Middle East before flying directly to Perth for this game. That being said, the striker still scored twice for the All Whites, ensuring the 10-men New Zealanders won 3-1, taking his personal tally to 10 goals for club and country in six games.
Perth hasn't been a happy hunting ground for Smeltz, though, as he didn't score for Wellington at ME Bank Stadium last season. The Glory also boast a very impressive home record, having dropped just two matches from the last 12. But Perth still hasn't looked the finished article moving forward, and its failure to score goals at crucial times has let several teams back into the contest. The Glory certainly won't be able to give United a sniff, but as Newcastle showed, the new boys aren't quite supermen just yet.
Perth Glory Squad: 1.Tando VELAPHI (gk), 3.Jamie COYNE, 4.Andy TODD, 5.Jamie HARNWELL, 6.Chris COYNE, 7.Jacob BURNS (c), 8.Victor SIKORA, 10.Wayne SRHOJ, 11.Branko JELIC, 14.Eugene DADI, 16.Adriano PELLEGRINO, 17.Todd HOWARTH, 19.Naum SEKULOVSKI, 20.Aleks VRTESKI (gk), 21.Mile STERJOVSKI, 24.Matthew MAYORA, 25.AMARAL
* two to be omitted*
In: Jamie COYNE (return from injury), Jamie HARNWELL (return from injury), Eugene DADI (promoted)
Out: Scott NEVILLE (virus - 1 week)
Unavailable: Jimmy DOWNEY (knee - 2 weeks), Anthony SKORICH (hip - 3 weeks)
Gold Coast United squad: 20.Scott HIGGINS (gk), 2.Steve PANTELIDIS, 3.Michael THWAITE, 4.Daniel PIORKOWSKI, 5.ROBSON, 7.Zenon CARAVELLA, 9.Shane SMELTZ, 10.Jason CULINA (capt), 11.MILSON, 13.Bas VAN DEN BRINK, 15.Tahj MINNIECON, 16.Kristian REES, 22.Adama TRAORE, 23.Steve FITZSIMMONS, 24.ANDERSON, 40.Robbie BAJIC.
In: Jason CULINA (return from international duty), Daniel PIORKOWSKI (promoted), Steve FITZSIMMONS (promoted).
Out: Matt OSMAN (hip injury - 2 weeks), Joel PORTER (calf injury - 3 weeks).
Unavailable: JEFFERSON (knee injury - 4 weeks), Jess VANSTRATTAN (ankle injury - 2 weeks)