Can last week's shock away win by Wellington against the Jets kick-start the Phoenix's season?
Date: Saturday 24 November, 2012 Kick-off: 9.45pm AEDT, 6.45pm local Venue: nib Stadium
Head-to-head Played: 17 Wins: Perth 7, Wellington 7, Draws: 3
Previous encounter Perth 3, Wellington 2 (after extra time), 7 April 2012
Form: Past five matches: Perth: LDWLW Wellington: WLLLD
The Game It has been the biggest story in the Hyundai A-League this week and Perth Glory owner Tony Sage has not backed away. Sage wants David Beckham at his club. After Sunday's 1-0 loss to Western Sydney at nib Stadium, despite playing almost an hour against just 10 men, it is clear Perth lack creativity having failed to break open the stubborn visitors and Beckham could provide that.
But until Sage can convince Beckham to join Glory, head coach Ian Ferguson will have to rely on his current squad and one option could be Ryo Nagai, who has struggled with injury since signing with Perth, after impressing everyone who saw him during pre-season.
Nagai could potentially replace winger Dean Heffernan, who injured his back against the Wanderers, while captain Jacob Burns is expected to return from a hamstring problem.
Wellington Phoenix head into Saturday night's game having notched their first victory last week since Round 1. The classic smash-and-grab 3-0 win in Newcastle could be the blueprint to triumph on the longest away trip in any league around the world.
The big issue Perth - Shane Smeltz is the all-time leading goal scorer in A-League history and he played 20 minutes for New Zealand in a friendly match in China last week following a period out with injury but was not part of Ferguson's squad against the Wanderers. Is there a rift between Perth's head coach and his star striker? While Billy Mehmet has been handy for Glory this season, if Smeltz does not return soon, speculation will increase that there is more to the Kiwi's absence than fitness issues.
Wellington - The Phoenix started the season with an impressive 2-0 victory at home against Sydney FC. Fast forward seven rounds to this week and Wellington have only managed one more win, although they have generally looked worthy of more success. Can last week's shock win away to the Jets kick start the New Zealand club's season? Wellington head coach Ricki Herbert will know he has a solid squad with enough quality to deservedly challenge for the A-League finals. Anything less will be a big disappointment.
Game breaker Travis Dodd - If Smeltz does not start, Perth Glory will need something a bit different to break down the visiting Phoenix. Judging by last week's performance in Newcastle, Herbert's side will probably sit back and try and hurt the home team on the counterattack. Dodd has the pace and ability to get past a defender that could be crucial in creating a goal-scoring opportunity. The powerful 32-year-old has the ability to finish it himself too.
Prediction: Perth 2 def Wellington 1
Perth have really missed their skipper and Ferguson will be sweating on Burns' fitness in the lead-up to Saturday night's match. If the 34-year-old returns to anchor Glory's midfield, expect his side to be tough to beat at nib Stadium.
The return of Burns would allow both Liam Miller and Steven McGarry to focus more on creating, while Heffernan's injury may be a blessing in disguise as the Glory may need to start one of their younger options out wide like Nagai, Adrian Zahra or Chris Harold.
Wellington's success could come down to how Paul Ifill plays. The mercurial attacker has had a slightly stilted start to this campaign but has the ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and make the difference.