Preview: Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory
After 134 games, the race for the Premiers' Plate will be determined by the outcome of the final match of the season between Sydney and Melbourne at the SFS on Sunday.
Date: Sunday February 14 Kick-off: 5:00pm AEDT Venue: Sydney Football Stadium
Head-to-head Played 14: Melbourne Victory 5, Sydney FC 3, Draws 6
Previous Meeting Melbourne Victory, Sydney FC 0, Etihad Stadium, December 2009
Past five matches: Sydney FC: Round 22: Perth Glory 0, Sydney FC 0, Members Equity Stadium Round 23: Sydney FC 0, Gold Coast United 1, Sydney Football Stadium Round 24: Newcastle Jets 1, Sydney FC 3, Energy Australia Stadium Round 25: Brisbane Roar 1, Sydney FC 0, Suncorp Stadium Round 26: Sydney FC 3, Perth Glory 2, Sydney Football Stadium
Melbourne Victory: Round 23: Melbourne Victory 6, Perth Glory 2, Etihad Stadium Round 24: Melbourne Victory 2, Adelaide United 0, Etihad Stadium Round 19: Melbourne Victory 4, Wellington Phoenix 0, Etihad Stadium Round 25: Gold Coast United 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Skilled Park Round 26: Melbourne Victory 2, North Queensland Fury 0, Etihad Stadium
Analysis: After 134 games, the race for the Premiers' Plate will be determined by the outcome of the final match of the season between Sydney and Melbourne at the SFS on Sunday.
In what is a dream finale to the regular season, a win or draw from Melbourne will be enough for it to defend the title it won in the last round of last season. However a win from Sydney would be enough for the Sky Blues to finish top for the very first time in its history.
But there is more than silverware on the line in this contest, with Sydney still battling to seal a top-two spot and the double chance which comes with it. If Gold Coast defeats North Queensland on Saturday night then Sydney will require a win to ensure it finishes top two.
So it is all on the line in a contest between the two biggest Hyundai A-League clubs. They have never met in a final, but this is as close as it gets, with so much on the line.
Sydney will have the confidence of having gone to Etihad Stadium twice this year and achieved a win and a draw. The fact Melbourne has won just one of its past seven against the Sky Blues, will also give the home side plenty of confidence as well the fact the Melbourne has failed to breach their defence in 180 minutes of football this year.
Melbourne has won just once in six trips to the Harbour City and that was back in 2006, while the SFS has proven a difficult place for both sides to score goals against one another, with just 13 in the six encounters between the teams.
Sydney has a superb record at home this year having won ten and lost three, with a goal difference of plus 10, including four wins in its past five.
However, Sydney has mixed its form over the past month, losing matches against Gold Coast and Brisbane, while it took a late John Aloisi goal to get it over the line against Perth last week. Aloisi scored a brace in that match and seems to be getting back to fitness and form at the right end of the season.
That's handy considering Mark Bridge will miss the next couple of weeks with a toe injury. Brendan Gan takes his spot in the squad, while Sebastian Ryall is a week away from returning from a knee injury.
Melbourne has put itself in pole position on the back of four wins in its past five games, but all of those wins have come at home. The extraordinary record the Victory built on the road earlier in the season has been somewhat sullied by three consecutive road losses to Gold Coast, Newcastle and Townsville.
Melbourne's two most influential players, Kevin Muscat and Archie Thompson, remain sidelined for this match, with Muscat serving out a suspension, while Thompson recovers from a broken bone in his foot. To add the Victory's woe, Matthew Kemp, one of the most improved players in the competition this year, suffered a serious knee injury and will miss the rest of the season.
Either Surat Sukha or Matthew Foschini will take his spot in the squad, while Evan Berger will most likely slip into the starting line-up for Kemp. Nik Mrdja could make his starting debut for his new club having played a half last week, but that depends on how Ernie Merrick looks to use Marvin Angulo. Nathan Elasi is included in an extended squad.
Carlos Hernandez was simply outstanding against the Fury last week, scoring two fantastic goals and given Thompson will be absent for at least the first couple of finals matches, the Costa Rican's output will be crucial to Melbourne's hopes of defending the championship.
Whether Sydney opts to man-mark him with the likes of Terry McFlynn, or sticks to its usual plan of starving the opposition attack of space, Hernandez will find it tough to have the same influence on this contest.
But if Sydney is to achieve what it needs to in this match and get the three points, it will need to attack as well. Melbourne's defence has conceded just one goal in its past four games and won't be easy to break down.
Sydney FC squad: 1.Clint BOLTON (gk), 3.Stephan KELLER, 4.Simon COLOSIMO, 6.Karol KISEL, 7.Brendan GAN, 8.Stuart MUSIALIK, 9.John ALOISI, 10.Steve CORICA (c), 12.Shannon COLE, 14.Alex BROSQUE, 15.Terry MCFLYNN, 16.Chris PAYNE, 20.Ivan NECEVSKI (gk), 22.Sung-Hwan BYUN, 23. Rhyan GRANT, 26 Hayden FOXE *one to be omitted*
In: Brendan GAN (promoted)
Out: Mark BRIDGE (Toe - 2 weeks)
Unavailable: Kofi DANNING (knee - season), Matthew JURMAN (foot - season), Sebastian RYALL (knee - 1 week)
Melbourne Victory: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 5.Surat SUKHA, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 8.Grant BREBNER, 11.Marvin ANGULO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 19. Evan BERGER, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 22.Nick WARD, 23.Adrian LEIJER (c), 25.Aziz BEHICH, 29.Nik MRDJA *Two to be omitted
In: Nathan ELASI (promoted), Matthew FOSCHINI (promoted), Surat SUHKA (return from injury)
Out: Matthew KEMP (knee, season)
Unavailable: Billy CELESKI (knee, season), Mate DUGANDZIC (knee, 1 week), Kevin MUSCAT (suspended, 1 week), Steven PACE (abdomen, indefinite), Archie THOMPSON (foot, 3 weeks)