Preview: Sydney FC v North Queensland Fury
Sydney may be sitting in second place on the Hyundai A-League table but any assumption the Sky Blues are Melbourne's natural challenger have been shattered by a three-game losing streak.
Date: Saturday, December 5 Kick-off: 7:00pm AEDT, 6:00 AEST Venue: Sydney Football Stadium TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 2 and Sky Sports 1. To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.com.au
Head-to-head: Played 2: Wins: Sydney FC 1, North Queensland 1, Draws: 0
Previous meeting: Sydney FC 0, North Queensland 1, Sydney Football Stadium, Round 6, September 2009
Past five matches: Sydney FC: Round 12: Sydney FC 2, Brisbane Roar 1, Sydney Football Stadium Round 13: Sydney FC 3, Wellington Phoenix 1, Sydney Football Stadium Round 14: Gold Coast United 1, Sydney FC 0, Skilled Park Round 15: Perth Glory 2, Sydney FC 0, ME Bank Stadium Round 16: Newcastle Jets 3, Sydney FC 0, Sydney Football Stadium
North Queensland: Round 12: North Queensland Fury 2, Perth Glory 1, Dairy Farmer's Stadium Round 13: Gold Coast United 0, North Queensland 2, Skilled Park Round 14: Newcastle Jets 2, North Queensland 0, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 15: North Queensland 1, Central Coast 5, Dairy Farmer's Stadium Round 16: North Queensland 2, Adelaide United 1, Dairy Farmers Stadium
Analysis: Sydney may be sitting in second place on the Hyundai A-League table but any assumption the Sky Blues are Melbourne's natural challenger have been shattered by a three-game losing streak. It doesn't get any easier for Vitezslav Lavicka's men though, as they come up against a North Queensland side that matches up particularly well against the boys from Sydney.
Normally cool, calm and collected, Lavicka showed glimpses of his frustration last week when he described his side's effort in a 3-1 loss to Newcastle as a 'disaster', saying it had made 'lazy tactical errors in defence'. To boost his defensive organisation, the Czech coach has brought back Karol Kisel after he missed the Jets game with a minor leg injury, while the speedy Kofi Danning has also been included after several weeks' absence with a broken hand.
Although Lavicka was bemoaning his side's defensive efforts, he would also not be pleased with Sydney's attack over the last three matches, the Sky Blues having struggled to score against Gold Coast United and Perth Glory in 1-0 and 2-0 losses respectively before playing the Jets. Indeed, every club in the competition is now aware Sydney hasn't won any games after going behind and the Fury will certainly be looking to exploit this once again on Saturday. Having been pleased with the efforts of strikers Alex Brosque and Mark Bridge before the losing streak, Lavicka now looks likely to make some changes, indicating that marquee man John Aloisi will probably start this week after impressing during the second half against Newcastle. Aloisi's season has struggled to gain momentum after he was injured in Round 6, missing the next four weeks. The Qantas Socceroos hero hasn't started in any game since returning, but Lavicka is confident his body is now up to it. Adding to Sydney's threat, the coach has also brought Danning back into the squad and his speed could be particularly handy late in the second half if he is used off the bench.
The Sydney Football Stadium won't hold too many fears for North Queensland though. Indeed the venue is fondly remembered in Townsville as being where the club achieved its first Hyundai A-League win on the back of a cracking goal from skipper Robbie Fowler. The mere presence of Fowler in Sydney will more than likely drag most Liverpool tragics in the harbour city out to the SFS on Saturday night, giving the Fury a larger support than what you'd expect for a visiting side.
Coach Ian Ferguson will be determined to put on a show and ensure his club continues to build on a confidence-inspiring 2-1 win over Adelaide last weekend that snapped a two-game losing streak. On the back of being humbled 5-1 by the Mariners, Ferguson bravely swung the changes and for the most part they worked. Justin Pasfield put in a solid shift between the sticks in Paul Henderson's place, while newly recruited defender, Englishman Matt Smith, slotted into the back four nicely. Further up the park, Robbie Middleby teamed up effectively with another new recruit in Terry Cooke, on an injury loan to Dairy Farmers Stadium to replace the injured James Robinson, while David Williams showed his class on the left, the midfielder feeding Fowler and Daniel McBreen with aplomb. According to some Fury supporters, this was the best movement they've seen from the fledgling club and it certainly caught out Adelaide, which was fortunate to pull one back during injury time.
The Fury did fade somewhat in the second half last week as Cooke's lack of match fitness showed and Middleby took a knock to his foot. Williams also suffered a minor quad strain but in some good news for Ferguson, both players have been passed fit to play, although whether they last full games remains to be seen. This may give Sydney something of an edge, for Lavicka may try and attack when North Queensland drops the tempo towards the end. But if the Fury sneak a goal to start with, it will be all uphill for the boys in blue.
Sydney FC squad: 1. Clint BOLTON (gk), 2. Sebastian RYALL, 3.Stephan KELLER, 4. Simon COLOSIMO, 6. Karol KISEL, 7. Brendan GAN, 8. Stuart MUSIALIK, 9. John ALOISI, 10. Steve CORICA (c), 11. Kofi DANNING, 12. Shannon COLE, 14. Alex BROSQUE, 15. Terry MCFLYNN, 18.Adam CASEY, 19. Mark BRIDGE, 20. Ivan NECEVSKI (gk), 22. Sung Hwan BYUN, 23. Rhyan GRANT
*two to be omitted*
In: Karol KISEL (returning from injury), Kofi DANNING (returning from injury)
North Queensland Fury squad: 20.Justin PASFIELD (gk), 2.Robbie MIDDLEBY 7.Jason SPAGNUOLO, 9.Robbie FOWLER (c), 10.Jeremy BROCKIE, 11.David WILLIAMS, 12.Jack HINGERT,14.Chris GROSSMAN, 16. Paul KOHLER, 19.Daniel MCBREEN, 1.Paul HENDERSON (gk), 21.John TAMBOURAS, 23. Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 26 Matt SMITH, 27 Terry COOKE
Out: Chris TADROSSE (not selected), Jacob TIMPANO (not selected), Beau BUSCH (not selected), Fred AGIUS (not selected), Osama MALIK (not selected), Karl DODD (not selected), Dyron DAAL,
Unavailable: Shane STEFANUTTO (knee - indefinite), Scott WILSON (knee - indefinite), James ROBINSON (knee- indefinite) Ufuk TALAY (calf - 4/6 weeks)