Preview: Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC

The Stakes couldn't be higher for both sides. Lose and your season is over, win and be within touching distance of a preliminary final.

Date: Friday, March 30 Kick-off: 6pm AEDT, 8pm local Venue: Westpac Stadium

Head-to-head Played 16: Wins: Wellington 7, Sydney FC 8, Draws: 1

Previous encounter Sydney 0, Wellington 1, February 25, 2012

History: Wellington have bridged the gap in their head-to-head record with Sydney, winning all three of their clashes between the two clubs this season.

The last clash was just a month ago with an early Paul Ifill goal handing Ricki Herbert's side a 1-0 win in Sydney. Phoenix have also won both clashes at Westpac Stadium this campaign, scoring six goals in the process.

Form: Past five matches: Wellington: WWDLL Sydney FC: LDWDW

Phoenix head into the finals on the back of two straight losses but insist there is nothing to worry about as they get set for sudden death football.

While one of those losses was a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Melbourne Victory, there were some positive signs in the narrow defeat to minor premiers Central Coast last weekend.

The finals came a week early for Sydney with Vitezslav Lavicka's side coming through a must-win game with Newcastle last Sunday. It capped what's been a roller-coaster season for the Sky Blues that's been filled with as many lows as there has been highs both on and off the field.

They will need to shrug off that inconsistency if they are to be any chance of making a run through the playoffs.

Match Committee: The good news is there are no major injury concerns for either side heading into this sudden-death clash. The Sky Blues won't have Nathan Sherlock or Jamie Coyne available but neither player would have featured in the squad anyway.

Joel Chianese is good to go after recovering from his head knock against the Jets last weekend. Ricki Herbert is unlikely to make any wholesale changes to his side despite coming into the playoffs on the back of consecutive losses.

Danger men: Tim Brown - Brown made the emotional and shock decision he would retire from all levels of football at the end of this season. While it will be a huge blow for both Wellington and New Zealand football, it should serve as added motivation for the Kiwi club in the finals.

Brown loves playing against the Sky Blues and scored one of the goals of the season in the 2-1 win over them earlier in the year. His late runs into the box are a huge threat and his battle with Nicky Carle in the middle of the park should be a cracker.

Joel Chianese - Not many people outside of the Sydney ranks knew too much about Chianese two months ago but the youngster is now one of the keys in the Sky Blues hopes to make a charge for the title.

The 22-year-old has struck up a strong combination with Bruno Cazarine in attack which is keeping two-time premiership winner Mark Bridge on the bench. Chianese played a huge role in Sydney qualifying for the finals, scoring two goals in the crucial 3-2 win over the Newcastle Jets last weekend.

At the end of the day… The Stakes couldn't be higher for both sides. Lose and your season is over, win and be within touching distance of a preliminary final. There's a belief that momentum is crucial heading into a finals series and if that's the case then Sydney Blues will fancy their chances in this one.

The Sky Blues seem to be hitting their straps at just the right time and have had to come through three or four cut-throat games in the last few weeks just to earn a spot in the top six.

The club's experienced players like Brett Emerton, Nicky Carle and Pascal Bosschaart seem to be finding their best form while the youngster have added a fresh impetus and energy to their play.

With five players who were part of the squad that won the double just two seasons ago, the Sky Blues also possess the experience to get the job done in the big games.

Unlike Sydney, Wellington head into the finals on the back of some sketchy form. Back-to-back losses to Melbourne Victory and Central Coast is not ideal ahead of sudden-death football but they are at full strength and have the advantage of playing at home.

While the Sky Blues have walked the finals tightrope the last few weeks, the Phoenix's spot has been secure for a sometime and they have been able to look ahead and prepare fully for these types of games.

Whether that means they are a little more fresher than Sydney both physically and mentally remains to be seen but it could be a factor on Friday night.

Phoenix have won all three clashes against Sydney this season and while finals football is always different than the regular season, it's hard to see anything different in this one, especially with Wellington enjoying home ground advantage.

Sydney will put up a great fight and it should be tight throughout but I'm expecting the Phoenix to edge it and keep their season alive for another week at least.