Perth travel to Western Sydney with their season still on the line and seeking an incredible upset.
Date: Saturday 23 February, 2013 Kick-off: 5.30pm AEDT, 5.30pm local Venue: Parramatta Stadium
Head-to-head Played: 2 Wins: Western Sydney 1, Perth 0, Draws: 1
Previous encounter Perth 1-1 Western Sydney, 27 December 2012
Form: Past five matches: Western Sydney: WWWWW Perth: WLLLL
The Game It's a battle of teams at opposite ends of the table with the Wanderers sitting second, flying high after six consecutive wins while Perth are placed ninth, having snapped a five-game losing streak with a win against league-leaders Central Coast last weekend.
In their inaugural season, the Wanderers have surprised the competition to be equal-championship favourites alongside Central Coast. Only one-point behind Graham Arnold's league leading side, Western Sydney will have their sight sets on an unlikely minor premiership triumph before an assault on the final series.
The Wanderers have steadily rotated their squad during the campaign and have no significant injury problems. Midfield playmaker Aaron Mooy could be a candidate to start after being on the bench in the 2-1 win against Melbourne Victory while the versatile Shannon Cole will also be in contention.
Perth have endured a tumultuous few weeks which ended with the appointment of interim coach Alistair Edwards as Ian Ferguson's replacement and the surprising come-from-behind 2-1 victory against Central Coast. The upset lifted Glory off the bottom of the table and positions them only four points away from the top six.
The Glory also have no serious problems, however it was a surprise that new signing Matias Cordoba didn't feature against the Mariners after playing 15 minutes against Heart the week before. The Argentine could come into the match-day squad as Edwards will look to make minimal changes to a winning team.
The big issue
Wanderers - Can anyone stop the Wanderers as they set the competition alight? It doesn't really look like it at the moment. In an illustration of how impressive they have been defensively, Western Sydney have won seven of their ten away games this season. Coach Tony Popovic deserves immense credit for building the defence early in the season before the likes of Shinji Ono, Youssouf Hersi and Mark Bridge have gelled in attack as the campaign has worn on. In their impressive win over Victory, players such as Mooy, Cole, Tarek Elrich and Rocky Visconte were not among the starters as the Wanderers look to be a serious title-winning contender.
Glory - Was last week's victory against Central Coast a one-off or is change the best thing for the Glory? Since Edwards has been given temporary control, the Young Socceroos assistant has impressed at every turn. Guiding his side to that shock win last weekend, Edwards had his side playing fluent, technical football after just three training sessions. When interviewed on The World Game on Monday, Edwards spoke like a seasoned professional and he "convinced" the viewer that he would turn the Glory around. Whether or not it was a one-off should become clearer on Saturday night.
Gamebreaker Youssouf Hersi. The Ethiopian-born winger is among the top players in the league, having scored five goals and laid on eight assists in 17 appearances. He is able to beat his man inside or outside with trickery or pace, send in precise crosses, make dangerous runs into attacking areas and finish off chances clinically. Popovic again deserves credit for nursing Hersi, who has had significant injury problems during his career, into the season and making sure his body is right. Now he is reaping the rewards of arguably the league's most complete player.
Prediction: Western Sydney 1-0 Perth Glory.
The Wanderers, in front of their incredible home support, should have enough momentum to get the job done against the Glory. While a much-improved performance was delivered at home last week, you can't expect Perth under a new manager to put in a similar quality performance away against the A-League's in-form side. Any side with Shane Smeltz in attack has the ability to score goals at any time but the Wanderers should have the defensive capabilities to handle the Kiwi poacher. The experienced Dean Heffernan will have his hands full with Hersi down Perth's left flank while Wanderers marquee Shinji Ono is really starting to hit top form. The win streak should move to seven games as Western Sydney march towards an unlikely Asian Champions League position.