Ross's finals previews
It’s time to sort out the big boys from the pretenders at this time of year – nothing gets fans and players fired up like finals football.
It-s time to sort out the big boys from the pretenders at this time of year - nothing gets fans and players fired up like finals football.
Sure, it-s not for the purist but no one can deny the excitement it creates and in the absence of promotion or relegation, it-s a great way to maintain interest in the season right down to the last game.
I don-t think too many people would disagree that the four remaining teams have been the best in the league this season.
Sometimes finals football can be cruel with teams knocked out in the first week against lower ranked opposition who have just have a lucky day. But not this year - both Melbourne Heart and Sydney FC only just managed to sneak into the finals, and seemed substantially weaker than the other four teams.
So it proved with Perth and Wellington recording well-deserved and fairly comprehensive wins over them.
Taking the third and fourth teams first, Perth look a different team when Shane Smeltz is fit and firing and he has burst into form at exactly the right time. He is a big game player, and with the likes of experienced guys like Jacob Burns and Liam Miller behind him, I think he-ll give the finals series a real shake.
The relief that Ian Ferguson no doubt feels now that his future has been secured seems to have been passed on to his players, who appear to be enjoying a new sense of freedom that is evident in their play.
It is a sign of their strength that they have coped without Chris Coyne all season through injury, the recent loss of Mile Sterjovski to China and injuries to Liam Miller and Smeltz himself throughout the season, yet still find themselves in such unfamiliar lofty territory at this time of year.
Moving on to my old team, Wellington Phoenix - they always seem to fly under the radar and that suits them just fine. Along with Perth, they suffer some of the most arduous travel plans through the season but this bunch of lads is united and resilient.
They have a genuine match-winner in Paul Ifill, and the likes of Chris Greenacre and Dani Sanchez are also capable of contributing important goals. Tim Brown will be busting a gut to make sure that his last season for Phoenix will be a winning one.
In terms of the elimination final between Perth and Wellington, home form will just be enough to get the Glory over the line. Smeltz looks in red hot form, and I think they just have the edge over Phoenix who can look a bit one-dimensional sometimes with their over reliance on Paul Ifill.
Which leaves us looking at the Battle of the Big Two. Both teams have carried over their form from last season with continued great results this year. Before we analyse the upcoming clash between them, it-s important to stop for a moment and give credit to both teams for their achievements this year.
Brisbane have somehow managed to absorb the loss of Matt McKay, Kosta Barbarouses, Jean Carlos Solórzano and Luke DeVere from their championship team of last season, whilst Mariners continue to struggle on shoe-string budgets sandwiched between their fellow NSW teams who enjoy greater supporter catchment areas and higher profile players.
Of course, great credit deserves to be given to Ange Postecoglou and Graham Arnold, whose increased stocks are evidenced by the queue of teams both keen to speak to them about managing their team next season.
It-s interesting to note here that both these coaches have been widely lambasted in the past and their coaching skills heavily criticised.
The attack that Postecoglou was publicly subjected to during his tenure as Young Socceroos coach was similar in venom to the one that Arnold was the victim of after his stint in charge of the Socceroos during the Asian Cup 2007 campaign.
Were critics on both cases too quick to judge, or have both coaches simply improved in the meantime? Perhaps a bit of both.
One factor that will have influence on the game at Bluetongue Stadium this weekend will be which team has coped best with the rigours of the AFC Champions League matches that they have both been involved with recently.
Mariners- benefited from a home game this week, unlike the weary Roar boys who have to recover from a draining mid-week trip to Korea in time to face the Minor Premiers on their own turf.
I still fancy the Roar to win though. Not just because of the 2-0 lead they carry into the game, but because in my opinion they are playing better and more penetrating football at the right time of year than the Mariners.
In my experience when the nerves kick in, quality prevails and Roar have the edge for me here.
One thing is certain - whichever team prevails at Bluetongue on Sunday will be short price favourites to take home the title in a few weeks.
I-ll also make the prediction that there may be a shock this year in that I think that either Glory (or maybe Phoenix) will make an appearance in the final, rather than the loser of Sunday-s game.