Will the Mariners finish on top or will they choke just as Brisbane roar back into top gear? Can Wellington and Perth claim crucial home finals, or do the Jets, Heart and Sydney have what it takes to make a final mad dash at glory?
The Hyundai A-League 2012 finals are almost upon us, but nothing in the top six is assured. Central Coast have all but squandered their lead at the top of the table, while Brisbane Roar, Wellington Phoenix and Newcastle Jets are flying high, with Perth holding steady and Melbourne Heart in need of a kick start.
Then there-s Sydney FC, the “sleeping giant”, desperately hoping one of the six slip up. It makes for an entertaining battle over the coming weeks. We give you a snapshot as to what each team faces in the run to the finals - and you can tell us where you think they-ll finish.
Central Coast Mariners Current position: 1 Fixtures: Perth Glory (A), Adelaide United (H), Wellington Phoenix (A)
Not long ago, Central Coast looked to have the Premiers- Plate sewn up but their form has slipped alarmingly in recent weeks. Are they getting vertigo when it matters most?
Having to travel to Perth this weekend, after the midweek trip China could have a knock-on effect on the top two, as could the tough final week trip to Wellington. Those two tricky away games put more pressure on getting all three points at home against Adelaide. This is a big test of the Mariners- character.
Editor-s prediction: First Writer-s prediction: Second
Brisbane Roar Current position: 2 Fixtures: Adelaide United (H), Newcastle Jets (A), Gold Coast United (A)
Ange Postecoglou-s side know they have to win every match to have a chance of catching the Mariners, so expect them to be at the top of their game.
Roar-s run home looks relatively easy, with two teams outside the top six. Adelaide and Gold Coast are known bogey sides, but given Brisbane-s recent form, you wouldn-t expect them to slip up. The resurgent Newcastle Jets, however, could yet do their F3 rivals a favour.
Editor-s prediction: Second Writer-s prediction: First
Wellington Phoenix Current position: 3 Fixtures: Melbourne Heart (A), Melbourne Victory (A), Central Coast (H)
Two away games in Melbourne and hosting the team chasing the Premier-s Plate - it-s far from an easy run for Rickie Herbert-s side as they chase not just a finals berth, but a top-two finish to the season.
First up, a youthful Heart side desperate to seal their own finals spot, followed by a grumpy Melbourne Victory side desperate not to finish the season with a yawn.
Phoenix-s away form has improved this season but it-s a far from ideal situation for Herbert. But if they beat the Mariners on home turf, could decide the home-and-away season and seal a crucial home final.
Editor-s prediction: Third Writer-s prediction: Fifth
Perth Glory Current position: 4 Fixtures: Central Coast (H), Gold Coast United (A), Melbourne Victory (H)
Perth will aim to take advantage of the Mariners- busy schedule and could blow the Premiership wide open, especially if Shane Smeltz returns to the starting line-up.
Perth are the other team for whom a home final could mean a great deal. If Glory-s current form continues, they might just enjoy a trip to a despondent Gold Coast and a confused Melbourne Victory.
Editor-s prediction: Fourth Writer-s prediction: Third
Melbourne Heart Current position: 5 Fixtures: Wellington Phoenix (H), Sydney FC (H), Adelaide United (A)
Heart have one of those runs home where anything could happen. They could sweep all three games or lose all three.
The Phoenix will be tough and pumped Melbourne last time out in Wellington, and look to be in better even form now. Sydney are desperate to sneak in the back door, while Adelaide, despite looking lost recently proved in Tashkent against Bunyodkur, they are still capable of a surprise.
Truthfully the Heart-s success rests on the fitness of talismanic midfielder Fred and whether John van 't Schip's young men can handle the pressure and make it to the finals.
Editor-s prediction: Sixth Writer-s prediction: Seventh
Newcastle Jets Current position: 6 Fixtures: Gold Coast United (H), Brisbane Roar (H), Sydney FC (A)
Gary van Egmond-s men have won five of their last six, since beating Brisbane 1-0 at Suncorp Stadium in Week 17, taking 15 points in the process.
In this light, you wouldn-t expect Gold Coast to be a problem and they have the wood on Brisbane as well as Sydney, who they belted 5-2 last time out.
Nine points is possible, but playing above themselves in a demanding and physical style, can they keep it up?
The Brisbane match will be their acid test, as you can be assured the Roar haven-t forgotten having their pants pulled down at home.
Editor-s prediction: Fifth Writer-s prediction: Fourth
Sydney FC Current position: 7 Fixtures: Melbourne Victory (H), Melbourne Heart (A), Newcastle Jets (H)
Dependent on other results going their way, all Sydney can do is aim to inflict some pain across Melbourne and on their northern rivals.
Inconsistency has dogged the Sky Blues all year; the Big Blue against Victory will be a chance to make a statement and take advantage of Melbourne-s troubles at the back. Get their confidence up for a wobbling Heart side and they-ll fancy their chances against the Jets. But, given their form, would you put money on them doing it?
Editor-s prediction: Seventh Writer-s prediction: Sixth
What do you think? Will the Mariners finish on top or will they choke just as Brisbane roar back into top gear? Can Wellington and Perth claim crucial home finals, or do the Jets, Heart and Sydney have what it takes to make a final mad dash at glory?
And what of our predictions? Spot on or wide of the mark? Have you say below...