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A-League Alert: Glory thrill but come up short, as Victory and Mariners showcase what the Phoenix lacks

13 March, 2024

As we head full throttle into the closing rounds of the A-League Home and Away season, the Finals picture is becoming increasingly clear.

Places remain up for grabs and the order remains up in the air, however Central Coast Mariners, Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory look like they should take the top three spots, whilst at the other end of finals, Western Sydney Wanderers form slump could not have come at a worse time, with Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar breathing down their necks.

In this week’s A-League Alert, we look at the magic men that could make the difference in finals, and the one team not destined for the post-season that would arguably add the most excitement.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 06: Glory fans celebrate a goal during the A-League Men round 11 match between Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory at HBF Park, on January 06, 2024, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The Perth Glory Excitement Machine That Could Be Finals’ Biggest Omission

Is there a team in the A-League that guarantees more drama and excitement than Perth Glory?

The West Australian outfit is the master of its own demise in respect to their finals chances, and there’s no doubting that Glory Coach Alen Stajcic will have wished for a touch less volatility in his side’s games this season, but there have not been many weeks this season where the Glory’s game has not been amongst the most enthralling of a given round.

In many ways, it’s a shame that they more than likely won’t be playing finals football.

With 37 goals to their name this season, the Glory are the second-best team in the competition in front of goal. Only Macarthur has matched their tally and first-place Central Coast Mariners have beaten it (38).

It’s the goals against tally that has proven the problem, with 41 goals conceded also the equal second highest in the league.

Their dramatic 2-2 draw against Newcastle Jets showcases the worst – and then the best – of their season.

Finding themselves 2-0 down to frankly sloppy goals from a defensive perspective, it was captain Adam Taggart who almost single-handedly brought Perth back into the game.

The Socceroo has 14 goals in 18 games after his brace against Newcastle and his return to the A-League and subsequent return to form has been one of the best storylines of the competition this season.

Perth did score an extra two goals that were ruled out – the first for offside and the second for a block at a corner. If their games in the regular season can be so chaotic, imagine what they’d be like in the Finals?

Of course, their Finals prospects are by no means extinguished just yet. They sit seven points off sixth-placed Western Sydney Wanderers, with seven games (four of which are in Perth) to play.

As long as their defensive frailties continue to outshine their ability to score goals, it’s a big bridge to gap.

 

 

Are Nisbet and Machach the Championship-winning 10s the Wellington Phoenix lack?

With the season heading into the final stretch, we have three very different sides occupying the top three.

Wellington Phoenix has been the surprise packet of the season. Under new coach Giancarlo Italiano, the ‘Nix have shown a resounding amount of resilience to shake their usual away-day blues, turning Sky Stadium into a fortress and a knack for playing the occasion and the opponent almost perfectly every time. It might not have gone their way against Melbourne City on the weekend, losing 1-0 at AAMI Park, however, there’s little doubting their Finals credentials as a unit.

In the Central Coast Mariners we have a side that dazzles its way to victories. A terrible start to the season aside, the reigning champions have been the easiest side on the eye this season and their 3-0 win over Macarthur FC was the product of three of the nicest goals you’ll see on season. What’s more, the win should have been even more comfortable.

Melbourne Victory are something the Mariners antithesis. At their worst, they are one of the toughest watches in the league. This, despite the fact they arguably have three of the most exciting individual talents in the league in Zinedine Machach, Bruno Fornaroli and Daniel Arzani. 

Machach in particular seems to be the barometer by which Victory’s performances fluctuate. At his best, Victory are immensely more enjoyable to watch. In the games he goes missing, Victory really struggle for inspiration.

In that way, Victory and Mariners have something the Phoenix does not. And whilst it’s still early to pick Championship favourites outright, there’s something to be said for the individual brilliance of players like Marchach at Victory and Nisbet at Central Coast Mariners that brings out the best of everyone around them.

Phoenix’s success to this point is one of collective harmony – which might prove effective over the length of a home and away season – but they lack the game breakers their direct Championship rivals have, and that could prove all the difference in 2024.

 

AROUND THE GROUNDS

Western United vs Melbourne Victory

Western United host Melbourne Victory in a clash that promises fireworks. Western United, keen to prove their mettle, faces a Victory side finding form at the right moment. With both teams showcasing contrasting fortunes in recent matches, this encounter could significantly impact the finals race. Expect a spirited battle as Western United aims to upset the odds against a Victory side looking to solidify their top-three ambitions.

Newcastle Jets vs Adelaide United

In a crucial match for both sides, Newcastle Jets welcome Adelaide United. With Adelaide’s season hanging by a thread, they face a Newcastle team that, despite its struggles, has shown glimpses of promise. This match is a golden opportunity for Adelaide to turn their fortunes around and reignite their finals hopes. For Newcastle, a win here could breathe new life into their campaign, making this a must-watch for fans.

Wellington Phoenix vs Sydney FC

Wellington Phoenix faces Sydney FC in a top-four showdown that could have significant implications for the finals. Wellington, keen to maintain their place at the league’s summit, clashes with a Sydney FC side brimming with confidence. With both teams known for their tactical astuteness and formidable form, this match could very well be a preview of a deep finals run for either team.

Brisbane Roar vs Macarthur FC 

Brisbane Roar hosts Macarthur FC in a match with vital points on the line. Brisbane, looking to climb into the top six, will have to be at their best against a Macarthur side that has shown they can mix it with the best. This game is a chance for Brisbane to make a statement, but Macarthur, with their eyes set on solidifying their finals position, will not make it easy.

Perth Glory vs Western Sydney Wanderers 

Perth Glory, the A-League’s excitement machine, takes on a Western Sydney Wanderers team desperate to halt their slide. With Glory’s finals hopes still alive, albeit hanging by a thread, they face a Wanderers side looking to rediscover their early-season form. This match is crucial for both teams’ finals aspirations, making it a high-stakes encounter that could go down to the wire.

Central Coast Mariners vs Melbourne City 

In a titanic clash, league leaders Central Coast Mariners welcome Melbourne City. The Mariners, flying high this season, face a City team eager to prove they belong among the league’s elite. This match is not just about the points but also about making a psychological statement as we head into the final rounds. With both teams boasting impressive squads, this match could be a classic.

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