A-League 1,000: The Closer Edition


1,000-ish words, thoughts, and musings on the second weekend of the A-League finals which will decide the two grand final teams. An Adelaide win gives them a home Grand Final but a defeat would open it up for the Wanderers to claim Grand Final hosting rights with a triumph on Sunday.

Adelaide United v Melbourne City, Friday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium

Both sides are yet to claim an A-League Grand Final crown with John van’t Schip’s team having fallen at this hurdle last season when beaten 3-0 by the Melbourne Victory and Adelaide still have nightmares about the Victory’s Archie Thompson (and Kristian Sarkies) in 2007 from their first Grand Final appearance.

In a strange turn of events leading up to Friday’s encounter the Reds were presented with the Premier’s Plate in front of the proverbial three men and a dog which means Adelaide could conceivably disappoint their fans but still not celebrate Asian Champions League qualification which is the key reward in finishing top of the pile. 11 years on and relevant recognition of key milestones still seems a struggle in the A-League. Moving on…

After meeting in Melbourne in Round 27, the match which saw Adelaide claim the win to ultimately deliver them top spot, the two sides meet again after the Victorians brushed aside Perth 2-0. The away side has won all three league encounters this year flying in the face of home-field advantage. It’s a statistic which could send Adelaide fans into a cold sweat with the light blues having logged 4-2 and 1-0 wins at Coopers Stadium this season. Adelaide’s sole goal from open play in South Australia this campaign against the City Football Group-backed outfit came to Sergio Cirio in the November encounter which also saw Pablo Sanchez net an 85th minute penalty.

Of the four sides playing this weekend the visitors looked likeliest to roll out the most changes with Ivan Franjic hopeful of a return from injury and Harry Novillo, who was banned for two games after his role in the Round 27 melee against Guillermo Amor’s side, hoping for a reduction in his sanction. However Franjic hasn’t recovered from his injury and Novillo was unsuccessful in his appeal so sits this one out. Franjic’s absence again should not prove too much of a concern for van’t Schip as Paulo Retre was a more than adequate replacement at right back against Perth. Speaking of dependable replacements, despite the availability of Socceroo Tarek Elrich former Heart right back Michael Marrone keeps his spot in the starting eleven with his recent performances keeping out his fellow international.

Light blue midfielder Aaron Mooy spent more time towards the left wing against Perth so he wasn’t getting as much attention from the Glory’s Krisztian Vadocz and this is something Adelaide will have taken note of so you could expect to see Isaias likely to pay close attention to the influential Socceroo.

Melbourne are seeking club history here and once this season they have spoiled an Adelaide record when their triumph in March snapped the Reds’ 14-game unbeaten streak. Extra time would not surprise.

Big game for: Novillo’s tweets. The Frenchman was decidedly shirty when his side’s game was delayed once during the regular season due to an W-League semi-final went into extra time and he wasn’t shy to express his annoyance. Expect a slew of tweets aimed at A-League administrators leading up to this match.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A goal in the 71st minute. Last month midfielder Nick Fitzgerald and in November star import Bruno Fornaroli each scored for City when playing in Adelaide in the 71st minute.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Brisbane Roar, Sunday – Pirtek Stadium

Champions of Asia 18 months ago the Wanderers are yet to claim a domestic finals crown and get as good a chance as any here to make another decider hosting the Roar who are coming off an emotional and energy-sapping contest which saw them prevail 2-1 over the Melbourne Victory.

If you just looked at Brisbane off the field they have no business in the finals let alone 90 minutes from a Grand Final. They started the season not paying players on time, with a head coach deemed to have ‘failed’ elsewhere in the league (who was their fourth mentor in four years) and an ownership group whose intentions, whilst maybe not Clive Palmer-esque level of disinterest and inefficiency, seemed at least ambivalent to the orange cause. A win would cap a dream run but the Wanderers at home this season, despite losses to Wellington and Sydney FC – who failed to make the finals, seem up for the big time.

The second last domestic game of the season is a replay of the first which saw Brisbane win 3-1 on the back of a first-half double to Jamie Maclaren. Since then the two teams returned to Parramatta in December with the home side exacting revenge 2-1 before the Roar won a thriller 3-2 last month in Brisbane after Tony Popovic’s side hit the lead 2-1 with 12 minutes to go. If you include the FFA Cup tie, which saw a Golgol Mebrahtu strike in Penrith give the Wanderers a victory, it’s 2-2 on the season in the games between the sides. Notably Jamie Maclaren has scored in all three league encounters.

The goal-keepers in this game are an interesting study with Brisbane’s Jamie Young having dislodged Michael Theo even when the former Socceroo returned from injury. Young has managed to keep the five-time A-League winner on the bench and logged seven clean sheets in 19 games whilst Andrew Redmayne started the year dueling with Dean Bouzanis for the spot only to be dropped sometime after Liam Reddy landed at the club before he was then recalled. Redmayne has seven clean sheets in 21 games.

Both sides have little to worry about in the way of injuries and have a clear deck suspension wise to Popovic and his opposite John Aloisi can pick their best teams for this late afternoon classic.

Wanderers’ Andreu, Dimas and (to a lesser degree) Mark Bridge will be responsible for closing down service through the midfield via Thomas Broich and Corona. Given Brisbane only got away nine shots on goal last weekend against the Victory and if the Wanderers can reduce the visitors’ chances they will go a long way to securing a Grand Final berth, possibly at home.

Big game for: Brendon Santalab. A substitute for most of the season Santalab got the starting berth late in the campaign and he rounded out the home and away rounds in style with a double in Wellington. Can he go from bit part player to finals hero in the space of seven months?

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Cranky goal-keepers. Given both teams have scored in all three league contests between the sides this season it’s a reasonable assumption we may see a fair bit of keeper rage.

The betting bit – One serious one not:

Castro and Kenny Lowe hamstrung us last weekend but we will ride with the red and blacks to progress to the decider ($1.55) into a comedy “Show us your Piovaccari” banner from traveling Brisbane fans on Sunday.

 Record: 17/28

Profit: 72.05 (ten units per investment)

This preview first appeared on From the sideline of sport



About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

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