Preview: Gold Coast United v Melbourne Victory
Melbourne's stated aim for much of the season has been to secure a top-two spot and it gets a chance to do just that with a victory over Gold Coast at Skilled Park this Friday.
Date: Friday January 29 Kick-off: 7:30pm AEST, 8:30pm AEDT Venue: Skilled Park, Robina
Head-to-head Played 2: Wins: Melbourne Victory 2, Gold Coast United 0. Draws: 0
Previous Meeting Melbourne Victory 4, Gold Coast United 0, Etihad Stadium, November 2009
Past five matches: Melbourne Victory: Round 21: North Queensland Fury 1, Melbourne Victory 0, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 22: Newcastle Jets 3, Melbourne Victory 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium Round 23: Melbourne Victory 6, Perth Glory 2, Etihad Stadium Round 24: Melbourne Victory 2, Adelaide United 0, Etihad Stadium Round 19: Melbourne Victory 4, Wellington Phoenix 0, Etihad Stadium
Gold Coast: Round 21: Gold Coast United 5, Brisbane Roar 1, Skilled Park Round 22: Gold Coast United 1, Adelaide United 1, Skilled Park Round 19: Gold Coast United 2, Newcastle Jets 0, Skilled Park Round 23: Sydney FC 0, Gold Coast United 1, Sydney Football Stadium Round 24: Central Coast Mariners 1, Gold Coast United 1, Skilled Park
Analysis: Melbourne's stated aim for much of the season has been to secure a top-two spot and it gets a chance to do just that with a victory over Gold Coast at Skilled Park this Friday.
Melbourne currently sits on top of the table, two points clear of Sydney and three in front of Gold Coast, with a much better goal difference than either of its rivals for the Premiers' Plate. It means that three points from this game would give the defending champion a six-point lead over the third-placed team with two matches remaining.
But even a draw would maintain its considerable buffer heading into the final fortnight of the season, where it plays North Queensland and Sydney FC. Two draws away and a win at home would most likely be enough for Melbourne to defend its premiership and get the say of which order it wants to play its semi-finals.
But Gold Coast is in an impressive run of form, having not lost in six matches, while it boasts an even more impressive recent record at home with five wins and a draw from the past six.
After a rollercoaster opening season, Miron Bleiberg has his players putting in consistent performances week in, week out, so even when United have an off day, they have still be able to get something out of games.
While a virus has caused a few headaches for the home side ahead of this match, with both Shane Smeltz and Charlie Miller falling ill, Bleiberg will be looking to use the freshness of his players, who have had a seven-day break since their 1-1 draw with the Mariners, as an advantage.
In contrast, Melbourne has had two games in a week, defeating Adelaide 2-0 last Saturday and then Wellington 4-0 on Tuesday. That made it a hat-trick of home wins in the space of 10 days, during which time Victory scored 12 goals and conceded just two.
It certainly seems Melbourne's form is coming good at the right end of the season. Attacking trio Carlos Hernandez, Robbie Kruse and Archie Thompson are all in good form, while the addition of Marvin Angulo has given Melbourne another attacking edge. The defence is looking a lot more composed as well, while Matthew Kemp and Evan Berger are both fit and ready to return to the starting line-up if needed.
Having had only three days' break between games, coach Ernie Merrick has opted to include three youngsters - Aziz Behich, Nathan Elasi and Matthew Foschini - in an extended squad and will assess his best options on the day of the game.
It shapes as a cracking game between the two most prolific attacking teams in the Hyundai A-League. Expect plenty of scoring chances and plenty of passion in a match will shape the destinies of both teams heading into the business end of the season.
Gold Coast United Squad: 1.Jess VANSTRATTAN (gk), 2.Steve PANTELIDIS, 3.Michael THWAITE, 7.Zenon CARAVELLA, 9.Shane SMELTZ, 10.Jason CULINA (c), 11.Charlie MILLER, 13.Bas VAN DEN BRINK, 14.Joel PORTER, 15.Tahj MINNIECON, 16.Kristian REES, 17.Matt OSMAN, 18.James BROWN, 19.Andrew BARISIC, 20.Scott HIGGINS (gk), 23.Steve FITZSIMMONS, 24.ANDERSON, 36.Dino DJULBIC *three to be omitted*
In: James BROWN (promoted), Andrew BARISIC (promoted), Steve FITZSIMMONS (promoted)
Unavailable: Adama TRAORE (ankle injury - 1 week), Daniel PIORKOWSKI (ankle injury - indefinite), JEFFERSON (knee injury - indefinite)
Melbourne Victory squad: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7. Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 19. Evan BERGER, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 22.Nick WARD, 23.Adrian LEIJER, 25.Aziz BEHICH, 26.Marvin ANGULO *three to be omitted*
In: Aziz BEHICH (promoted), Nathan ELASI (promoted), Matthew FOSCHINI (promoted)
Unavailable: Billy CELESKI (knee - season), Mate DUGANDZIC (calf - 1 week), Steven PACE (abdomen - indefinite), Surat SUKHA (hamstring - 1 week)