Preview: Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix
If there is a team in the league that would go in confident of bucking Melbourne's away form trend it is perhaps Wellington
Date: Friday December 4 Kick-off: 5:30pm AEDT Venue: Westpac Stadium TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 2 and Sky Sports 1. Hyundai A-League club broadcast partner is The Radio Network 1035 AM (Wellington). To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.co.nz Head-to-head 7 Hyundai A-League meetings: Wins: Melbourne 3, Wellington 1. Draws: 3
Previous Meeting Melbourne Victory 1,Wellington Phoenix 1, Round 6, September 2009
Past five matches: Melbourne Victory: Round 12: Melbourne Victory 3, Adelaide United 1, Etihad Stadium Round 13: Perth Glory 1, Melbourne Victory 2, ME Bank Stadium Round 14: Melbourne Victory 0, Central Coast Mariners 4, Etihad Stadium Round 15: Brisbane Roar 0, Melbourne Victory 1, Suncorp Stadium Round 16: Melbourne Victory 4, Gold Coast United 0, Etihad Stadium
Gold Coast: Round 12: Wellington Phoenix 6, Gold Coast United 0, Westpac Stadium Round 13: Gold Coast United 0, North Queensland 2, Skilled Park Round 14: Gold Coast 1 United, Sydney FC 0, Skilled Park Round 15: Adelaide United 1, Gold Coast United 1, Hindmarsh Stadium Round 16: Brisbane Roar 4, Wellington Phoenix 1, Suncorp Stadium
Analysis: The teams enter this game in vastly different form, Melbourne fresh from a 4-0 demolition of an undermanned Gold Coast United that increased its lead at the top of the table to five points and Wellington having returned from Brisbane after copping a 4-1 defeat that included the dismissal of Manny Muscat with just over half an hour remaining.
The visitors also have clearly the best away record in the competition this season having picked up 18 of a possible 21 points on the road in 2009/10 with the 2-1 loss to Perth in Round 4 their only blemish away from Etihad Stadium.
But if there is a team in the league that would go in confident of bucking that trend against the high-flying defending premiers and champions it is perhaps Wellington which boasts an amazing recent record at Westpac Stadium. You have to go back to October, 2008 to find the last time the Phoenix failed to take at least a point at home when they went down to the Roar, with the run since featuring seven victories and six draws.
Melbourne's big win last week over Gold Coast came at some cost though with Evan Berger (hamstring) and Grant Brebner (ankle) both suffering injuries in the game while Matthew Kemp (groin) is expected to play even though he's been under a cloud all week after also failing to see out the game. With Berger only recently back from an earlier stint on the sidelines, he and Brebner join Billy Celeski (knee) and Steven Pace (abdomen) on the unavailable list. There is some good news too though with grand final hero Tom Pondeljak (calf) and Thai international Surat Sukha (hamstring) both returning along with Matthew Foschini, the latter at the expense of fellow youngster Mate Dugandzic .
Wellington also regains three players from injury, with New Zealand World Cup goalkeeper Mark Paston back in the side along with Jon McKain and Diego, their inclusions coming with Muscat to serve a three-match suspension and interim shot-stopper Jonathan Gould released because his short-term contract as cover for Paston has expired.
While an overall record of two wins, three losses and three draws at home is not ideal, Melbourne's incredible away form has meant that the pressure is off to perform at home. Ernie Merrick suggested this week that perhaps Melbourne gets a little too carried away with its attacking at home and perhaps that comes at the expense of a solid defence and that's reflected in the fact that Melbourne has not had a clean sheet at home this season.
Having come in place of Brebner last week, Leigh Broxham will probably be his replacement in the starting XI while Pondeljak could also act as a straight swap for Berger, which would mean Glen Moss, Foschini, Sutee Suksomkit and Sukha starting on the bench.
The most recent match-up between these teams resulted in the points being shared at Etihad Stadium back in Round 6, with Carlos Hernandez' fourth-minute free kick cancelled out by Tim Brown's equaliser on the half hour, while Wellington's only Hyundai A-League win over Melbourne came just over 12 months ago at the same venue as it came from behind after Danny Allsopp opened the scoring to win thanks to goals to Brown and Shane Smeltz.
While Archie Thompson netted twice last week, taking his season tally to eight goals including three in the past two outings, and Robbie Kruse and Nick Ward also impressively scoring, Melbourne's attack has looked dangerous in recent games. But just as important has been the hard work of the defence, particularly two weeks ago in the 1-0 triumph over the Roar in Brisbane.
Goals may have been a little harder to come by last week for the Phoenix, as Chris Greenacre equalised only to see the Roar put three more into the back of the net, but Ricki Herbert's men haven't been going too badly on the whole, particularly Paul Ifill whose past five games have featured three goals.
Wellington Phoenix Squad: 1. Mark PASTON, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Jon McKAIN, 5. DIEGO, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Adrian CACERES, 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk), 22. Andrew DURANTE (c), 23. Costa BARBAROUSES *one to be omitted*
In: Mark PASTON (return from injury), Jon McKAIN (return from injury), DIEGO (return from injury)
Out: Manny MUSCAT (suspended - 3 weeks), Jonathan GOULD (gk) (short-term contract expired)
Melbourne Victory: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 5.Surat SUKHA, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7.Matthew KEMP, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 22.Nick WARD, 23.Adrian LEIJER, 27.Sutee SUKSOMKIT
In: Matthew FOSCHINI (promoted), Tom PONDELJAK (return from injury), Surat SUKHA (return from injury)
Out: Evan BERGER (hamstring, 4-6 weeks), Grant BREBNER (ankle, 6 weeks), Mate DUGANDZIC (omitted)
Unavailable: Marvin ANGULO (pending registration), Billy CELESKI (knee, season), Steven PACE (abdomen, indefinite)