Preview: North Queensland Fury v Melbourne Victory
Melbourne's stirring comeback against Brisbane last week could ignite Victory's championship defence after what has been a sluggish start.
Date: Saturday August 22 Kick-off: 5:00pm AEST Venue: Dairy Farmers Stadium TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 3. To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.com.au
Head-to-head No previous meeting
Season so far: North Queensland: Round 1: North Queensland 2, Sydney FC 3, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 2: Gold Coast United 5, North Queensland 0, Skilled Park
Melbourne Victory: Round 1: Melbourne Victory 0, Central Coast Mariners 2, Etihad Stadium Round 2: Melbourne Victory 3, Brisbane Roar 3, Etihad Stadium
Analysis: Melbourne's stirring comeback against Brisbane last week could ignite Victory's championship defence after what has been a sluggish start.
Facing a 2-0, then 3-1 deficit at home to the Roar, Melbourne was staring down the barrel of a second straight defeat. But inspired by Carlos Hernandez, who scored two amazing goals and set up Danny Allsopp for the other, Melbourne rallied back to snatch a point and shake off some early-season lethargy which had seen it lose to Central Coast in the season-opener.
After some problems in the first half covering the absence of Kevin Muscat, Melbourne's defence settled down in the second half, helped by the presence of Billy Celeski in midfield. Celeski's defensive strength and intelligent distribution saw Melbourne play with much more direction late in the game, while Hernandez again showed his value.
It was by no means a perfect performance, but the signs were there that Melbourne is getting back into the sort of rhythm which saw it sweep all before it late last season en route to the premiership and championship double.
In big news for the club, Adrian Leijer has returned from Fulham and comes into th squad along with Steven Pace and Matthew Foschini. Ernie Merrick is still deciding on the final make-up of his starting XI. If Leijer is not up to a full 90 minutes after a lightning trip back from the UK, Pace could get his first start for a couple of seasons, while Foschini is unlikely to be thrown into the mix.
Matthew Kemp's wife is expecting a baby any time now, and that could see the versatile defender called away resulting in a few more changes in the back four. Surat Sukha could make his first start, while the club is confident Evan Berger will be fit to take the field.
Up in Townsville, Ian Ferguson would have been going over the nightmare that evolved on the Gold Coast last Saturday where his side were hammered 5-0. To be fair on the Fury, they only trailed 1-0 at half-time, but were completely over-run late in the match.
It was as much a slap in the face as a reality check and there's no doubt there would have been some honest words spoken by Ferguson and marquee man Robbie Fowler after the match and during the week.
Fowler's Hyundai A-League debut hasn't exactly lived up to the pre-season hype, with one penalty to show for 180 minutes of football, but the more time he spends with his new team-mates, the better it will be for him, and we all know the class he possesses.
Ferguson has made four changes to his squad, bringing back experienced former Sydney midfielder Ufuk Talay, former Victory players Chris Tadrosse and James Robinson and Dutch striker Dyron Daal. He dropped three defenders, Jack Hingert, Beau Busch and Kojiro Kaimoto .
This match looms as an opportunity for Melbourne to get a win under its belt on the road. If the team can carry on the football from the second half of last week, it should secure all three points and really get the premiership defence rolling along.
North Queensland Fury line-up: 1. Paul HENDERSON (gk), 2. Robbie MIDDLEBY, 3. Chris TADROSSE, 6. Ufuk TALAY, 8. Shane STEFANUTTO, 9. Robbie FOWLER (c), 11. David WILLIAMS, 16.Paul KOHLER, 18. James ROBINSON, 19. Daniel MCBREEN, 20. Justin PASFIELD (gk), 21. John TAMBOURAS, 22. Karl DODD, 23. Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 24. Dyron DAAL
In: Chris TADROSSE, Ufuk TALAY, James ROBINSON, Dyron DAAL
Out: Beau BUSCH, Jack HINGERT, Kojiro KAIMOTO
Unavailable: Scott WILSON (foot - 6 weeks), Jacob TIMPANO (hamstring - 6 weeks), Jeremy BROCKIE (quadriceps - 4 weeks), Osama MALIK (thigh - 1 week), Jason SPAGNUOLO, (hamstring - 2 weeks)
Melbourne Victory: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 4.Steven PACE, 5.Surat SUKHA, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7.Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 9.Danny ALLSOPP, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 11.NEY FABIANO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS (c), 14.Billy CELESKI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 19.Evan BERGER, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 22.Nick WARD *two to be omitted*
In: Steven PACE (promoted), Matthew FOSCHINI (promoted) Out: Nil
Unavailable: Kevin MUSCAT (hamstring - 3-5 weeks)
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