Preview: North Queensland v Melbourne Victory
Melbourne takes the best road show in the Hyundai A-League all the way to Townsville on Sunday in a bid to further build on an away record which features seven wins from nine matches.
Date: Sunday December 27 Kick-off: 8:00pm AEST, 9:00pm AEDT Venue: Dairy Farmers Stadium
Head-to-head 1 A-League meeting: Wins: Melbourne 1
Previous Meeting North Queensland Fury 0, Melbourne Victory 1, August 2009
Past five matches: North Queensland Fury: Round 16: North Queensland Fury 2, Adelaide United 1, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 17: Sydney FC 4, North Queensland Fury 1, Sydney Football Round 18: North Queensland Fury 1, Perth Glory 0, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 19: Brisbane Roar 2, North Queensland Fury 0, Suncorp Stadium Round 20: Newcastle Jets 3, North Queensland Fury 2, EnergyAustralia Stadium
Melbourne Victory: Round 15: Brisbane Roar 0, Melbourne Victory 1, Suncorp Stadium Round 16: Melbourne Victory 4, Gold Coast United 0, Etihad Stadium Round 17: Wellington Phoenix 1, Melbourne Victory 1, Westpac Stadium Round 18: Central Coast Mariners 0, Melbourne Victory 3, Bluetongue Stadium Round 20: Melbourne Victory 0, Sydney FC 0, Etihad Stadium
Analysis: Melbourne takes the best road show in the Hyundai A-League all the way to Townsville on Sunday in a bid to further build on an away record which features seven wins from nine matches.
It is just the second time Victory has played at Dairy Farmers Stadium, with Melbourne prevailing in a tight match 1-0 in August with Archie Thompson securing the win. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since that match with Melbourne losing three matches in 16 since, while North Queensland has won just five of 17.
The difference between the two teams in recent weeks is best reflected in their defensive records. Melbourne has conceded just one goal in its past five matches, while the Fury has let 10 slip past. That adds up to 37 for the season, 14 more than Melbourne.
The comparison in attack is also lopsided, with Melbourne having scored the most goals of any team in the competition, 31, and the Fury managing 22.
But, of course, a football match is not won on statistics and the journey to Townsville in the heat of what is their wet season, looms as one of the tougher ones for a Melbourne side which is missing several key players in the midfield.
With Leigh Broxham (suspended), Evan Berger (hamstring), Surat Sukha (hamstring) and Billy Celeski (knee) already unavailable for this match, playmaker Carlos Hernandez is a major doubt. Hernandez has been one of the club's most influential players this season, but is battling with an ankle injury and is unlikely to make the flight north.
Grant Brebner (ankle) is a chance to make a sooner-than-expected return from injury but coach Ernie Merrick won-t risk him from the start of this game, meaning he will have to draft in someone else to fill Broxham's role.
Matthew Foschini is a chance to get the nod, while Merrick has also included youth leaguers Aziz Behich, Diogo Ferreira, Luke Pilkington, Mate Dugandzic and Mathew Theodore in an extended squad. Sutee Suksomkit will play his final match of an eight-match guest stint and is likely to be given a starting spot if Hernandez is not fit.
North Queensland has a tendency to play the long ball, and use Robbie Fowler to create scoring chances. Melbourne's in-form defence will have to be wise to this and limit the marquee man's influence on the game.
Going the other way, Melbourne will look to use Archie Thompson's mobility to get behind or around the Fury defenders, which are not renowned for their own mobility. The key, as it often is for Melbourne, will be quick movement of the ball.
But as was evident against Sydney last week, the ability to get shots on target is most vital to securing all three points and Melbourne's marksmen will be hoping for a more accurate evening at the shooting range on Sunday.
North Queensland Fury squad: 1.Paul HENDERSON (GK), 2.Robbie MIDDLEBY, 3. Chris TADROSSE, 7.Jason SPAGNUOLO, 9.Robbie FOWLER (c), 10.Jeremy BROCKIE, 12.Jack HINGERT,14.Chris GROSSMAN, 16. Paul KOHLER, 17. Osama MALIK, 19.Daniel MCBREEN, 20. Justin PASFIELD (GK), 23. Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 24 Dyron DAAL, 25 Grant SMITH, 26 Matt SMITH, 27 Terry COOKE *two to be omitted*
In: Jack HINGERT (promoted), Osama MALIK (promoted)
Out: 5. Jacob TIMPANO 13. Beau BUSCH, 15. Fred AGIUS, 21. John TAMBOURAS, 22. Karl DODD
Unavailable: 8. Shane STEFANUTTO (knee - indefinite), 4.Scott WILSON (knee - indefinite), 18. James ROBINSON (knee- indefinite) 6. Ufuk TALAY (calf: 4-6 weeks) 11. David WILLIAMS (hamstring 4-6 weeks)
Melbourne Victory: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 3.Mate DUGANDZIC, 7.Matthew KEMP, 8.Grant BREBNER, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13.Nathan ELASI, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 18.Mathew THEODORE, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 22.Nick WARD, 23.Adrian LEIJER, 24.Aziz BEHICH, 25.Luke PILKINGTON, 27.Sutee SUKSOMKIT, 28.Diogo FERREIRA *five to be omitted*
In: Aziz BEHICH (promoted from NYL), Grant BREBNER (return from injury), Mate DUGANDZIC (promoted), Diogo FERREIRA (promoted from NYL), Luke PILKINGTON (promoted from NYL), Mathew THEODORE (promoted)
Out: Leigh BROXHAM (suspended, 1 week)
Unavailable: Marvin ANGULO (pending registration), Evan BERGER (hamstring, 2 weeks), Billy CELESKI (knee, season), Steven PACE (abdomen, indefinite), Surat SUKHA (hamstring, 4 weeks)