Preview: Victory v Wellington Phoenix
With the Victory sitting fifth on 32 points and the Phoenix seventh with 26, this game has plenty riding on it.
Date: Wednesday January 5 Kick-off: 5:30pm (AEDT) Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington Television: Live and exclusive on Fox Sports 1 from 5:30pm (AEDT) Radio: - Live Match Centre: www.melbournevictory.com.au
Head-to-head Played: 11, Melbourne Victory 4, Wellington Phoenix 1, 6 draws
Previous Meeting Wellington Phoenix 2, Melbourne Victory 2, Westpac Stadium, November 2010
Why we don't like 'em The teams have never met in a finals match, apart from when Melbourne Victory prevailed 8-7 in a penalty shootout in the final of the 2008 Pre-Season Cup when neither team was able to trouble the scorers.
Wellington may not be up there in terms of rivals of the equal of Adelaide United or Sydney FC but they have provided some frustration for Victory this season in 0-0 and 2-2 draws, the last of them thanks to Paul Ifill's late equaliser while there are also a couple of former Melbourne players running around in Phoenix colours in Nick Ward, who started the season in Victoria, and Vince Lia.
Past five matches: Wellington Phoenix: North Queensland Fury 1, Wellington Phoenix 1, Dairy Farmers Stadium Wellington Phoenix 4, Newcastle Jets 0, Westpac Stadium Gold Coast United 2, Wellington Phoenix 0, Skilled Park Wellington Phoenix 2, Adelaide United 1, AMI Stadium Sydney FC 3, Wellington Phoenix 1, SFS
Melbourne Victory: Central Coast Mariners 1, Melbourne Victory 2, Bluetongue Stadium Melbourne Victory 2, Newcastle Jets 1, AAMI Park Melbourne Victory 2, Perth Glory 0, AAMI Park Melbourne Heart 1, Melbourne Victory 3, AAMI Park Melbourne Victory 3, Brisbane Roar 3, AAMI Park
Decisions for Ernie After seemingly appearing blessed for forward options several weeks ago coach Ernie Merrick now not only has to make do without Archie Thompson (hamstring) for another couple of weeks but also Robbie Kruse, who is in camp with the Socceroos in the Middle East.
Ricardinho is likely to fill the breach up front, having scored the winner against the Jets and then played a part in setting up the equaliser against the Mariners but Danny Allsopp will come off the bench at some point in his first appearance since returning, while skipper Kevin Muscat will be rested with a view to the testing run home still to come, with Matthew Kemp (groin) a chance to return.
Behind Enemy Lines While Ifill is still out and Jade North is missing for several weeks on Socceroos duty, Ricki Herbert has recalled Tony Lochhead from a groin injury along with skipper Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund, the All Whites coach preparing for his 100th Hyundai A-League game in charge.
Our Hero Grant Brebner - Not the most prolific of scorers in his nearly five seasons with the club, Brebner has nonetheless scored some impressive goals for Victory and perhaps none more important than his late winner against the Mariners. The Scot had also helped set up Diogo Ferreira for the equaliser moments earlier.
Danger Man Dylan Macallister - After a slow start to the season Macallister has found form in recent outings, scoring in each of the Phoenix's past two starts, a big win over the Jets and then a 1-1 draw with the Fury. His form is of greater importance in the continued absence of Ifill.
Why we will win Momentum is a wonderful thing in sport and right now the Victory have it in spades thanks to four wins on the trot, including a pair of last-gasp triumphs in recent weeks against the Jets and then the Mariners, as well as seven matches now unbeaten.
The Phoenix haven't been as consistent in the past month or so, mixing a couple of wins with a draw and two defeats while their games have been producing goals with Herbert's men scoring eight times in their past five outings but conceding on seven occasions.
Amazingly, the Phoenix have beaten the Victory only once in the 11 previous meetings between the clubs, way back in November, 2008, and Merrick's team has picked up six points in five previous visits to New Zealand.
With the Victory sitting fifth on 32 points and the Phoenix seventh with 26, this game also has plenty riding on it in terms of finals, with the visitors getting the chance to narrow the gap behind the Mariners and Gold Coast United in third and fourth place, respectively as well as to increase their buffer to their opponents to nine points with seven games left.
Wellington though need a win to stay in touch with the Heart, who have at this stage played two extra games but sit four points clear of them in sixth place, the Phoenix also looking to draw four points ahead of the faltering Jets.
While the absences of Thompson and Kruse up front and Muscat at the back will be keenly felt, the return of Allsopp will boost the Victory and with their tails up they should prove too strong.
Teams Wellington Phoenix: 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 4. Nick WARD, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 19. Danny VUKOVIC (gk), 20. Reece CROWTHER (gk), 21. Marco ROJAS, 22. Andrew DURANTE, 23. Dylan MACALLISTER
In: Tony LOCHHEAD (return from injury) Out: Jade NORTH (international duty - 4 weeks) Unavailable: Paul IFILL (leg - 7 weeks), Mark PASTON (gk, knee - season)
Melbourne Victory: 1. Michael PETKOVIC (gk), 3. Mate DUGANDZIC, 6. Leigh BROXHAM, 7. Matthew KEMP, 8. Grant BREBNER, 9. RICARDINHO, 11. Marvin ANGULO, 12. Rodrigo VARGAS, 13. Diogo FERRERIA, 14. Billy CELESKI, 15. Tom PONDELJAK, 16. Carlos HERNANDEZ, 18. Danny ALLSOPP, 19. Evan BERGER, 20. Sebastian MATTEI (gk), 23. Adrian LEIJER (c)
In: Danny ALLSOPP (new signing from DC United), Leigh BROXHAM (returns from injury), Matthew KEMP (returns from injury) Out: Kevin MUSCAT (rested), Robbie KRUSE (international duty - 4 weeks) Unavailable: Archie THOMPSON (hamstring)