Monday, March 12, 2012

Then there were four...

By Paul Frederickson

The Premier's Plate was Central Coast Mariner's to lose and with two rounds to go in the regular season and leading by two points, it still is. Now though, there are three other teams with a
mathematical and realistic chance of capturing what many people believe is the A-League's biggest prize. Brisbane Roar, Perth Glory and the Wellington Phoenix are in great positions to put pressure on the team that has led the competition for most of the season. What are the permutations, who plays who and what are the top four team's chances in the final two rounds of the 2011/12 A-League season?

Play: Adelaide United (H), Wellington Phoenix (A)

The Central Coast Mariners have, for a large part of the season, dominated the competition. They have continued last year's strong development to promote youth who are ready to mix it up with players who are vastly more experienced. For example of this progress, look no further than Tom Rogic and the Central Coast Mariner's Championship winning, National Youth League team. They should account for Adelaide at Bluetongue Stadium, have a mid-week ACL game before travelling across the ditch to face the best home team of the competition and fellow contender, Wellington Phoenix. I expect that the travel will take its toll on the Central Coast team and for Wellington to upset them in the final round.

Projected final points tally: 48 Projected ladder position: 1st

Play: Newcastle Jets (A), Gold Coast United (A)

The defending A-League Premiers and Champions have had a roller coaster of a season setting an Australian professional sporting record of 36 games before falling hard, losing an A-League record 5 games in a row. The Brisbane Roar was trailing the Central Coast Mariners by 11 points just over 5 weeks ago and has had the chance to take the lead in their last two games. The Roar play their last two games of the regular season away. They face a vastly improved but still
inconsistent Newcastle Jets at Ausgrid Stadium, a game that I think will be a hard-fought draw. Like the Mariners, the Roar will then play an ACL game but as the away team before facing Gold Coast United in what could be United's last ever A-League game. As desperate as the young Gold Coast team will be I feel that the Roar will have too much class and with too much to play for will gain the vital 3 points.

Projected final points tally: 47 Predicted ladder position: 2nd

Play: Gold Coast United (A), Melbourne Victory (H)

Perth Glory have had one of the better looking squads, on paper, for the past few seasons but after positive starts have flattered to deliver results to their faithful fans. This season after another bright start it looked like being business as usual as Perth faltered in the middle part of the season. Coach Ferguson was reportedly under tremendous pressure to keep his job, but he is more seasoned, tougher, and like his team has a will to win. With Smeltz and Mehmet they have
match-winners and should account for two of the bottom three teams in their run home to the finals. They may come up just short in the race for the Premier's Plate but they will host a home final and be well placed to try and win a maiden A-League title.

Predicted final points tally: 46 Predicted ladder position 3rd.

Play: Melbourne Victory (A), Central Coast Mariners (H)

Not many people would have given the Wellington outfit a chance of a top four spot at the start of the season, and with mounting injuries in the first few weeks of the season the thoughts seemed well founded. This Wellington team developed as the season progressed and added something extra to their already impressive home form, the ability to get results away from home.

With a full squad to choose from, an in-form Ifill and a chance to host a home final the Phoenix will finish the season strongly. They face a hard game away to the disappointing Melbourne
Victory, which I believe they will gain a point before beating this season's potential Premier's the Central Coast Mariners in the final game. This would be a remarkable achievement for the Wellington based team.

Projected final points tally: 44 Predicted ladder position 4th.

This has been a remarkable season for the A-League and I expect that the final two weeks of the season will be no different, we are in for a suspenseful and dramatic finale.