To the winner goes the spoils, that’s the A-League finals system in a nutshell as we now enter ‘sudden death’ mode. The action kicks off at Etihad stadium when Ange Postecoglu searches for his third straight title (Brisbane 2011-12).
Alistair Edwards has managed to survive a seven week ‘mini finals’ campaign in his reign as head coach with Perth Glory. Taking 13 from a possible 21 points Edwards has now reached the finals, but now faces the clubs toughest challenge of the season; an elimination final away to Melbourne.
A third placed finish is a great result for Victory for season 2012/13, a season constantly interrupted by international duties and injury. Credit must go to Postecoglu and his staff by achieving such a result under pressing circumstances, this all counts for nothing if Victory cannot regain the spark they seem to have lost over the last few weeks. A late Archie Thompson goal secured a win last week, but beating Wellington in Wellington isn’t as tough as previous seasons. This was Victory’s only win in the last month and let’s be honest their form isn’t causing many sleepless nights for Arnold or Popovic.
All week Postecoglu has spoken about how his team being comfortable with playing big games in front of big crowds, to me this doesn’t count for much in a sudden death finals series. Perth will be buoyed by confidence having taken the points last time these two teams met in Melbourne, although Perth has never won at Etihad.
Both coaches face selection headaches but for very different reasons. Edwards has to fit Liam Miller and Shane Smeltz into the starting XI whilst Ange faces a choice between youth and experience. Through necessity Victory has tinkered with their starting XI blooding plenty of talented youngsters in the process. A form drop off in concerning for Victory fans and there is plenty of selection dilemmas that face Postecoglu. Does he risk out of form players such as Marcos Flores, or does he stay with fan favourite Leigh Broxham? This is just one of the many choices Victory face in the do or die clash.
Thompson has scored some important goals at crucial times this season, and tonight he may just repeat that magic. Mark Milligan will be the most important player on the pitch and holds the key for Victory. Perth captain Jacob Burns has had an injury interrupted season and must be careful to avoid an early caution. Emotions will be running high in this final, and I expect the Perth skipper to be on his best behaviour. Smeltz hasn’t played in a fortnight and the longer this clash goes, the more he will struggle. The leagues all time leading scorer has hardly set the world on fire this season, but never discount a champion.
Expect Victory to play a fast paced tempo against a disciplined Perth team. A decent crowd of 30,000 plus may have to dig deep and become the 12th man to get their team over the line. This has all the makings of a great final, and is a great entree of what to expect over the next three weeks.
Head to Head
Melbourne Victory 9 wins Draws 5 Perth Glory 10 wins
At Etihad Stadium
Melbourne Victory 4 wins Draws 2 Perth Glory 0 wins
Melbourne Victory 2 lost to Perth Glory 3 at AAMI Park on 23rd March 2013
Perth Glory 0 lost to Melbourne Victory 1 at NIB Stadium on 19th January 2013
Melbourne Victory 1 defeated Perth Glory 0 at AAMI Park on 30th November 2012
Melbourne Victory 2 (Milligan 35m Thompson 116m) Perth Glory 1 (Miller 75m)