We have reached then end of the road in terms of the A-League Men’s home and away season and the football was once again thrilling in Round 25.
Texi Smith took a mighty swing with his tips and failed, most of the panel fared little better and it was Andrew Prentice and the roar of the crowd who excelled in the penultimate week. Round 26 begins with two matches involving the top four teams on the ladder, with some jostling to be done before the real business begins.
Wellington will be hunting a win against Macarthur to secure sixth spot, with the Jets, Glory and Western United are lurking and hoping to sneak in at the eleventh hour. It could mathematically come down to the final match of the round and Perth and Wellington do seem the most likely to lock in finals play.
Good luck with your tips for the round and be sure to enter them in the sheet below to have a say in the voice of the people. Here is the way the panel sees all the Round 26 action playing out.
Adelaide, City, Draw, Sydney, Victory, Perth
It’s not every season we enjoy a final round that actually means something, and it hardly gets bigger than Adelaide’s clash with Central Coast. Nestory Irankunda’s last-gasp equaliser against Perth Glory last weekend means the Reds can afford to draw this game and finish second, but they’ll be buoyed by what should be a full house at Coopers Stadium.
The Mariners are unbeaten in their last four, but the Reds will want to head into the finals with some momentum. It’s hard to tip against the home team here. After looking like they might stumble in the run home following a 4-2 defeat to Adelaide United, Melbourne City have since gone seven games unbeaten.
They’ve gone the entire season unbeaten at home – an away derby defeat to Melbourne Victory notwithstanding – and they’ll fancy their chances of finishing the campaign with another home win over a Wanderers side that saves their best performances for Parramatta.
It could be a fiery encounter at AAMI Park between two sides who won’t back down. Just three wins in 2023 have made it a season to forget for Mile Sterjovski and the Macarthur Bulls. If there’s a positive for the Campbelltown outfit, it’s that they’ve been tougher to beat at home than they have been away.
Still, it’s Wellington who have everything to play for here, as the Kiwi side do their utmost to try and hold onto their top six position. They only need a point to do so and with Ufuk Talay’s battlers not exactly the best of travellers, this one is likely to finish all square in Sydney’s south-west.
Sydney FC are slowly starting to find some form at the right end of the season, and they go into this game on the back of a four-game unbeaten run. They eased past Brisbane Roar on a cold and rainy Queensland night last Monday, and they’ve simply got too much firepower not to see off the Newcastle Jets at home.
The Novocastrians just never really got going under Arthur Papas. They need a clean-out at the end of the season, but even more than that, they desperately need new owners.
While Melbourne Victory haven’t necessarily been as bad as their 10th place suggests, you couldn’t exactly make the case that they’ve been impressive under Tony Popovic this season. They’ve tended to follow a promising result with a string of ordinary ones, which probably explains why they go into this clash on the back of a draw, a loss, and a last-minute victory.
Neither side has more than pride to play for here, but with the Roar being one of the worst performers on the road, this one should be a home banker.
Perth Glory need to win and win convincingly to keep the narrowest of finals hopes alive. They’d have been in a much more promising position had they not conceded that stoppage-time equaliser last weekend, and even if they win here, it’s hard to see how they sneak into the top six.
Still, with Western United failing to put up any kind of title defence under John Aloisi, this is Glory’s game to lose. The visitors will want to send Ale Diamanti off a winner, but it’s not going to happen in the west.
Adelaide, Western Sydney, Macarthur, Sydney, Victory, Perth
Adelaide and Central Coast will fight for second spot on Friday night and the Reds need a win after looking a little less polished recently.
A massive home crowd should do the job for them. At the same time, Melbourne City will look to end the season on a high, as the Wanderers come to town hopeful of three points that could move them into second, depending on the other result.
I’m seeing a Macarthur win against a weakening Phoenix in Sydney and the race for sixth opening up thereafter. Sydney FC are in much better form and despite the maths, even a win for the Jets over them will most likely leave Newcastle short on goal difference.
Melbourne Victory are going to miss finals by a narrow margin after a win against the Roar to sign off for the season and the final game will be a home win for the Glory, killing off any mathematical miracles from Western United and squeezing them into the top six on goal difference, displacing Wellington.
Central Coast, Western Sydney, Wellington, Sydney, Victory, Perth
The first of the double headers happens on Friday night with the utterly mouth-watering prospect of Adelaide and Central Coast fighting it out for second spot, a week off, home final, and ACL place. Four weeks ago, this would have looked a home banker at Hindmarsh.
But the Mariners have found form while the Reds were ambushed by Western United two rounds ago, and last week competed in another extraordinary goal-fest with the Glory. With all that, my pick of the Mariners is done more with heart than head.
The Wanderers might just be playing the Premiers at the right time, with most of Melbourne City’s KPIs thus far achieved. If the Reds do get beaten by the Mariners, and the Wanderers better Central Coast’s winning result, they’ll jump into second and ensure a home final in week two.
That in itself is enough motivation to knock over City. Brandon Borello will be keen to show Socceroos team mate and now-leading A-League all-time top scorer Jamie Maclaren that there’s more than one of Arnie’s lads who know the way to goal.
Wellington’s form has been horrendous of late, so they are my bizarro pick of the week, simply because they are too good to continue playing like a team sidetracked in the Whittakers aisle of the downtown Pak ‘n Save. (NZ readers will understand these references – your country rocks!)
For a side that showed such incredible resilience in the dark days of the pandemic, they have looked tissue-soft, but a trip to Campbelltown to face the Bulls represents their last chance to secure what looked like a certain finals place a month ago. Oskar Zawada didn’t score last week. That can’t happen twice, surely?
A draw would be enough for the Phoenix, but if they lose…
The Jets are a long shot for finals football, needing a six goal swing to catch Wellington and a reliance on Perth losing at home. But they’ll need to go out and attack Sydney FC at the SFS, given the Phoenix game is on at the same time.
That might just be their undoing, as the Sky Blues have finally found the form that made them a powerhouse of the league not so long ago. Joe Lolley, Robert Mak and Adam Le Fondre now look like the lethal combination their pedigree suggested.
It might be a sad bus ride on the Sid Foggs coach back up the M1 for the Jets.
Victory-Roar is the only game with no bearing on play-off places, but there is the slight matter of avoiding the wooden spoon (a mythical psychological token) and the real threat of Australia Cup elimination play-offs. It has been a wretched season for both sides, but Victory look slightly less wretched as the final round approaches. I have no better science to offer on picking Victory than that.
Perth will know whether their play-off chances are still alive by the time they play Western United at HBF Park. If the Phoenix lose and Newcastle don’t run riot in Sydney, there might be a huge walk-up crowd to see if the Glory can snatch sixth place.
Last week’s outrageous 4-4 draw with Adelaide, with 3 injury time goals and more twists than a Hitchcock film on speed should be enough to bring the fans back anyway. What a game that was.
There may be a hollow atmosphere if Wellington do the business earlier in the day, but with the shackles of pressure off, the Glory might just enjoy themselves and consign last years champions to a final day defeat.
Central Coast, Western Sydney, Macarthur, Sydney, Victory, Perth
Adelaide United host Central Coast Mariners knowing that a win will secure them a week off and a spot in the semi-finals. A draw could be no good to either team, with the Wanderers breathing down their necks, and a Mariners win by the same or more goals than Western Sydney will secure second spot.
So, who wants it more? The Mariners will be ahead early, Beni N’Kololo striking from distance, only for Jonny Yull to equalise by half time. A sparkling second-half performance from the visitors will be rewarded with a Moresche overhead kick late in the game, and Adelaide will rue their missed chances late.
Any doubts about Melbourne City’s intentions in their last two games, having already taken out the premiership, were dispelled as they showed neighbours Western United how to convert chances last weekend.
Now that Jamie Maclaren has achieved his goal however, their minds may be elsewhere, with nothing to play for in this one. The home fans will be having none of it though, and City will boss the first half, Florin Berenguer hitting the post as they go close on numerous occasions.
However, a key interception by Calem Nieuwenhof, and a defence-splitting ball to Amore Layouni will unlock the City rearguard in the second half; Brandon Borrello thumping home from the cut-back. An incredibly open final twenty minutes will give us end-to-end football, and a second late goal from Nicolas Milanovic will propel the Wanderers into second place in a nerve-jangling end to a brilliant game of football.
Macarthur FC host Wellington Phoenix in their final game of the season, and this is the last chance to escape the wooden spoon for the under-performing Bulls. Phoenix were dismantled last week in Western Sydney, but they will be fully expecting to grab the point required to secure sixth spot.
Oli Sail will be busy in a first half dominated by the home team, but a second-half shake-up by Ufuk Talay will see the visitors go all out for the winning goal. What a disaster it will be and a surprise result will see Al Hassan Toure smash home a winning goal to lift the Bulls off the foot of the table.
How Sydney FC have finished fifth on the table is an utter mystery. This final day is now a celebration and the result is immaterial for the home side, and to be honest, the visitors’ own goal difference woes make any chance of qualifying in sixth spot extremely remote.
Stand by for a classic. Rhyan Grant volleys home in the first few minutes, Jets equalise through Reno Piscopo on the run to highlight the brittle Sydney defence, but Adam Le Fondre slides home a second before the break to have Sydney in command.
Angus Thurgate strikes an equaliser with ten to go to spoil the party, but Joe Lolley rounds off the entertainment with a low drive to reignite the jovial atmosphere at Allianz Stadium as Sydney FC confirm their fifth place.
In a strange end to the season, Melbourne Victory could find themselves just one point outside the top six by the end of their home game with Brisbane Roar, or they could be dead last again. Tonight’s football will be low on quality but high on drama, a no-holds barred battle that will have the Victory fans wondering why they are so low on the A-League table.
A good crowd will roar on the home team to the win, Fernando Romero with an early goal to settle the team, and further goals from Bruno Fornaroli and Chris Ikonomidis will secure a surprisingly respectable league finish for the once-proud Melbourne Victory, as Brisbane fail to convert their possession into goals.
The most unlikely thriller is saved for the final game of the regular A-League season. Somehow both teams will have a mathematical chance of making the top six, but Perth Glory will actually have a good opportunity by securing three points in front of their adoring home fans.
Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Alessandro Diamanti would have been hoping for a more appropriate send-off for their United careers than a late-night trip to Perth, and it will end with defeat. Keegan Jelacic to score the first goal on the half-hour, Western United to rally with the impressive Dylan Pierias nabbing the equaliser.
Yet Perth will run away with it in the second half, three more goals giving this a slightly unrealistic final score line as two greats of the A-League wave goodbye to a stadium full of opposition fans in a sad goodbye.
|ADL vs CCM
|MCY vs WSW
|MAC vs WEL
|SYD vs NEW
|MVC vs BRI
|PER vs WUN