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A-League round-18 preview panel

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 2/02/2017 Emma Kemp and Ben McKay

Preview of A-League round-18 matches (all times AEDT):

FRIDAY, Feb 3

Brisbane v Sydney FC at Suncorp Stadium 7.50pm

Head to Head: Roar 15 Sydney 13 drawn 14

Last clash: Round 13 2016-17 - Sydney 2 bt Roar 0 at Allianz Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Roar $3.00 Sydney $2.25 Draw $3.40

Will Brisbane finally burst Sydney's 17-match undefeated bubble? It's certainly possible. John Aloisi's men are back in form with three wins on the trot, including Tuesday's 6-0 ACL playoff thumping of Global FC, and will want more momentum before travelling next week to face Carlos Tevez's Shanghai Shenhua. But Graham Arnold believes that China trip could prove the Roar's fatal distraction in a battle every bit as scrappy as last week's 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory. Expect more Sky Blues defensive shuffling as right-back Rhyan Grant returns from suspension but left-back Michael Zullo sits out for the same reason. Four-goal Brisbane youngster Brandon Borrello is also banned.

Key: Whether Aloisi deploys a strong XI including Brett Holman. Too much juggling in preparation for Shanghai could prove fatal.

Tip: Draw

SATURDAY, Feb 4

Wellington v Western Sydney at Yarrow Stadium 5.35pm

Head to Head: Phoenix 5 Wanderers 6 drawn 3

Last clash: Round 11 2016-17 - Phoenix 2 drew Wanderers 2 at Mt Smart Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Phoenix $2.25 Wanderers $3.00 Draw $3.50

Seventh host eighth and both desperately need three points to challenge for finals after slipping in recent weeks behind Newcastle and Perth. This result is especially important given the Jets and Glory are also playing each other. The pressure is perhaps greater for the Wanderers, whose anaemic results are even testing the patience of devout fans. While New Plymouth doesn't quite constitute a Wellington home game, the Phoenix will be grateful for lower temperatures as they continue to feel the effects of last week's tortuous Adelaide heat.

Key: What role will Wanderers recruit Ryan Griffiths play, and can the ageing striker provide the goals the club have so sorely been missing?

Tip: Phoenix

Melbourne Victory v Melbourne City at Etihad Stadium 7.50pm

Head to Head: Victory 9 City 8 drawn 5

Last clash: Round 11 2016-17 - Victory 2 bt City 1 at AAMI Park

Tab Sportsbet: Victory $2.30 City $2.80 Draw $3.50

The fourth Melbourne derby hasn't been as hyped as Tim Cahill's first derby, the FFA Cup semi-final or Victory's Christmas revenge mission, but it could hardly be more important for both clubs' seasons. Victory are on a three-game losing streak, which has allowed City to dream of stealing their top-two place. But Michael Valkanis' men have issues of their own, with their last-out loss to Newcastle the latest of a nine-game run yielding just two wins. City's 4-1 demolition of Victory at this venue in October seems a lifetime ago, and they haven't played as well since. Victory are delighted to be through their gruelling run of four matches in 14 days, but that doesn't mean they'll return to winning ways. Picking this is a raffle - the closest thing to a certainty could be goals as both teams have scored in the past five derbies.

Key: Cahill. Who else? The veteran forward has goals in two of his three Melbourne derbies and returns to the site of his incredible 40-metre screamer from October. Could he do it again? Don't bet against it.

Tip: Draw

Perth v Newcastle at nib Stadium 10.00pm

Head to Head: Glory 26 Jets 7 drawn 8

Last clash: Round 15 2016-17 - Jets 2 drew Glory 2 at McDonald Jones Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Glory $1.95 Jets $3.60 Draw $3.60

Prepare for a frenetic fight for fifth. Perth hold it but only by one point and, if the Jets' 2-1 dismantling of Melbourne City is a sign of things to come, their hosts have to batten down the hatches. Plugging leaks will be Kenny Lowe's priority after conceding two goals in five minutes to lowly Central Coast. The absence of suspended goalkeeper Liam Reddy will make things tougher but at least captain Rostyn Griffiths (suspended) is back. Wayne Brown (hip) returns for Newcastle while Steven Ugarkovic (suspended) is sidelined.

Key: Andrew Nabbout's stunning renaissance continued with a brace against City. Now on seven goals, the young winger has entered Socceroos discussions and looks in no mood to slow down.

Tip: Glory

SUNDAY, Feb 5

Central Coast v Adelaide United at GIO Stadium 5.00pm

Head to Head: Mariners 17 Reds 14 drawn 7

Last clash: Round 5 2016-17 - Mariners 2 bt Reds 1 at Coopers Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Mariners $3.75 Reds $1.90 Draw $3.70

Temperatures are set to soar to 37 degrees for Central Coast's second home game in Canberra, although the late-afternoon kickoff will likely see players escape the worst of the heat forecast for the preceding W-League game. Fresh off a 2-0 win over Perth, the Mariners are after back-to-back home victories for the first time since 2014. This could be their best shot, against a last-placed Reds outfit still recovering from stifling heat last weekend in Adelaide. United playmaker Marcelo Carrusca returns from injury and youngster Mark Ochieng is finally back in the squad three weeks after scoring the winner against Melbourne City.

Key: While rare starter Josh Bingham did well to score against Perth, first-choice striker Roy O'Donovan's return from suspension couldn't be better timed.

Tip: Adelaide

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