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A-League round-20 preview panel

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/02/2017 Emma Kemp

PREVIEW OF A-LEAGUE ROUND 20 MATCHES (all times AEDT):

FRIDAY, Feb 17

Adelaide United v Newcastle at Coopers Stadium 7.50pm

Head to Head: Reds 15 Jets 11 drawn 13

Last clash: Round 11 2016-17 - Jets 2 bt Reds 1 at McDonald Jones Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Reds $2.37 Jets $3.20 Draw $3.40

Guillermo Amor said he didn't deserve a new coaching contract after Adelaide's humiliating 5-0 loss to Perth and, with two wins and 11 points from 19 games, the Barcelona legend's future doesn't look good. The defending champions are anchored last and show no signs of turning it around against Newcastle, who have everything to play for. With one point separating a four-way battle for sixth spot, the sixth-placed Jets must take all points from their next two games against the Reds and Central Coast if Mark Jones' revived men are to secure a first finals appearance in seven seasons.

Key: The Jets kept a rare clean sheet in a last-out goalless draw with Melbourne Victory but lacked cutting edge in front of goal. Can Morten Nordstrand, Andrew Hoole and Andrew Nabbout find their killer instinct?

Tip: Jets

SATURDAY, Feb 18

Wellington v Melbourne City at Westpac Stadium 5.35pm

Head to Head: Phoenix 8 City 9 drawn 6

Last clash: Round 8 2016-17 - City 2 bt Phoenix 1 at AAMI Park

Tab Sportsbet: Phoenix $2.70 City $2.40 Draw $3.50

City cross the ditch buoyed by a courageous 2-2 draw with Brisbane and with six of seven suspended senior players back in their ranks. But Wellington won't be a walk in the park for Michael Valkanis' top-four hopefuls, who are winless in their past seven away games and will be without key defensive pairing Michael Jakobsen (calf) and Ivan Franjic (knee soreness). The Phoenix face their own dogfight for sixth spot and maximum points from here on in aren't negotiable. Defender Marci Rossi and striker Shane Smeltz return from suspension but linkman Gui Finkler won't take part after flying to Brazil to meet his newborn daughter. Wellington have been less than impressive and City are due a big win.

Key: Veteran goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen earned man-of-the-match plaudits against the Roar - his first game in four months - and is assured another start while Dean Bouzanis serves his five-match ban.

Tip: Melbourne City

Western Sydney v Sydney FC at ANZ Stadium 7.50pm

Head to Head: Wanderers 3 Sydney 7 drawn 4

Last clash: Round 15 2016-17 - Sydney 0 drew Wanderers 0 at Allianz Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Wanderers $3.40 Sydney $2.05 Draw $3.50

At kickoff time, 1134 days will have passed since the Wanderers last managed to get the job done in this spiteful fixture. Tony Popovic and his players insist it's not a curse, but the reality is they're up against it again in the season's final derby. League leaders Sydney FC are yet to lose after 19 rounds and their miserly defence is unlikely to leak goals to a middling side lacking thrust up front. However, the Wanderers delivered one of their strongest displays against the Sky Blues in January's 0-0 draw and are in a mid-table brawl for the last playoff spot. Will club top-scorer Brendon Santalab start? Or will the under-pressure Popovic persist with his fruitless tinkering? Skipper Dimas is suspended and others will likely be juggled to cater for Tuesday's Asian Champions League opener and hectic schedule from there on in.

Key: Milos Ninkovic. There's a reason he's a Johnny Warren Medal frontrunner. If the Serbian playmaker reaches last week's gear, watch out Wanderers.

Tip: Sydney

Perth v Brisbane at nib Stadium 10.00pm

Head to Head: Glory 8 Roar 20 drawn 8

Last clash: Round 4 2016-17 - Roar 2 bt Glory 1 at Suncorp Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Glory $2.55 Roar $2.55 Draw $3.50

Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne City know three's a crowd when there are only two top-four spots still up for grabs. That's what makes this clash interesting. While City size up against Wellington, the Glory-Roar battle could help decide who misses out. Kenny Lowe's fifth-placed outfit have scored eight goals in their past two outings and are on a swift ascent, while third-placed Brisbane were left ruing their inability to punish a depleted City in last week's 2-2 draw. John Aloisi's already-thin defensive stocks will be further strained with left-back Corey Brown (hamstring) to miss three weeks and fellow defender Daniel Bowles (knee) out for the season. Veteran stopper Jade North returns from suspension while Glory counterpart Shane Lowry is back from injury.

Key: Is there any stopping Diego Castro? Four goals in his past two games make the Spaniard the man to target.

Tip: Glory

SUNDAY, Feb 19

Central Coast v Melbourne Victory at Central Coast Stadium 5.00pm

Head to Head: Mariners 11 Victory 17 drawn 9

Last clash: Round 12 2016-17 - Victory 4 bt Mariners 1 at AAMI Park

Tab Sportsbet: Mariners $5.00 Victory $1.57 Draw $4.33

Victory are probably still scratching their heads, trying to figure out what went wrong in Monday night's sluggish stalemate with Newcastle. Now, Kevin Muscat must jolt his side into action against a Mariners team, suddenly within two points of finals contention. Victory's chance of chasing down 11-point leaders Sydney FC grows slimmer by the round but consolidating second spot remains a priority. Central Coast have resurrected their season under coach Paul Okon with there successive wins. While confidence is at an all-time high, a fourth such victory might be pushing it, especially without talismanic skipper Nick Montgomery. Jacques Faty finally returns from injury but shouldn't expect a starting spot with the way Liam Rose and Jacob Poscoliero have been performing in central defence.

Key: The Jets kept Marco Rojas quiet but the gun Kiwi winger has netted 10 goals this season, more than any other player who hasn't scored from the penalty spot.

Tip: Victory

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