A-League preview: Adelaide United v Wellington Phoenix

It's third versus fourth in the A-League to sign off on 2014, with a depleted Adelaide United facing a major test at home to Wellington Phoenix on New Year's Eve, although the absence of the competition's top scorer from the visitors' line up, as well as another key threat, gives the Reds cause for optimism.

MATCH DETAILS

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Coopers Stadium, Adelaide

Kick-Off: 7:00 PM (Local) (7:30 PM AEDT)

SQUADS

Adelaide United squad: 2.Michael MARRONE, 4.Dylan McGOWAN, 7.PABLO SÁNCHEZ, 8.ISAÍAS, 9.Sergio CIRIO, 11.Bruce DJITE (c), 12.Mark OCHIENG, 13.Dylan SMITH, 14.Cameron WATSON, 15.Ben WARLAND, 16.Craig GOODWIN, 17.Awer MABIL, 18.Jimmy JEGGO, 20.Paul IZZO (GK), 24.Bruce KAMAU, 26.Anthony COSTA, 30.John HALL (GK), 32.Nathan KONSTANDOPOPOULOS ***two to be omitted***

Ins: 12.Mark OCHIENG (promoted), 13.Dylan SMITH (promoted), 20.Paul IZZO (gk)(return from injury), 24.Bruce KAMAU (promoted), 26.Anthony COSTA (promoted), 32.Nathan KONSTANDOPOPOULOS (promoted)

Outs: 1.Eugene GALEKOVIC (international duty – 2 matches), 3.Nigel BOOGAARD (suspended – 1 week), 10.Marcelo CARRUSCA (groin – 1-2 weeks), 21.Tarek ELRICH (suspended – 1 week)

Unavailable: 5.Osama MALIK (calf – 1-2 weeks), 10.Marcelo CARRUSCA (groin – 1-2 weeks), 22.Fabio FERREIRA (hamstring – 2-3 weeks), 23.Jordan ELSEY (knee – indefinite)

Wellington Phoenix Squad: 1.  Glen MOSS (GK), 2.Manny MUSCAT, 4.Roly BONEVACIA, 5.Michael BOXALL, 7.Kenny CUNNINGHAM, 8.Alex RODRIGUEZ, 10.Michael McGLINCHEY, 11.Jeremy BROCKIE, 12.Tyler BOYD, 13.Albert RIERA, 16.Louis FENTON, 17.Vince LIA,18.Ben SIGMUND, 19.Tom DOYLE, 20.Lewis ITALIANO (GK), 22.Andrew DURANTE (c).

Ins: 2.Manny MUSCAT (returns from suspension), 8.Alex RODRIGUEZ (returns from injury), 12.Tyler BOYD (promoted)

Outs: 9.Nathan BURNS (international duty – 2 matches), 21.Roy KRISHNA (injury), Matthew Ridenton (omitted).

Unavailable: 21.Roy KRISHNA (hamstring injury).

Referee: Kris Griffiths-Jones

Assistant Referee 1: Matthew Cream

Assistant Referee 2: Paul Cetrangolo

Fourth Official: Rick Schneider

BLUFFER’S GUIDE

There are important points on the line at Coopers Stadium this week for two clubs who still have realistic ambitions of a top-two finish. Adelaide United are third in the standings, six points back from leaders Perth Glory, who face a tough assignment away to Melbourne Victory on Friday night.

Wellington are a point further back in fourth, but it's Ernie Merrick's men who arguably go into this clash in slightly better shape.

The visitors from New Zealand will be without star striker Nathan Burns - the man leading the golden boot tally is in camp with the Socceroos as they prepare for the Asian Cup. Fijian flyer Roy Krishna is also absent due to injury.

Ernie Merrick though doesn't have it as bad as Reds boss Josep Gombau. The Catalan coach will be without his captain and goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic, who, like Burns, is with Ange Postecoglou's national team camp in Melbourne.

Playmaker Marcelo Carrusca will be sidelined with a groin problem, while first-choice defenders Nigel Boogaard and Tarek Elrich are both suspended. They join Osama Malik and Fabio Ferreira on the sidelines.

OPTA DATA KEY STATS

- Wellington have gone seven games without a clean sheet away at United; recording only one win in that time (L6).

- If Wellington avoid defeat in this match, it will be their longest unbeaten run (six) since October 2009 when they went seven games without tasting a loss.

- Sergio Cirio has got on the scoresheet for Adelaide in their last two matches at home to Phoenix.

ROUTE TO GOAL

Without Burns and Krishna, who have claimed 10 and five goals respectively so far this season, the other Phoenix forwards and midfielders will be obliged to step up and share in the responsibility of scoring. Michael McGlinchey is their third highest scorer with four to date in 2014-15, while Roly Bonevacia has weighed in with two from midfield. Centre-back Andrew Durante is the only other Nix player to score in the league this season, demonstrating their overreliance on Burns and Krishna.

Adelaide are likely to miss the presence of Carrusca as their creative fulcrum. But there's still plenty of firepower in the final third for the Reds, with Bruce Djite to lead the line and a combination of Sergio Cirio, Pablo Sanchez and Awer Mabil alongside him. Given the enforced changes at the back, attack may be the best form of defence for Gombau's side on Wednesday night.

WHO'S BEEN IN THE SPOTLIGHT THIS WEEK?

All the talk has been about who will play at the back for Adelaide. Paul Izzo is likely to deputize for Galekovic in goal, with Dylan McGowan to partner one of Ben Warland, Cameron Watson or possibly even Isaias in central defence. Michael Marrone and Craig Goodwin are likely to play right and left-back respectively.

FORM LINES

Adelaide defeated Sydney FC 3-0 away from home last time out, but their form has been inconsistent in recent weeks, losing away to the Newcastle Jets and at home to Brisbane Roar, while beating league leaders Perth Glory in the FFA Cup final and dispatching struggling Western Sydney, both of those results coming at Cooper Stadium.

Wellington edged the Wanderers 1-0 at home in their most recent outing, prior to that they beat Sydney FC 2-0 away, were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Central Coast and notched impressive victories away to Newcastle and at home to Melbourne City, 3-1 and 5-1 respectively.

DID YOU KNOW?

No side has kept more clean sheets this term than Adelaide United (five), but Wellington Phoenix have scored in 13 of their last 14 fixtures.

PREDICTION  Adelaide United 2-2 Wellington Phoenix

Given the importance of Galekovic and Boogaard in playing out from the back to start moves, and Carrusca's influence in the final third, it's reasonable to suggest Adelaide could be less than their fluid best on Wednesday and might well be more vulnerable than normal too.

How Wellington's attack copes in the absence of their star man will determine the outcome. If the other Nix midfielders and forwards are able to pray on a weakened Reds backline, we could be in for a high-scoring affair, perhaps with honours even at the end.