Preview: Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners
Played: 33, Wins: Roar 18, Mariners: 6, Draws: 9
Roar 2-1 Mariners, February 2 2014
Past five matches:
Central Coast will have to wait until moments before kick-off to know exactly just how much is on the line when they face Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium. Whether Phil Moss alerts his players to Western Sydney's result at Melbourne Heart remains to be seen, but the Mariners may be playing for second place and an automatic semi-final berth. If the Wanderers fail to win at AAMI Park, a Central Coast victory would see Moss' side finish behind Premier's Plate winners Brisbane. Even if Tony Popovic's side are victorious, the Mariners are likely to be playing for a home final. Mike Mulvey may be looking for his Roar side to to work on small things ahead of a finals campaign which could complete a dominant season for Brisbane.
The big issue:
Roar – Brisbane are envied by most teams in the league, and it would undoubtedly be minor details Mulvey would want to fix ahead of the finals, but a clean sheet would be handy for the Roar. The premiers have kept a clean sheet in just three of 14 games in 2014. It has mattered little as Brisbane have surged to the top – 13 points clear of second. With finals around the corner, clean sheets could be a key and the Roar would be eager to enter the business end of the season by keeping the Mariners goalless.
Mariners – Bernie Ibini must surely be back starting? The attacker has produced off the bench in the past month and looked threatening against Beijing Guoan when Moss gave him a starting chance in the AFC Champions League. But the 21-year-old was back on the bench before being introduced in the 78th minute of the Mariners' 3-1 loss in Perth, perhaps tired after the clash on Tuesday. With at least a goal needed against the Roar, and counter-attacking likely to be Central Coast's best chance, Ibini must surely be starting again.
The game breaker:
Besart Berisha – the Albanian striker is fresh, and capable of turning games in either team's favour this season. He returns from another suspension, with red cards likely to have cost him the golden boot. The gun striker's finishing ability makes him a serious threat in every game with his 11 goals a key this campaign. Those matches missed see him four goal behind Newcastle Jets forward Adam Taggart.
Prediction: Roar 2-0 Mariners
Brisbane have an exceptional record against the Mariners, and expect their class to be too much and them to make it 19 wins in 34 matches between the teams on Saturday. Mulvey will be eager to see his side close to their best form in their final match before an April 27 semi-final at Suncorp Stadium. Berisha returns to add ruthlessness up front and the Roar should be too good in what would be a huge blow to the Mariners' championship chances.