A-League: Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoenix
Played: 22 Wins: Roar 14, Phoenix 2, Draws: 6
Phoenix 1-2 Roar, December 14, 2013
Past five matches:
Wellington, along with Adelaide, are the A-League's in-form team, having won four and drawn one of their last five matches to be unbeaten since a 1-0 loss at Central Coast in December. Ernie Merrick's message has finally clicked with his players, prompting a run of improved performances culminating in a thumping 5-0 win over Melbourne Victory. That streak also included a 3-1 triumph away to reigning premiers Western Sydney, but a bigger challenge looms this week.
The Roar have been a little shaky of late, losing 2-1 at home to Adelaide and being held 0-0 away to Perth Glory. Besart Berisha was sent off in WA, and will be suspended for the game against Phoenix. Wellington have never won away to Brisbane, and Mike Mulvey's team still boast the tightest defence in the competition, demonstrating the scale of the task confronting the visitors from New Zealand.
The big issue:
Roar - Players must step up and supply the goals in Berisha's absence. The Albanian has scored in four of the last five games between Brisbane and Wellington, but will be watching on from the stands this week. Dimitri Petratos demonstrated his potential as a goal-scorer with a hat-trick in the 5-2 win over Sydney on Boxing Day and has four goals this season in total, followed by Henrique with three among the forwards. Ivan Franjic (four goals) is injured, while skipper Matt Smith has struck three times from centre-back. Thomas Broich, Matt McKay, Luke Brattan and Jade North all have one goal each. There are certainly plenty of threatening players in the squad, but there's no denying they are a less dangerous proposition without Berisha.
Phoenix - For Wellington, this match represents an opportunity to demonstrate if their recent run of good results is a temporary purple patch or the beginning of a push into finals and perhaps even title contention. With the competition so even this season - the Wanderers are not playing at the same level as last term and the Roar are not invulnerable - Wellington's candidacy is as strong as any member of the chasing pack. If they can end their Queensland win drought and deal a blow to Brisbane, there will be a real buzz about the Kiwis.
The game breaker:
Thomas Broich - the German playmaker, carrying a corked thigh, fought through the pain barrier to produce an impressive performance against Perth last week and is likely to be as crucial as always to the Roar's hopes. No player in the A-League has a created more chances (49) for team-mates than Broich so far this season, although a battle of the playmakers looms, with Wellington's Carlos Hernandez (42) second on that list.
Prediction: Brisbane 2-1 Wellington
It's going to be close and could well be very entertaining, but we're tipping this to be the moment when the Phoenix's run comes to an end. Even with Berisha missing, the Roar are a slick passing outfit who keep it tight at the back and have plenty of threat in attack. Expect McKay, Brattan and Miller to dominate possession and deprive the likes of Hernandez opportunities to create. Wellington certainly have what it takes to trouble Brisbane's backline, but they are vulnerable at the other end and will come up slightly short at Suncorp.