Adelaide United host the Central Coast Mariners on Friday night in a game where third spot on the ladder is up for grabs for United, or a chance to push on towards second for the Mariners. The three points on offer are huge for both sides as they look to cement their finals credentials.
United come into the game fresh from cruising past an impotent Sydney FC side 3-0. After an early scare when Sydney midfielder Hagi Gligor blazed over the bar, the Reds took complete control of the match and the result was never in doubt.
The Mariners tasted defeat last round, which made it back to back losses after going five games unbeaten previously. Despite taking a first half lead through Bernie Ibini’s tap in, they were unable to contain Victory’s attacking quartet and lost out 3-1.
Melbourne Victory’s Asian Champions League commitments mean they have already played their round 19 match against Western Sydney, on January 14th. This presents United win an opportunity to leapfrog both Victory and the Mariners should they win, or for the third-placed Mariners to open up a gap on the teams below them. To call this a big game would be an understatement.
If United lose they will be six points adrift of third spot and could drop out of the top six by the end of the round. If the Reds can maintain their good home record and claim the points they would sit third with 27 points, above the Mariners with a superior goal difference.
Versatile midfielder or defender Osama Malik wasn’t shying away from the pressure of the upcoming match, and suggested that there was no set target for the Reds in terms of position on the table.
“If we’re beating the teams around us and above us it means we can potentially move up the table,” he said.
“And these games will also give us a real feel for where we’re at, where we stand…We’re trying to perform well on a week-to-week basis and see where that takes us.”
“The way the finals are played, as a knockout series, means every game from now until the finals is very important in terms of not just trying to get there, but get there in a good position…We’re looking for some good results and to move up the table as much as we can.”
Adelaide goalkeeper and captain Eugene Galekovic also said that while there was still work to done, the team was playing well and in a good position.
“We’re in good form we’ve just got to keep the momentum going and keep the form going…another nine weeks of that and then hopefully finals.”
The Mariners also have significant motivation heading into this clash, as the men from Gosford will be keen to repay United for the 4-0 drubbing the Reds handed them at Coopers Stadium earlier this season in round ten. A win for the Mariners would move them to within a point of second place Western Sydney with the sides still to meet in round 25.
Adelaide have recalled midfielder Jake Barker-Daish and defender Jordan Elsey to the squad while winger Ryan Griffiths misses out with a shin problem. Cassio and Jacob Melling remain out of action, although Melling is back in light training.
Tarek Elrich is unavailable for the Reds after picking up his fifth booking of the season in the win over Sydney last Saturday. His suspension means Michael Zullo will return to left back, after playing further forward last week.
Central Coast welcome back Nick Montgomery from suspension, who has performed well so far this season. The Mariners did not look the same side without him last round against the Victory, which was the first game he’s missed this campaign.
Korean winger Kim Seung-Yong is in line to make his A-League debut, most likely as a substitute, provided his international transfer clearance comes through. A new recruit who did make his debut in the defeat to the Victory was Eddy Bosnar, the left footed defender often touted as a possible Socceroo.
Bosnar played 76 minutes before being subbed off last week, but expect him to get through the full 90 on Friday night. Galekovic will need to be wary of Bosnar’s ability from set pieces, as he possesses a booming shot.
The Mariners couldn’t stop their former player Tom Rogic from causing havoc last week, and expect Reds playmaker Marcelo Carrusca to try and have a similar effect. There are parallels that can be drawn between the two: left-footed, tall and skilful creators with great vision. It will be a real test for the Mariners to try and subdue the Argentine, given the impressive fluid attacking movement United have shown in recent weeks.
Gombau was in a confident mood ahead of the match, but was also wary of the Mariners’ style and how they could hurt the Reds.
“They are a team that have gone through a lot of changes,” Gombau said.
“They keep the intensity, they keep the way they play. But there are some new players who are in now, in the process to adapt to what the coach wants.
“It will be a difficult game.”
This game is a crunch match for two sides who although they may not admit it publicly, have silverware on their minds this season.
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Adelaide United squad: 1.Eugene GALEKOVIC (gk) (c), 2.Michael MARRONE, 3.Nigel BOOGAARD, 4.Jon McKAIN, 5.Osama MALIK, 7.JERONIMO, 8.ISAIAS, 9.Sergio CIRIO, 10.Marcelo CARRUSCA, 11.Bruce DJITE, 14.Cameron WATSON, 17.Awer MABIL, 18.Michael ZULLO, 19.Jake BARKER-DAISH, 20.Paul IZZO (gk), 22.Fabio FERREIRA, 23.Jordan ELSEY
**One to be omitted**
Ins: 19.Jake BARKER-DAISH (promoted), 23.Jordan ELSEY (promoted)
Outs: 21. Tarek ELRICH (suspension – 1 week)
Unavailable: 6.CASSIO (hamstring tendon – indefinite), 15.Jacob MELLING (knee – 3 weeks), 31.Ryan GRIFFITHS (shin soreness), 21. Tarek ELRICH (suspension – 1 week)
Central Coast Mariners Squad: 1.Justin PASFIELD (Gk), 3.Joshua ROSE, 4.Marcel SEIP, 5.Zachary ANDERSON, 7.John HUTCHINSON (C), 8. Nick MONTGOMERY, 9.Mitchell DUKE, 11.Nick FITZGERALD, 12.Liam REDDY (Gk), 15.Storm ROUX, 17.Anthony CACERES, 19.Matt SIMON, 20.Bernie IBINI, 21.Mile STERJOVSKI, 25.Eddy BOSNAR, 26.Kim SEUNG-YONG, 27.Isaka CERNAK
**One to be omitted**
Ins: 8. Nick MONTGOMERY (returns from suspension), 26. Kim SEUNG-YONG (pending International Transfer Clearance)
Outs: 29. Matt SIM (omitted)
Unavailable: 10.Marcos FLORES (knee – season), 14.Michael MCGLINCHEY (on loan – Vegalta Sendai) 18.Michael NEILL (knee – season), 23.Adam KWASNIK (knee – season)