After a frantic four weeks to finish off the regular season, the A-League finals have belated arrived. Four teams are out to keep their dreams of hoisting the trophy alive.
History: Played 41: Perth 19 V Wellington 15 (7 Draws)
Last meeting: July 22, 2020: Wellington 2 d Perth 1 at BankWest Stadium
Final Thoughts: Third-placed Wellington Phoenix and sixth-placed Perth Glory are aiming to put some dusty form since the A-League resumed behind them and advance to week two of the playoffs.
Wellington, in the midst of one of the best seasons in their chequered history, won just one and drew two of their six games since mid-July, wrapping up the regular season with a 3-0 loss to also-rans Newcastle. Perth won two and lost four of their six games, coming into the finals of poor defeats to the Victory (4-0) and Western United (2-0).
But the Phoenix’s sole win since the restart was a 2-1 result against the Glory at this weekend’s venue, BankWest Stadium. Gary Hooper and Ulises Davila gave the Phoenix a two-goal lead before Kiwi Dane Ingham replied for the Glory. It ended a four-match losing streak in the rivalry for the New Zealand outfit.
Unfortunately for Wellington, striker Hooper and key defender Tim Payne have been ruled out of the finals. They are still narrow favourites to beat out-of-sorts Perth and remain the value pick. But with both sides struggling to score, we should see a real sudden-death slugfest.
History: Played 2: Brisbane 1 V Western United 1
Last meeting: February 16, 2020: Brisbane 1 d Western United 0 at Mars Stadium
Final Thoughts: In stark contrast to the A-League finals opener, Brisbane Roar and Western United will be satisfied with their lead-in form.
The Roar lost to Adelaide first up after the resumption but overcame the Victory 2-1 then notched back-to-back 1-all draws with the higher-ranked Phoenix and Sydney FC. Coach Robbie Fowler may have returned to England, but the defensive steel he instilled this season remains – the Roar have not conceded more than one goal in their past 14 matches.
Western United won four and lost two of their six post-restart games. After cracking wins over Wanderers (5-3), the Glory (2-0) and Sydney FC (2-1), Mark Rudan fielded a changed-up side that went down to Melbourne City 3-1 on Wednesday. It was an astute move to freshen up his squad that may pay big dividends. Meanwhile, Besart Berisha has been in hot form, posting nine goals in Western United’s last seven games and scoring in each of their last four.
The teams split their two regular season clashes. Connor Pain and Berisha scored first-half goals in Western United’s 2-0 win in Brisbane in Week 10, while Mirza Muratovic’s 61st-minute strike saw Brisbane prevail 1-0 in Ballarat.
This should be a gripping affair and the Roar will be difficult to break down. But Western United’s more potent attack should win the day eventually.