Preview: Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix

Despite missing out on the finals, Victory coach Jim Magilton will be desperate to finish the season on a positive note.

Date: Friday 16 March, 2012
Kick-off: 8.00pm AEDT
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne

Played 15: Wins: Victory 7, Phoenix 3, Draws: 5

Previous encounter
Melbourne Victory 3 Wellington Phoenix 1, AAMI Park, December 2011

Melbourne certainly hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Wellington as the Phoenix haven’t managed to crack it for a win in the Victorian capital during their Hyundai A-League history.

Indeed, Wellington only have three wins to their name against Victory and have beaten them just once since late 2008. It’s certainly not a record that will sit well with Ricki Herbert, while his side will be pumped up to atone for their last performance at AAMI Park, where they were thrashed 3-1 by the Melbourne side.

Past five matches:

Melbourne Victory: WLDLL

Wellington Phoenix: LLWWD

Melbourne’s form since Jim Magilton took over from Mehmet Durakovic has been particularly disappointing, as the club has recorded just the one win under his watch. Their efforts over the last fortnight with their season on the line have also been underwhelming, especially last weekend when Sydney dominated the Victory despite only achieving a 1-0 result.

Wellington, meanwhile, are shaping as one of the dark horses to win the competition. Currently in fourth on the Hyundai A-League table, two wins from the last two games can secure them a position in the top four and a home final. The Phoenix have won five of their last eight matches, but lost to ladder leaders Central Coast and Brisbane and had to settle for a somewhat fortunate 1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart last weekend.

Match Committee:
Melbourne’s selection is difficult to assess for this week, given they are out of the finals equation.

Jim Magilton has already said that veteran goalkeeper Ante Covic, so impressive throughout this season, will be rested for this encounter as understudy Tando Velaphi is given a chance in his Hyundai A-League debut for the club.

The Victory may still be a little undermanned, given that Grant Brebner, Billy Celeski and Adrian Leijer are unavailable through injury while Tom Pondeljak has been let go. But Carlos Hernandez and Matthew Kemp are both back from suspension – Kemp’s being an internal one – while veteran defender Rody Vargas is back in the selection frame.

The Phoenix, meanwhile have a much more settled squad. Having been based in Melbourne for the last week, they shouldn’t have too many travel issues to worry about and will be boosted by Leo Bertos’s return to the side.

Danger men:
Archie Thompson – Thompson hasn’t quite been at his best over the last month, but one suspects he has a big performance left in him this season, especially after a proposed loan move to Thailand fell through.

Paul Ifill – The veteran striker has come good in a big way over the last few months after an injury-interrupted opening to the campaign. The Barbadian showed off his predatory instincts in a big way, latching onto a loose ball and firing home a rocket to equalise in last week’s 1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart.

At the end of the day…
Despite missing out on the finals, Victory coach Jim Magilton will be desperate to finish the season on a couple of positive notes. For starters, with only one win to his name since arriving at the club, a couple of victories will give him some currency in negotiations over his future, while he’ll also want some positive momentum to build on heading into the pre-season, especially if he remains in the role. Further to this, he’ll also be wanting improved performances from his players in order to make proper judgements over their futures at the club.

All that being said, they’re coming up against a resilient Wellington side that has it all to play for over the next few weeks. Boosted by an experienced, core group of players, the Phoenix have match winners across all their lines and have too much to play for against this Melbourne side. That being said, they’ll have to deny a history of poor results against Victory if they’re to get maximum points.