Football 7 months ago

Below the surface, AL battle intensifies

  • Below the surface, AL battle intensifies

    SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 03: Sydney's Bobo (right) celebrates with teammate Filip Holosko after scoring during the round 22 A-League match between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory at Allianz Stadium on March 3, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Getty Images)

The A-League's top-two spots may be virtually locked up, but an intense three-way wrestle for third and fourth is no closer to completion with five rounds remaining.

Long-time leaders Sydney FC, are now 11 points clear and could lift the Premiers' Plate this weekend if they defeat Central Coast at home on Friday night and Melbourne Victory can't beat Perth on Saturday.

While Victory hardly have a hope of catching the Sky Blues, a second-place finish and home semi-final is a safe bet barring a sudden collapse.

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It's nine points below Kevin Muscat's men that the contest heats up for a top-four spot and home elimination final, one set to properly resume in a fortnight given the upcoming split round.

Melbourne City have re-claimed the advantage, seizing third after edging Central Coast in bizarre 3-2 thriller.

But only just, Brisbane sit fourth by virtue of goal difference thanks to a 3-1 victory in Newcastle, while Perth are a single point adrift in fifth.

Such is the tightness of the race, the Glory could be left to rue Saturday's 3-3 distance derby in Wellington, though they can thank Diego Castro they took something from the match at all.

It's notable at the Roar are in contention, given their lengthy injury list and fatigue from five games in 16 days including at trip to Korea for the Asian Champions League.

"It was important to get this period over with ... and we wanted to be there or thereabouts once this had finished," coach John Aloisi said.

"Now we've got nine days before our next game in Japan, and then out of our last five games three at home.

"So we're quite positive (with) players coming back that we can really kick on."

Seven points behind Perth the battle for sixth is more interesting still, with four sides still genuine prospects.

Western Sydney's hopes are on thin ice after yet another opportunity went wanting against rock-bottom Adelaide - the only team whose season appears over.

That stalemate has Tony Popovic's side just two points ahead of the Phoenix, who sit one point clear of the Jets after their controversial 10-man defeat to the Roar.

Exasperated Jets coach Mark Jones was sick of repeating his plea to the players to lift for a first play-offs berth in seven years.

"The expectation is they step up and get a job done, and at this point we haven't done it," Jones said.

"We've only got five games left to make a stand, otherwise we miss the finals again."

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