Okay, so here’s the situation. The Nix are currently sitting pretty in fourth on the A-League ladder after winning their last two games rather handily. Eleven goals in 180 minutes has really done the trick. Playing a couple teams outside the playoff hunt was a boost as well. With five games remaining the Nix are a point clear of Melbourne City and two clear of Adelaide in the quest for a home semi and they’re eight clear of Newcastle and seventh place. And even if the Jets make a late run at things with max points the rest of the way, Adelaide have gone five without a win so they’re the ones in the most danger.
But wait, what’s this!? The Nix are playing the Jets this very weekend! 7.35pm at Westpac Stadium on Saturday night. Oh mate that’s exactly what the doctor ordered right there. A win and the distance becomes eleven points with four games left to play. The Jets have Perth Glory (A) and Sydney FC (H) still on the cards. So even if the Nix lose this weekend they remain in a brilliant place for the semis… however as I’ve been saying all along (or at least since the team got good) it ain’t the top six that’s the target but the top four. And Alex Rufer agrees with me. With seven points to bridge the gap to third that particular bird’s probably gotten away but fourth is there for the taking, no excuses.
WELLY NIX (34 PTS) – Newcastle (H), Adelaide (A), Brisbane (A), Melbourne City (H), Perth (A)
MELLY CITY (33 PTS) – Western Sydney (A), Brisbane (H), Adelaide (H), Phoenix (A), Central Coast (H)
ADELAIDE (31 PTS) – Central Coast (A), Phoenix (H), Melbourne City (A), Melbourne Victory (H), Brisbane (A)
NEWCASTLE (26 PTS) – Phoenix (A), Western Sydney (H), Perth (A), Brisbane (A), Sydney FC (H)
Now there’s a stitch-up for you. The Nix play each of the three teams directly below them in their final three games so if they can’t book that top four finish then they can have nobody to blame but themselves. By the way, this is the benefit of those draws they’ve consistently stolen off the top three. Three draws against Melbourne Victory and one against Perth is the difference between fourth and sixth at the moment. Obviously we’d rather they’d won those games, especially with a couple blown leads in there… but they also didn’t lose them. Kept the points tally ticking over to where they are now.
As of this very moment they’re eight points away from a guaranteed playoff spot and that includes any points that Newcastle drop along the way (hence this weekend is a potential six-point swing). Fourth is going to go down to the wire but if they can beat Melly City in their last regular season home game and avoid defeat to Adelaide then they should get it done without having to worry about that frightening prospect of Perth Glory away in the last match. Then again, the Glory will surely have wrapped up the minor premiership by then so you never know how they’ll approach it.
That’s all very interesting information but there shan’t be any getting ahead of ourselves. It’s next game up from here on out or else they’ll probably trip up over their own feet out there. It’s happened before. All of this good feeling evaporates if they cock it up against Newcastle and let the Jets back into the playoff race. In going about that task they’ll be aided by the return from suspension of Sarpreet Singh. In going about that task they’ll be hampered by the unavailability of Roy Krishna due to suspension. It’s also not yet confirmed if Steven Taylor will be fit enough to play but he’s been close for a month now so you’d hope so.
That creates two curious selection dilemmas. One is who starts up front instead of Roy Krishna. Cillian Sheridan is the obvious candidate, he needs a goal and he’s due a start, which should make things nice and simple.
Except then you’ve got the issue of whether or not to drop Max Burgess to make room for Sarpreet. Based on the form that Maxie’s shown the last two games… I’m just not sure you can do that. And I don’t think it’d be in keeping with the way Mark Rudan does things, where he tends to keep as consistent a team as he can after a win. For a variety of reasons (that tends to include suspensions) the Nix have only named unchanged XIs twice this season, but directly after a win Rudes makes an average of 1.25 alterations to the starters (seven out of ten were enforced), while after a draw it’s an average of 3.17 changes, with at least two people losing their place each time. In other words: win and you’ll be rewarded, lose and there’ll be consequences.
Based on all that, Singh might have to be content with a spot on the bench on Saturday night and it might be the best thing for him to make sure he’s hungry come playoff time. Regardless of which of the two ends up starting in that attacking mid position it’ll be important that we’ve got two in-form and creative options there so as to be able to alter the game with the subs bench in the second half of any playoff contest.
The other curious selection dilemma is what to do if Steven Taylor slides back in there. His place is under no threat whatsoever – he could call a teammate’s missus long pins and still hold his spot in the eleven, he’s that good. But who do you drop? Michal Kopczynski has been playing on the right so either he leaps back over to left CB or Antony Golec, who has done nothing wrong in his two starts, holds that role down. Golec is a more traditional option there. Kopa brings a bit more distribution and technique to the role. Then there’s always Tommy Doyle waiting to come back too. He might be fit again by now. In fact since it’s been nearly two months since he last played he should be back by now - don’t remember anyone saying it was that serious.
Tell you what else, it was Dura’s testimonial a few days ago and everyone’s in the mood to spins some great yarns about him so how about this one: with Krishna suspended, in the 55th minute of the Jets game, assuming Dura starts and plays the whole thing, he’ll surpass Roy on the table of most minutes this season for the Nix. Might I add that this man turns 37 years old in five weeks. He’s missed one game this season and only because he was suspended. And he’s playing the best footy he’s played in two or three years too. Hard to imagine him playing next season, the testimonial treatment is usually a bit of a giveaway, but if this is truly his last season then he’s having a blinder.
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