As the final round of the 2013-14 regular season approaches, four teams are separated by just a point and can all claim second, while the Jets are likely to miss out to Sydney
Mike Mulvey's men haven't lost in six games since going down 1-0 away to Melbourne Heart in February. Roar fingers will be crossed that Thomas Broich did not suffer any lasting ill-effects from a heavy Kwabena Appiah challenge in the 1-1 draw against Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday.
A convincing win against reigning champions Central Coast Mariners in the last round of the season would be the perfect way to sign off before embarking on a finals campaign they will start as heavy favourites.
Western Sydney Wanderers
Western Sydney have close to a full squad to choose from and they'll need all those bodies as the Wanderers juggle commitments on two fronts. On Saturday afternoon they tackle Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park needing to win to guarantee a top-two finish. You can expect Tony Popovic to put out a full strength team in that one, before making wholesale changes for the AFC Champions League away game that follows against K-League side Ulsan on Tuesday April 15. The dogged Wanderers will be confident of going far in the finals, but can they live up to Popovic's stated ambition of succeeding at home and abroad?
Second time lucky? | Western Sydney will hope to go one better than last season's grand final loss
Central Coast Mariners
Having done so well to stabilise a ship rocked by the frequent loss of key players throughout the first half of the season, the title holders showed signs of wobbling at the final hurdle by losing away to Perth on Saturday night. Level on 39 points with the second-placed Wanderers but nine behind on goal difference, they have to go to Suncorp Stadium and try to claim at least a point or preferably all three if they are to finish in the top two. Phil Moss deserves credit for making a go of it, but with an ACL game against FC Seoul also on the horizon, it could all prove too much for the plucky Gosford outfit.
The real dark horses heading into the finals, Adelaide slipped up in a rollercoaster 2-2 draw against Melbourne Heart on Friday, and must now cope without Michael Marrone after the defender suffered a broken leg. Tarek Elrich is also set to be sidelined through suspension, and the Reds, fourth on the table with 38 points, must go away to the Hunter Stadium cow paddock and aim to win in the final round to try and snatch second.
However, with a significantly better goal difference than the Mariners and the Wanderers, if they draw and the two teams above them lose, coupled with a Victory draw or loss, the South Australian side will finish the campaign in second. Even if they miss out on that bonus prize, Josep Gombau's team should be considered one of the biggest threats to favourites Brisbane during the playoffs.
Victory looked knackered against the Jets in a 2-2 draw on Saturday afternoon, despite bringing in several players who hadn't featured in their ACL loss away to Yokohama F Marinos. It could well be that, just like last season, a thin squad has been stretched too far at just the wrong time for the navy blue and whites to achieve anything meaningful. They are certainly capable of winning away to Wellington, but it would typical of the injury hit Phoenix - out of finals contention and with Victory's old coach Ernie Merrick at the helm - to derail their visitors' top-two bid. Only a win will do for Kevin Muscat's side, coupled with Adelaide, the Mariners and the Wanderers all failing to win.
With the Jets not managing to beat a Victory side there for the taking, Sydney pounced by brushing aside the hobbling Phoenix a day later. Striker Ranko Despotovic is set to return for either the last game of the season at home to Perth or at least the finals themselves should the Sky Blues make it. And you can expect them to. They are three points clear of the Jets and with a goal difference of +1, compared to Newcastle's -2. Even if the Jets thump Adelaide on Friday night, surely the Glory won't spring an upset at ANZ Stadium on Sunday afternoon?
If they do book their playoff place, the X-factor provided by Alessandro Del Piero means Frank Farina's men can't be written off, but they are unlikely to make it very far.
'Thanks Ale' | The Sky Blues skipper accepts the acclaim of the ANZ Stadium crowd
By losing late away to Perth and only drawing with the Victory, Clayton Zane's side look to have blown their chance of getting into the finals. It will take a Newcastle win against the Reds at Hunter Stadium, coupled with a Perth win away to Sydney, and a four-goal swing, for the Jets to get into the top six. If by some miracle they do make it, the nature of their surprise qualification could equip them with the momentum to surprise a higher-ranked opponent. But it's very unlikely.