Babbel switch pays off

Markus Babbel was encouraged by Western Sydney's second-half display as they earned their first away win since early November by beating Adelaide United 3-1.

Wanderers opened the scoring through Oriol Riera early on, but when Ryan Kitto equalised just before the break the coach felt he needed to make a change.

It paid off as goals from Roly Bonevacia and Abraham Majok secured the victory at Coopers Stadium.

Babbel, who saw keeper Vedran Janjetovic save Craig Goodwin's penalty in the first half, said he'd been concerned at what he'd seen after the opening spell.

"We were not playing the way we wanted to," added the coach. "We started quite well for 10-15 minutes but then the pressure was always higher and higher … we were tactically doing the wrong things.

"I said to them we drop with our sixes too deep, we were nearly in a line with them and then they had no pressure in midfield … Oriol and Roly … had no help from our midfield, so we changed things a bit and it looked much better in the second half."

Whether his team can go on and challenge for a Finals Series spot remains to be seen, but Babbel said the players would gain confidence from back-to-back victories – they beat bottom side Central Coast last week.

"We want to get results this is also fair play to the other teams … now we want to have competition on the pitch and we want to try to get a result," added the German coach. "There's so many games to go and we want to improve."

Western Sydney are 11/4 to win their next game against Perth Glory, who are 10/11 with the draw 11/4.

Wanderers are 14/1 to win 1-0.

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Rudan hails ‘fantastic’ Cacace

Coach Mark Rudan singled out youngster Liberato Cacace for praise after Wellington Phoenix's 1-1 home draw with defending champions Melbourne Victory.

The wingback has only missed two of the Phoenix's 19 games this season, after signing his first professional contract last May.

He's showing no signs of fatigue, despite stepping up to senior level at the age of 20, and was Wellington's best player against Victory at Eden Park.

"He was superb tonight, he was, and he's one I'm extremely proud of as well," said Rudan, who was hired as coach two weeks after Cacace was signed to a two-year deal. "He's a fantastic kid, he really is; we gave him enough time in pre-season to make sure.

"His parents should be awfully proud and today he stood up. I challenged the players – in an arena like this, in front of a big crowd, good players stand up and they create moments – he created a lot of moments tonight."

Rudan felt his team weren't at their best against Victory, when they were pegged back by Keisuke Honda's penalty after Roy Krishna had opened the scoring.

It's now just one win in six for the Phoenix, whose advantage over seventh-placed Newcastle has been reduced to six points with eight rounds remaining.

"It wasn't one of our better performances," said Rudan. "We know it's the final stretch, and we're asking for a little bit more from our players and that's the challenge for them, but I'm sure we'll find the right ingredients so that next week in Sydney we're better than we were tonight."

Wellington Phoenix are 13/5 to win their next game against Sydney FC, who are 10/11 with the draw 11/4.

The Phoenix are 12/1 to win 1-0.

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Keogh continues hot home streak

Perth Glory extended their advantage at the top of the A-League to nine points with a 4-0 home victory over Brisbane Roar.

The Glory emphasised the gulf between the top sides and the strugglers in the competition, being three goals up by half-time.

It was their ninth home victory of the season, and a dominant display against a Roar team who have just two wins from 19 games.

Andy Keogh netted twice in the first half, making it five goals in his last five matches at HBF Park.

Diego Castro added the fourth goal early in the second half, and was one of a number of players who had chances to increase the lead in the rest of the match.

Keogh headed in the second of the night and tapped into an empty net for the third.

Jason Davidson got the home side up and running when he netted his second goal of the season on 19 minutes, beating keeper Brendan White at his near post.

Scott Neville made an immediate impact after coming on to replace Ivan Franjic, sending over a teasing cross which Keogh nodded home.

Chris Ikonomidis had a header tipped over the bar by White and Davidson also came close before Castro set up the third goal for Keogh.

He danced into the penalty area before squaring the ball to the Irish striker, who was close to the goal line but onside.

Castro swept the ball past White to cap off a move involving Keogh and Davidson, and Perth were in no mood to slacken off with the points secure.

Keogh came close to completing his hat-trick when he headed another Neville cross just over the bar and Ikonomidis was denied by White's reflex save.

The Roar keeper made another excellent stop with nine minutes left, thwarting substitute Joel Chianese.

Perth are 10/11 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 11/4 with the draw 11/4.

The Glory are 9/1 to win 1-0.

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New Phoenix formation suits skipper

Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante is enjoying playing in a new system in what's set to be his final season in the A-League.

The 36-year-old has already changed his mind once about retirement – he made the call at the start of last year before agreeing a new deal – and at this stage he's not ruling out playing on in 2019/20.

But whether or not it turns out to be his final season, he's glad he opted to keep playing as he is revelling in being part of a central defensive trio.

The Phoenix are having a good season under Mark Rudan, a Finals Series spot well within their grasp.

They are sixth in the table, eight points clear of seventh-placed Newcastle with nine games left.

Durante has been with Wellington since 2008 and is the A-League's all-time record holder in appearances with 295.

He's had six different coaches at the club, and says he's enjoying how Rudan has the team playing.

Speaking of the three centre-backs formation, the former New Zealand international said: "I know it really well from playing with the All Whites and at some previous clubs; it suits me to a tee.

"It's a position where you need really good organisation skills and reading of the game and it is something I believe I possess. [I'm] enjoying the season, enjoying my own form at the moment."

Durante said he hadn't yet made a firm decision about whether to extend his career beyond the end of this season.

"If this is to be my last season, this is the way I want it to be, enjoying it, the team doing well, [the] supporters and fans being really positive. If it is my last season, then I will go out really happy," he added.

Wellington Phoenix are 20/1 to win the Grand Final.

The Phoenix are 21/10 to win their next game against Melbourne Victory, who are 11/10 with the draw 11/4.

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Maclaren takes positives from City bow

A goal on his starting return to the A-League delighted Melbourne City striker Jamie Maclaren.

The Australia international was brought in for his bow alongside Tottenham Hotspur loanee Shayon Harrison in City's 1-1 draw at home to Adelaide United.

Maclaren scored with a close-range backheel to cancel out Craig Goodwin's header for United.

It came when Luke Brattan capitalised on a tired Adelaide clearance, forcing a turnover from keeper Paul Izzo and delivering a low cross that Maclaren converted.

The striker said it had been a dream start, adding: "It was a great ball from Brattsy; obviously scoring is great and it's been a tough week for us. To score in front of my family is amazing.

"It was a bit nitty gritty but my job was to press hard and try to force mistakes, there are positives to take from it."

Coach Warren Joyce felt City had started slowly but then worked their way into the game and created good chances.

"We've played well the past few weeks and often got no points, but Shay (Harrison) did well, a good performance from (Maclaren), he's had a lot of jet lag and had to integrate into a new group, so they've done brilliantly," he said.

City missed the chance to leapfrog United into the top four. But they were at least able to maintain their two-point gap, having lost their previous two games against Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC without scoring.

They now have a spell of four away games out of five rounds, including the Melbourne derby against Victory on 23rd February.

Melbourne City are 9/1 to win the Grand Final.

Adelaide United are 8/13 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 4/1 with the draw 3/1.

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Kurz frustrated by Reds’ display

Marco Kurz says Adelaide United failed to follow his instructions in the second half when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Melbourne City.

The Reds coach was happy with what he saw from his team in the first half-hour at AAMI Park, and they took the lead through Craig Goodwin's header.

Had they heeded the coach's half-time advice, they may well have held on to earn a win that would moved them to within three points of third-placed Sydney FC.

But Adelaide conceded a goal to new City signing Jamie Maclaren, being punished for their inability to play out from the back.

Kurz said he felt the draw was a fair result, but added: "I think in the second-half we played not so well and not good enough for the victory. I think we started well and played well for first 30 minutes and then we lost a little bit of the control of the game but we scored a goal.

"At half-time we said we must look forward and play the ball to our offensive players, but it was completely different, we played more back."

The draw kept United inside the top four with nine games left in the regular season, and if they can remain there they will have a home game in the Finals Series.

Kurz gave Dutch recruit Jordy Thomassen his debut and saw him play the full 90 minutes.

"At this point the performance was okay, I think he has enough space to improve again and to adapt but he's a good person," said the coach. "And I hope he can give us a lot of quality in the future."

United have now suffered just one defeat in 10 matches, and the draw extended their unbeaten run to five games.

Adelaide are 12/1 to win the Grand Final.

The Reds are 8/13 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 4/1 with the draw 3/1.

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City hit back to hold Adelaide

New signing Jamie Maclaren found the net on his Melbourne City debut to earn a 1-1 draw at home to Adelaide United.

The Australia international grabbed an equaliser at AAMI Park with a cheeky close-range finish to keep City two points off the top four.

Adelaide took a first-half lead through Craig Goodwin's ninth goal of the season, his header ruled to have crossed the line as it came back off the woodwork.

Maclaren got on the scoresheet midway through the second half on his return to the A-League.

It came from a turnover as Adelaide keeper Paul Izzo failed to get the ball clear from his six-yard box and Luke Brattan squared the ball, Maclaren guiding it home with a back-heel.

Adelaide, who brought in Jordy Thomassen for his debut as one of three changes to the starting side, started the better of the teams.

Maclaren and Brattan had efforts that flashed past the far post later in the half, but it was United who broke the deadlock.

Thomassen fed Mileusnic and when he whipped in his cross it was met by the head of Goodwin.

The visitors lost Mileusnic to an ankle injury just before the hour mark, just after surviving a close call.

Scott Galloway failed to get proper distance on his headed clearance and the ball fell invitingly for Shayon Harrison who blazed over the bar.

United extended their unbeaten streak to five matches, and closed the gap to third-placed Sydney FC to five points.

They will look for a fourth consecutive home victory when they host struggling Western Sydney next time out.

Adelaide are 12/1 to win the Grand Final.

The Reds are 8/13 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 4/1 with the draw 3/1.

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Wanderers end victory wait

Western Sydney earned their first win in two months as they scored in each half to beat Central Coast 2-0 at Spotless Stadium.

The meeting between the A-League's bottom two teams went the way of Markus Babbel's side by the same scoreline as their last victory on 7th December.

And it leaves the Mariners in increasing danger of finishing bottom of the table for the second straight season.

The Gosford club have a six-point deficit at the foot of the table, having failed to take any of their chances against Wanderers and having fallen to a ninth straight away defeat.

The clean sheet was a welcome boost for Babbel's team, who had conceded 11 goals in their last three games.

Mariners keeper Ben Kennedy made a diving save to deny Oriol Riera midway through the first half, and the Spaniard was out of luck again at the end of the half when he headed against the post from close range.

Wanderers did take the lead just before the interval, though, as Tarek Elrich sent in a curling cross which eluded everyone including Kennedy as it bounced off the woodwork and into the net.

It was the 32-year-old's first goal in Wanderers colours and first in two years.

The Mariners threatened an equaliser on 56 minutes when Matt Millar had a volley tipped over by keeper Vedran Janjetovic.

Once they doubled their lead 13 minutes from time, though, the hosts looked secure.

It arrived when Roly Bonevacia put Jaushua Sotirio into space on the counter, and the attacker finished coolly to Kennedy's left.

Wanderers lost Kwame Yeboa to a suspected groin injury early in the first half.

Western Sydney are 4/1 to win their next game against Adelaide United, who are 8/13 with the draw 3/1.

Wanderers are 16/1 to win 1-0.

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Wilkinson says Premiership still on

Defender Alex Wilkinson believes Sydney FC can still capture the A-League premiership, despite a damaging defeat to struggling Brisbane Roar.

With Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory both staying consistent at the top of the table, the Sky Blues can ill afford to drop points.

But their 2-1 loss at Suncorp Stadium to the Roar – who had only one win all season going into the game – was their second in three outings.

Wilkinson has vowed Steve Corica's side will "push hard" to overcome the setbacks and go on to claim a third consecutive Premiers' Plate – something that would be a league first.

"We'll have to win most of the remaining games," said Wilkinson. "By no means is it out of reach but we need to pick up points over the next nine games to get up there which we're more than capable of – we can definitely go on a run."

The Sky Blues had taken the lead against Brisbane through Danny De Silva 10 minutes into the second half.

Tobias Mikkelsen equalised for the home side and youngster Dylan Wenzel-Halls scored an injury time winner.

Both of the Roar's goals were poor ones to concede, Darren Davies' team able to capitalise on loose marking and carelessness in possession.

Wilkinson said: "We got sloppy, started giving away possession too easily and they got a bit of confidence. The first goal gave them a real boost and that was down to us taking our foot off the pedal and not being clinical enough when we needed."

The Sky Blues have three home games in their next four matches, starting with next Sunday's clash with bottom side Central Coast.

Sydney FC are 7/2 to win the Grand Final.

The Sky Blues are 1/4 to win their next game against Central Coast, who are 8/1 with the draw 11/2.

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Popovic tipped to win trophy

Tony Popovic could be on the way to earning his first A-League championship as a coach, believes the keeper who won the Asian Champions League under him.

Ante Covic, who was player of the tournament when Western Sydney became the first Australian team to lift the ACL trophy in 2014, is impressed with the way Popovic has transformed Perth Glory.

The Western Australia club missed out on the Finals Series last season but have topped the table this time since early on.

If they can win away to second-placed Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park on Sunday it would open up a seven-point gap at the top.

Covic, who played for Perth as well as Wanderers, is backing Popovic to match his achievement with Western Sydney by winning the minor premiership in his first season as coach.

"Popa (Popovic) has got the experience and knows what it takes; this could be his year," he said. "Success is a fine line for a coach but he will have learnt a lot from his years at the Wanderers."

Popovic led Western Sydney into three A-League Grand Finals without success, and Covic said: "You have to ask yourself how many times is he going to be in a Grand Final before one falls for him – I reckon this one could have his name on it."

Perth are unbeaten in eight matches, and beat Victory 3-2 away from home early in the season.

Covic said on form, Sunday's clash would be a Grand Final as the teams were the standouts in the A-League.

"Perth have a very balanced squad and when a coach has a headache picking players that is when you know a team is in a good position," he added. "The firepower that both teams have is by far and away the best in the league."

The Glory are 21/10 to win their next game against Melbourne Victory, who are 5/4 with the draw 5/2.

Glory are 15/4 to win the game by a one-goal margin.

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