Popovic loves Glory’s display

Perth Glory coach Tony Popovic savoured his team's 4-0 victory over struggling Brisbane Roar as they took a big step towards securing the Premiers' Plate.

The Glory are nine points clear at the top of the A-League, having taken advantage of Melbourne Victory's draw away to Wellington 24 hours earlier. They breezed past the second-bottom Roar with three goals in the first half, two of them from Andy Keogh.

Jason Davidson had given Popovic's side the lead, while Diego Castro finished off the scoring in the second half.

Popovic, who guided Western Sydney to the premiership in their first season in the A-League, is taking nothing for granted as far as Perth's campaign is concerned.

But he enjoyed the performance his team produced against the Roar, saying: "This coaching, I've been doing it for a little while now and I'm trying to enjoy it more, especially in a game like this.

"We'll all reflect on the game and enjoy some of the great passages of play that we showed and the great football we played, but then it ends and you have to prepare for your next match and that's what the job is. Hopefully we can enjoy more good moments at the end of the year."

The leaders have just finished a run of four home matches in five rounds, collecting three wins and a draw from those games at HBF Park.

Their next home match against Victory on 30th March could prove crucial as far as the Premiers' Plate goes but first they have consecutive trips to take on Western Sydney, Melbourne City and Adelaide United.

Perth Glory are 13/8 to win the Grand Final and 10/11 to win their next game against Western Sydney, who are 13/5 with the draw 11/4.

Sky Blues held by Mariners

Bottom side Central Coast held minor premiership contenders Sydney FC to a 1-1 draw in front of their own fans at Leichhardt Oval.

The Mariners took the lead against the run of play nine minutes before half-time when Adam le Fondre returned to the top of the A-League Golden Boot standings by netting the equaliser.

The Sky Blues will regard the game as two points dropped, despite having trailed. They are now 10 points behind leaders Perth Glory with eight games left.

Central Coast ended their four-match losing streak while Steve Corica's team have won just one of their past four fixtures.

Le Fondre now leads the goalscoring chart on his own again – with 13 for the season – one more than Perth's Andy Keogh and Roy Krishna of Wellington Pheonix.

He converted from the spot 14 minutes from time after Jem Karacan had been bundled over by substitute Alex Brosque in the box.

The home side couldn't go on and secure victory, with Brosque and Milos Ninkovic unable to take chances in the final three minutes.

They had started the game well and were unlucky not to take a 20th-minute lead through Ninkovic.

The midfielder fired a powerful shot against the post with Mariners keeper Ben Kennedy beaten and then, when he latched onto the rebound, his second effort was just wide.

Josh Brillante's volley was saved by Kennedy on the half-hour mark and the Sky Blues looked the more likely side to score only to fall behind when Aiden O'Neill fired in a shot that found the bottom corner past unsighted keeper Andrew Redmayne.

Corica said after he match: "We had about 14 or 15 shots, some one-on-ones, and hit the post so had plenty of good chances. It was not for the lack of trying and I can't take anything away from the boys' effort."

Sydney FC are 3/1 to win the Grand Final and 1/1 to win their next game against Wellington, who are 5/2 with the draw 13/5.

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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Wanderers spring Reds surprise

Western Sydney made it back-to-back wins for the first time this season when they upset Adelaide United 3-1 at Coopers Stadium.

Wanderers opened up a 10-point gap above bottom side Central Coast Mariners, who they beat last time out.

They were inspired by Dutchman Roly Bonevacia, who set up their first goal for Oriol Riera and restored their advantage after Ryan Kitto had levelled.

Adelaide saw Craig Goodwin fail from the penalty spot, with keeper Vedran Janjetovic making a good save.

Riera stooped to head home Bonevacia's free-kick and give the visitors the lead on 12 minutes, while four minutes later Janjetovic kept them in front with the penalty stop.

The Reds missed that chance to equalise, with the penalty having been given for Brendan Hamill's trip on Jordy Thomassen, but a minute before the break Kitto made it 1-1.

He lashed home after Janjetovic came to punch Michael Jakobsen's lofted ball into the box.

Bonevacia had a slice of luck for his goal, with the ball taking a big deflection off Ryan Strain and leaving keeper Paul Izzo wrong-footed.

He claimed his second assist of the match 19 minutes from time, lifting a clever pass in for Abraham Majok to lob the onrushing Izzo.

It's the first time since February 2018 Wanderers have won consecutive matches, but their chances of rallying to make the Finals Series are slim – they are 12 points behind sixth-placed Wellington, with eight rounds to go.

The damage was done over a 10-game spell starting in mid-December when they picked up just two points.

Adelaide are 6/4 to win their next game against Newcastle, who are 7/4 with the draw 23/10.

The Reds are 17/2 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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Victory seek famous double

Kosta Barbarouses doesn't think Melbourne Victory will have problems combining their A-League honours chase with the start of their Asian Champions League season.

Victory have a big task on their hands to deny Perth Glory the Premiers' Plate this season, particularly after losing twice to Tony Popovic's side.

They have a seven-point gap to make up over the remaining nine games of the campaign but New Zealand international forward Barbarouses feels they can do it.

That's despite the fact that by the time the A-League regular season ends in late April they will have played their first six Group F matches in the Asian Champions League.

Barbarouses says Victory won't be tempted to put more of a focus on their ACL campaign and less on the A-League because of their gap behind Perth.

"Definitely not. Once you get into that headspace, you'll probably find yourself in fourth of fifth by the time the season finishes," said the striker, who has scored 10 times this season.

"We're very serious about both competitions and we're not going to take our foot off either pedal. We want to really make a push for it, and push Glory or whoever's up there all the way … anything can happen."

Victory will start their ACL season on 5th March against Korean side Daegu FC and will look to Japanese marquee Keisuke Honda to make a big impact in the competition.

Honda will be pushing for a start in Friday's clash with Wellington Phoenix in Auckland, but captain Carl Valeri will miss out due to a hamstring problem.

Melbourne Victory are 9/4 to win the Grand Final and 11/10 to win their next game against Wellington Phoenix, who are 21/10 with the draw 11/4.

Jets win after extra time

Newcastle Jets have made it past the first hurdle in their bid to qualify for the Asian Champions League after beating Indonesian side Persija Jakarta 3-1.

Last year's A-League runners-up won through thanks to two goals in extra time at Hunter Stadium. But blocking their path to the group stages are Kashima Antlers, who Ernie Merrick's side need to beat in next week's play-off in Japan.

Ronny Vargas netted his second goal in the space of six days to put Newcastle ahead four minutes into the second half. Persija levelled 18 minutes from time with a header from Rizky Ramdani Lestaluhu, before the Jets netted in each half of extra time.

Roy O'Donovan just failed to finish off Daniel Georgievski's cross and Nigel Boogaard and Kaine Sheppard had other chances for Newcastle in the first half of normal time as Merrick's team dominated.

Vargas broke the deadlock from close range, finishing off a quick counter-attack that had seen Sheppard and O'Donovan combine.

They continued to create chances but were punished for their inability to convert when Lestaluhu headed home from a set-piece.

That forced the match into extra time, with skipper Boogaard restoring Newcastle's lead 11 minutes into the first half when he fired home after being left free at the far post. Substitute Matthew Ridenton headed home powerfully in the dying stages to ensure their victory.

The Jets could have done without being forced into an extra 30 minutes, given that they will take on Melbourne City on Friday and then have to fly out to face Kashima next Tuesday.

Newcastle are 12/5 to beat Melbourne City, who are 21/20 with the draw 5/2. The Jets are 9/1 to win 1-0.

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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