Toivonen set for derby comeback

Swedish striker Ola Toivonen is in contention to return for Melbourne Victory when they face Melbourne City in Saturday's derby.

Toivonen, who has scored 10 goals in his debut A-League campaign with Kevin Muscat's team, has been out for the past three weeks after taking a knock in training.

Muscat said the 64-cap Sweden international had returned to training on his own ahead of the meeting with Melbourne City.

"He's made good progress from last week," added the coach. "The view is for him to train with the team at the end of the week.

"He might wake up with pain one day and we'll have to alter the plan, but at this stage in time there's a decent chance he'll play."

Muscat, who has won two championships with Victory including the 2014-15 double, will take charge of the club for the 200th time on Saturday.

And he says at this stage of his career, winning is not enough – he wants to win in a certain way.

"I want to be known as a proactive coach," he added. "A manager that wants to attack, that's trying to win a game, not as a manager that's trying not to lose and might win.

Victory have only taken one point from their last two games, and have fallen nine points behind leaders Perth Glory.

But they are looking healthier at the moment, after Raul Baena returned from a hamstring problem and Georg Niedermeier made his first start since November in last weekend's 1-1 draw against Wellington.

Japanese superstar Keisuke Honda, who has been on the bench for the past two matches, will be in contention to start at Marvel Stadium against City.

The Victory are 21/20 to win their game against City, who are 5/2, with the draw 12/5.

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Knee injury ends Oar’s season

Australia international Tommy Oar will miss the rest of Central Coast Mariners' A-League season with a knee injury.

The midfielder faces a recovery time of up to three months after being hurt in the Gosford club's 1-1 draw with defending premiers Sydney FC at the weekend.

He hyperextended his knee when he landed awkwardly after challenging for a ball in the air, causing a posterior capsule ligament sprain.

The 27-year-old, who has previously had two stints with Brisbane Roar, doesn't need surgery, but will be sidelined for at least ten weeks.

He said: "I am really disappointed to not be able to play again this season. I know I'm in great hands with Dave McGinness and the medical team at the Mariners, so I am putting my full focus into getting myself healthy and fully fit for next season."

Oar, who has played 28 times for the Socceroos, joined Mike Mulvey's side in pre-season on a two-year deal following a spell in Cyprus with APOEL.

His absence is a blow for Central Coast, who are five points adrift of Brisbane at the foot of the A-League table.

Oar's final appearance of the campaign, when they held the Sky Blues away from home, was just the second time in the last seven games they've avoided defeat.

The Mariners have only won one game all season, and will need to pick up a second victory at Central Coast Stadium on Friday against Brisbane if they are to retain hopes of avoiding a second straight wooden spoon.

The Mariners are 7/5 to win their next game against Brisbane Roar, who are 17/10, with the draw 13/5.

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Antlers KO Jets’ ACL hopes

Newcastle Jets lost out on a place in the Asian Champions League when they lost 4-1 in Japan to Kashima Antlers.

Playmaker Serginho struck twice in the last 23 minutes in the play-off to see off last year's beaten A-League Grand finalists at Kashima Soccer Stadium.

Ronny Vargas netted for the Jets midway through the first half to bring them level, five minutes after Sho Ito scored for the hosts.

But Newcastle, playing for the third time in a week, were only on terms for nine minutes before Shuto Yamamoto netted for Kashima to give them an interval advantage.

Kashima could have won by a bigger margin, but New Zealand international keeper Glen Moss made some excellent saves for the Jets.

Roy O'Donovan was denied early on for the visitors when a fingertip save from keeper Kwoun Sun-Tae kept out his strike from distance.

Soon after Ito poked the ball home after Serginho's clever flick was tipped on to the post by Moss.

Vargas equalised with a deflected shot that wrong-footed Kwoun, after the Jets had strung together a good passing move.

Moss twice saved from Ito within a minute to keep Newcastle level, before Yamamoto netted when he arrived at the far post to head home as the visitors' defence failed to deal with a floated cross.

Kashima made it 3-1 on 67 minutes when Jets skipper Nigel Boogaard's clumsy challenge on Leo Silva gave away a penalty that Serginho converted.

The Brazilian grabbed his second goal in injury time, just after O'Donovan had snatched at the Jets' best chance of the second half.

The Jets are 7/4 to win their next A-League game against Adelaide United, who are 6/4, with the draw 23/10.

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Le Fondre wary of Wellington

A-League top scorer Adam le Fondre feels Sydney FC are still in the race for the A-League premiership, ahead of their clash with a Wellington side he rates highly.

The Sky Blues know they are running out of time to make up ground on top two sides Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory.

Their chances of securing the Premiers' Plate for a third consecutive season have taken a big hit over the past two games when they have dropped points to the league's bottom two sides.

Steve Corica's side lost 2-1 to Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium, and needed to come from behind at home last weekend to earn a point in a 1-1 draw with Central Coast.

They'll certainly need to raise their game against the Phoenix, who beat them 3-1 in Sydney earlier in the season.

The head-to-head record is split this season, with the Sky Blues having won 1-0 in the Kiwi capital last month.

"If you're not on your game, they'll punish you," Le Fondre said of Mark Rudan's side. "We've seen that at Kogarah we weren't quite at it and missed a couple of chances early on, they took their chances and it was game over really and we were fighting an uphill battle."

The former Reading striker moved back to the top of the A-League's Golden Boot standings when he scored the equaliser against the Mariners.

However, the two points dropped means they are now 11 points behind Perth albeit with a game in hand.

Both of their remaining meetings with the top two are at home, and le Fondre said of their position: "I don't think we're going to chuck the towel in and go 'here, you can have it'.

"There's no point in saying in eight games time we'll have won all eight – let's just go next game, take care of that and move onto the next game and the next game, build some momentum and assault Perth; that's all you can do."

The Sky Blues are 1/1 to win their game against the Phoenix, who are 5/2, with the draw 13/5.

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Phoenix exercise Taylor option

Former Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor will be staying with Wellington Phoenix for at least another season.

The A-League side have exercised their option on his contract, with Taylor having been one of their best players this term.

The 33-year-old has started in all but one of the Phoenix's 19 matches, his only absence coming when he was ruled out by illness for the 3-0 defeat to Perth Glory earlier this month.

Taylor's now hoping coach Mark Rudan will stay in charge beyond the end of this season as he cited Rudan as a major factor in his decision to stay.

Rudan has been heavily linked with a move to Melbourne expansion club Western United for their inaugural season in 2019/20.

Saying he felt at home in Wellington and was happy with his form, Taylor added: "Mark Rudan was a big reason behind my extension and the belief he has shown in me has been fantastic.

"Speaking to him about what his ambitions were when I first signed here was the main reason why I came and obviously now with how well the team is doing and what the plans are for the future for this football club, it's in good hands."

Rudan said of the experienced central defender: "He has been a prominent figure this year alongside Andrew Durante and I am extremely pleased that he has signed for another year.

"It just shows we're not only building towards finals this year but we are building for next year as well."

The Phoenix are 5/2 to win their next game against Sydney FC, who are 1/1, with the draw 13/5.

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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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