Victory Plenty To Play For

Source: Getty Images/theaustralian.com.au
Victory must live up to their name in Wellington. Source: Getty Images/theaustralian.com.au
Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Victory
Westpac Stadium
Saturday April 12 at 2.30pm (AEST)

Head-to-head:
Played: 22, Wins: Phoenix 4, Victory 12, Draws: 6

Previous encounter:
Phoenix 5-0 Victory, January 18 2014

Form:
Past five matches (in all competitions):
Phoenix: LLLDD
Victory: DLDLW

The Game:
Melbourne Victory go into the final round of the season fifth on the table, level on points with Adelaide United in fourth and one point back from Western Sydney and Central Coast, who are second and third respectively. Kevin Muscat's team have a goal difference of negative four, one better than the Mariners' negative five but significantly worse than the Wanderers' plus four and Adelaide's plus 11.

With that in mind, only a win is likely to suffice for Victory if they are to claim second. Even if Adelaide, the Mariners and the Wanderers all lose and Victory draw, it would take a 9-0 Melbourne Heart win over Western Sydney for the navy blue and whites to move ahead of Tony Popovic's men on the standings.

Adelaide, with a goal difference 15 better than Victory, can also end their arch-rivals' top-two hopes with a win away to the Newcastle Jets in the first match of the round on Friday night.

Regardless of the scenario they are faced with, Victory must still seek maximum reward to try and finish as high as possible and secure a home final. Fortunately, picking up three points against the New Zealand outfit has become something of a habit for them in recent years. Before a surprise 5-0 triumph for the Kiwis at the Cake Tin in January, Victory had recorded seven successive wins over the Phoenix, including two in Wellington.

The hosts this week have nothing left to play for and are still burdened by the lengthy injury list that saw their 2013-14 campaign fizzle out. But with former Victory boss Ernie Merrick and ex-crowd favourite Carlos Hernandez surely determined to get one over their old club, don't mark this down as a certain away win.

The big issue:
Phoenix – Lack of motivation must surely be a factor for the Phoenix. They will claim they want to sign off on a frustrating campaign with a win, but after battling through the last month or two with an increasingly threadbare squad, just how much determination will the players in yellow and black be able to muster on Saturday?

Victory – Muscat's team looked worryingly short of energy in a 2-2 draw away to the Jets last weekend, despite having rested several key players for the mid-week AFC Champions League away game three days prior. Having had a full week to treat any niggles and prepare his squad, the Victory boss will expect to see far more energy and desire, particularly given his stern statement last week that tiredness is no excuse for poor performances.

The game breaker: Mark Milligan
Although they are the away team, the onus will be on Victory to take the game to their hosts in a match they have to win. As he did at home to Sydney FC in Round 25, skipper Mark Milligan led by example against the Jets, running himself into the ground in a bid to spark his sluggish team-mates into life. The Socceroo netted both of Victory's goals at Hunter Stadium, the first a headed equaliser and the second from the penalty spot to level the scores again and salvage a potentially vital point.

Expect a tough battle between Milligan on one side and the likes of converted forward Kenny Cunningham and tough nut Vince Lia on the other. The winner of that midfield duel will be in position to dominate possession and offer his team a chance to win the game.

Prediction: Wellington Phoenix 1-2 Melbourne Victory
They may be tired and playing for the pride, but we still expect the Phoenix to have a go in this one. Victory are also stumbling toward the finish line, and earning a week off with a top-two finish may be their only chance of making an impact in the finals and continuing to compete in the ACL. With that superior motivation in mind, we're tipping a narrow away win.

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