The Roar’s A-League Men tips and predictions: Semi-finals, second leg


So the Mariners enter the second leg of their A-League semi-final against the Sky Blues in the box seat and the Phoenix hold home-ground advantage in their delicately poised clash with Victory.

This, on paper, looks to be the most interesting weekend of football this season, with high stakes at play and the chance of history should the two favourites advance to the decider.

I’ll be live for both matches this Saturday, starting with the Mariners and Sydney from 4.30pm and then the Phoenix and Victory from 7.45pm. Good luck with your selections for the games and be sure to include them in the sheet below.

Here is the way the panel sees the second legs unfolding on what is sure to be a day of high tension and drama.

Texi Smith

Wellington, Central Coast

Wellington Phoenix host Melbourne Victory in front of a bumper home crowd that will be in full voice from the first whistle. The only question will be if Phoenix buckle under the pressure of their own fans.

They’ve been here so many times this season and come up with the goods, losing only once in an astonishing 3-0 home reverse against lowly Newcastle Jets. Phoenix recently beat Victory here and kept the visitors scoreless, and the odds must be stacked in the home team’s favour.

We had a taste of Victory’s long-range strike power and it wasn’t pretty last weekend, despite having a shoot-on-sight permit. Phoenix will keep their visitors at arms-length again, and it will come down to their hard-running midfielders to pierce through the tight Victory defence.

(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

This thrilling game is goalless until the hour mark when Wellington finally break through, courtesy of a jinking Kosta Barbarouses run on the right. He feeds recently introduced hit-man Oskar Zawada, who gives us a Thierry Henry moment, flicking the ball up and volleying home with an amazing finish.

Victory abandon their five-at-the-back formation and go for broke thereafter, Daniel Arzani hitting the post and Jake Brimmer going close. With ten minutes remaining, it’s all over as Bozhidar Kraev plunders a poacher’s goal to get the shirts off in the crowd, and Phoenix round off a resounding win with Ben Old’s fierce shot from the edge of the area.

Sydney FC had a team full of villains last weekend after bossing the first half. First Andrew Redmayne spilled a fizzing shot in front of Josh Nisbet for the equaliser. Anthony Caceres fell for a Christian Theoharous turn in the box for the penalty, Jack Rodwell ended his season prematurely with a studs-up challenge to earn a red, and Corey Hollman earned this week off with an accidental elbow to the chops.

This is the moment @SydneyFC were reduced to ???????????????? men in the Semi-Final.

Corey Hollman was shown a second yellow for this challenge on Ronald Barcellos in the 82nd minute.#SYDvCCM #ALM

— Isuzu UTE A-League (@aleaguemen) May 10, 2024

Central Coast Mariners will rue their pedestrian final ten minutes in the rain on Saturday, especially when target man Fabio Gomes races through to slot home through the legs of Danny Vukovic to level the scores on aggregate with barely ten minutes on the clock.

Sydney FC know how to win in this stadium, having pressed the hosts into submission last time out here, but the cannon is firing just before half-time when Theoharous races through to tee up the unmarked Alou Kuol for the equaliser.

An absorbing contest in the second half has the home fans’ nerves shredded. Sydney hit the bar, then force the best out of Vukovic with a thirty-yarder, before Paddy Wood almost atones for his howler earlier in the year with a fierce strike that deflects wide with Vukovic wrong-footed.

With the home team unsure of whether to stick or twist, Sydney pile on the pressure, but in the end it’s a moment of magic that seals the win, Jing Reec slipping past his man and chipping the ball to the far post for Storm Roux to dive full-length to head home.

The Mariners face Wellington to rescue Australia’s A-League crown from the Kiwis. Central Coast Stadium is bouncing. What an atmosphere, what a team. The vibe is certainly alive in Gosford as the Mariners march on to a glorious treble and confirm that the final will be played under the palm trees amongst the sauce bottles at the iconic Australian venue.

Fabio Gomes. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Stuart Thomas

Wellington, Central Coast

The Phoenix managed the game nicely against Victory last Sunday, despite many feeling they were far too defensive and lacking in dare. That will not be the case this time in front of a packed Sky Stadium and a wave of emotion will send them into the grand final with ease.

Victory will crumble under the weight of pressure in the second half and New Zealand football will have one of its grandest days. Wellington four, Victory zilch.

Sydney FC will struggle to present a team even near capable of beating the Mariners, after losing another two troops for this clash courtesy of red cards during the first leg. It is a walk in the park for Central Coast and a second consecutive appearance in an A-League grand final for the home team. Mariners 3, Sky Blues 0.

Andrew Prentice

Wellington, Central Coast

Phoenix’s defensive masterclass in the first leg against Victory sets up a dramatic conclusion in front of what should be a sold-out Cake Tin in Wellington.

Remember when the Phoenix were a stranded, desolate, barely-hanging-together club, playing out of Wollongong because the pandemic prevented them from going home? They even adopted the famous Wollongong Wolves red strip for matches, as a thank you to the people of the Gong who led heartfelt, if not large-numbered support.

Well here we are, barely three seasons later, and they are a game away from a championship grand final. I love stories like this. But the game isn’t often a fairy tale, and Wellington are worth backing, due to their aforementioned defence, but also thanks to an attacking schematic that sees the likes of Bozhidar Kraev, Kosta Barbarouses and David Ball as consistent goal threats.

There is also the Oskar Zawada wildcard. Not a memorable season for him personally, but if he’s approaching full fitness then his timing could be impeccable. Victory have attacking stocks to call on too, and one wonders if former Phoenix favourite Roly Bonevacia might play a part in breaking the hearts that used to love him.

71% of the earth is covered by water… the rest is covered by Alex Rufer ????

The @WgtnPhoenixFC skipper was absolutely ???????????????????????????????????????? tonight ????#ALM #WellingtonPhoenix

— Isuzu UTE A-League (@aleaguemen) May 12, 2024

He was Tony Popovic’s preferred option to the suspended Zinedine Machach last week. Of course, one Bruno Fornaroli has been in these games before and is due a goal, given his formidable strike rate.

Perhaps Daniel Arzani starts in an attacking midfield role this week, as Victory search for goals to ramp up the pressure on the home team. I’m going with season-long consistency on Saturday afternoon, and a 2-0 win for the Phoenix.

Speaking of redemption stories…Not so very long ago, so-called football know-alls had branded the Mariners as “barely an NPL-level side” and were calling for the club’s removal from the competition.

I’d long argued that the Mariners were just about the most important club in the league, given they have no direct competition from another nationally affiliated club in other codes, and they had invested in the league’s first centre of excellence.

Of course, there were issues. A coaching chair that came with an in-built ejector seat, which was used all too frequently. An owner who wanted to move them to North Sydney. An ill-fated flirtation with a marquee player who could run in straight lines faster than anyone else in the world, but was all at sea with the ball at his feet.

And then, it started to slowly turn. You all know the rest. But even this season, having lost their first four games, the Mariners were written off and regarded as wooden spoon favourites.

Instead, they are eyeing off a unique treble. On Saturday night in Gosford, the queue to get in should stretch to Eat City on the foreshore, with a rollicking atmosphere in prospect.

These two teams drew the biggest ever non-semi-final crowd to the ground for a midweek match way back in 2007, with Sydney winning one of the best A-League games in history 5-4.


This weekend’s Semi-Final second leg against Sydney FC is officially a full house!

Watch the match live on 10Bold, 10Play & Paramount+ from 7:45pm AEST on Saturday night.

— Isuzu UTE A-League (@aleaguemen) May 16, 2024

I doubt there’ll be that kind of goal-fest on Saturday. Ufuk Talay is short on troops with injury and suspension cutting deep. The Mariners have had the rare luxury of a full week’s rest and the chance to sleep in their own beds. Josh Nisbet will run all night, proving a handful for the Sky Blues’ probable midfield trio.

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Just who will play either side of Luke Brattan is unclear, with injuries to Jake Girdwood-Reich and Jordan Courtney-Perkins. It looks to me like the Mariners will be too strong, especially taking their goal lead from last week into the clash.

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