Goals – and plenty of them – will be on the menu for Wellington Phoenix on Thursday night when they attempt to pip Melbourne City for second spot on the A-League table.
The third-placed Phoenix will start as slight favourites against the in-form Newcastle Jets when the two teams lock horns at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in their final match of the regular season.
The Phoenix currently sit three competition points behind Melbourne City, who take on Western United in their final game next week.
City’s current goal difference is two better than Wellington’s, plus they have scored more goals during the season.
It means not only do Phoenix have to win and hope City lose, but they must also overtake City on goal differential in order to pip them for second spot.
It’s an unlikely outcome, but well worth a shot for Wellington given they are highly unlikely to slip lower than third.
A top-two berth – which gives teams a direct route into week two of the finals – has taken on extra value this season due to the loss of home-ground advantage for most teams.
If Phoenix stay in third spot, it means they will be thrust into an elimination final against whoever finishes sixth.
Given the game will be played on neutral territory, there won’t be any advantage for the Phoenix in that scenario.
Even if Wellington beat Newcastle handsomely on Thursday, Melbourne City can retake second spot with a draw or a win against Western United.
Phoenix’s hopes of a big result against Newcastle were dealt a blow on Wednesday when it was confirmed that star striker Gary Hooper would miss the match with a hamstring injury.
Luke DeVere returns from suspension, while Louis Fenton and Walter Scott have been promoted to the extended squad.
The Jets have lost experienced Welsh midfielder Joe Ledley to a hamstring injury.
Newcastle have been in hot form since the season restart, posting four wins and a draw from six games.
STATS THAT MATTER
*No team has scored more second-half goals this season than Wellington Phoenix (23). It’s the same amount of goals that Newcastle have conceded in that same time.
*Newcastle have completed 65 per cent of their passes when passing forward this season, the highest success rate of any team in the competition.
*Newcastle have kept a clean sheet in each of their past two A-League games. The last time they completed more games without conceding a goal was a three-game stretch in January, 2013.