A-league finals a 'whole new ball-game'

January 21, 2007
By Liam Fitzgibbon

An tense conclusion to the regular season has set up an intriguing A-League finals series, but its contenders agree - form will mean little come the first kick-off on Friday.

The weekend's final round saw Newcastle and Sydney secure spots ahead of Queensland, and Adelaide sew up second place and a home-and-away clash with minor premier Melbourne.

The Jets' 4-0 thrashing of runaway minor premier Melbourne has sent them into the finals in great touch, while the Victory's aura of invincibility has been diminished.

But Jets playmaker Nicky Carle wasn't getting carried away by the result which saw his side finish third, a remarkable feat after going winless in the first seven games of the season.

"It (good form) gives us confidence, but I think the form book goes out the window coming into the finals," Carle said at the official A-League finals launch on Monday.

"It's different all together so if we want to get to the final and do our bit we're going to have ... our best performance and start all over again."

Victory coach Ernie Merrick, who has rested players and quite happily watched team members pick up fouls to serve suspensions before the finals, admitted he too wasn't reading too much into his side's form after picking up just one point its last three games.

"We almost feel like we've been marking time since (securing the minor premiership) before Christmas and when you're playing teams like Queensland and Newcastle who are absolutely desperate to make the final, that motivation is very powerful," he said.

"But we have got a full list of players to choose from, there's no injuries, we're super fit and we're rearing to go and now we've got something to really play for.

Adelaide coach John Kosmina, while keen to build on Monday night's 3-1 drubbing of Central Coast, likened finals football to a lottery.

"We've got a bit of a roll on now but having said that, finals football is finals football - it's whoever is better on the day and it can almost be a lottery," Kosmina said.

Sydney FC coach Terry Butcher, whose side will host Newcastle in the finals opener on Friday, was another keen to start the finals with a clean slate.

"We've been written off all season, and a lot of that has been self inflicted of course," Butcher said.

"But that's all gone, that's history and we've got two games now to progress.

"It's the same as any cup competition, you know what you have to do and it's exciting.

Butcher said the defending premier's 2006 finals experience could give it an edge against the Jets.

"Nerves will play a big part, and we have a team that has been there before and played in grand finals and most of them have had that experience," he said.

Adelaide hosts Melbourne on Sunday, with second-leg matches to be held the following week.

The winner of that tie will have a week's rest and proceed to the grand final with the loser facing the victor of Sydney v Newcastle in the preliminary semi-final.