Tough trips loom for A-League finalists
Daunting sudden-death trips to Wellington or Perth are shaping as the rewards for the A-League clubs that clinch the bottom two berths for this season's finals.
The Phoenix climbed to third on Sunday, with a 2-0 home win over Gold Coast, who deserved credit just for making the trip after their tumultuous week.
It was only confirmed on Friday that Gold Coast would field a side, after FFA's decision to revoke billionaire Clive Palmer's licence and take control of the club was upheld in court.
And it was not confirmed until Saturday that Mike Mulvey would continue as caretaker coach.
Gold Coast mainly had goalkeeper Jerrad Tyson to thank for not conceding more than a goal in each half, as their defence was frequently under siege.
Fourth-placed Perth Glory, who beat Adelaide 2-0 at Hindmarsh Stadium on Thursday night, are also well-placed to host an elimination final, three points plus goal difference clear of fifth-placed Melbourne Heart.
Both the Heart and sixth-placed Newcastle will fancy their chances of holding out the A-League's only two-time champions, Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory, for finals berths.
The Victory's hopes all but ended with Saturday night's 3-1 home defeat to the Jets, in which Melbourne's Harry Kewell scored one penalty and missed another.
It was Newcastle's fifth win in six games and their first over the Victory in Melbourne since 2007-08, when they went on to win the championship.
Now eight points shy of the Jets, the Victory need to win their remaining three matches, plus have a string of other results fall their way to reach the post-season.
The seventh-placed Sky Blues are three points plus goal difference off the finals pace.
They would have been closer, but for a stoppage-time equaliser to Central Coast's Troy Hearfield on Saturday night, which denied Sydney a crucial three points.
The good news for Sydney is that after hosting the Victory next Saturday, they play the two sides they might dislodge, the Jets and the Heart, in the final two rounds.
The top-placed Mariners have just five points from their past six games.
Their lead over second-placed Brisbane remains at three points, though, after the Roar could manage only a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart at home on Friday night.
A stoppage-time penalty save by Heart goalkeeper Clint Bolton ensured the points were shared and Brisbane's four-game winning streak ended.
But the Roar could take top spot next weekend.
They host Adelaide, while Central Coast are away to Perth.
On form, those two matches give Brisbane a strong chance to make up the three-point gap and head the table on goal difference next Sunday.