Gap widens in A-League finals race
Fierce battles are shaping up at both ends of the A-League ladder after the gulf widened between the competition's top and bottom teams.
With two thirds of the regular season now complete, the minor premiership looks a race in four with Central Coast, Melbourne Victory, Western Sydney and Adelaide breaking clear of the rest of the pack.
That group now has a 10-point break over the league's remaining six teams, who are seemingly fighting it out for the other two places in the competition's top six.
Last-placed Wellington Phoenix at least ensured they remained a part of that fight on Sunday, as they snapped a four-game losing streak in a 1-1 draw at home to Newcastle.
It left only five points separating the fifth-placed Jets (22 points) and the Phoenix (17) with Melbourne Heart (21), Brisbane Roar (20), Sydney FC (20) and Perth (19) all featuring in a lower-table logjam.
The Roar were the only winners from that group over the weekend, inflicting Perth's third straight defeat with a 1-0 win at nib Stadium on Saturday night.
Central Coast (38 points) hold a five-point lead atop the ladder after Friday night's impressive 3-1 win over Adelaide, who were second heading into the round.
The performance prompted Reds coach John Kosmina to declare Graham Arnold's men were clear title favourites.
Melbourne Victory coach Ange Postecoglou had other ideas, though, after his side's 3-1 win over Sydney FC on Saturday moved them up to second with 33 points.
"We've been chipping away, chipping away. Now there's only one spot to go," said Postecoglou.
"With nine games to go, the Mariners are going really well at the moment. But we want top spot. We haven't shied away from that - that's where we want to finish."
Western Sydney moved into third with a deserved 1-0 win over the Heart at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night, despite having defender Jerome Polenz sent off in the 13th minute.
The Wanderers (32), edge fourth-placed Adelaide on goal difference, with the sides meeting at Hindmarsh Stadium next week.
Despite the gap between the two halves of the competition, Wanderers coach Tony Popovic stressed the championship race was still wide open, particularly with a new finals format that does not offer a second chance to the top two teams.
"If you finish in the six, you have a chance of winning the title," he said.