United and Victory continue winning ways
Adelaide and Melbourne appear set to fight out the A-League premiership with three weeks left in the regular season, while the fall of the once-mighty Sydney FC is almost complete.
The Victory briefly claimed top spot on the table following Friday night's 2-1 win over Queensland at the Telstra Dome, before Adelaide re-claimed the ladder lead the following night with a 2-0 home triumph over Sydney.
At the end of round 18, Adelaide lead the way with 30 points from 16 games, ahead of the Victory, who have 29 points from one more game than the South Australian club.
The two now face-off at Telstra Dome on Tuesday in a clash re-scheduled after Adelaide's march to the Asian Champions League final.
The Central Coast Mariners, who beat Perth 1-0 at Bluetongue Stadium on New Year's eve thanks to a superb John Hutchinson strike, are also an outside chance to finish on top of the ladder.
But Central Coast have two less points than Adelaide from two more games played.
The Victory had to survive some nervy moments on Friday, with Roar skipper Craig Moore finding the back of the net in the 74th minute in reply to earlier goals from Danny Allsopp and Rody Vargas.
Melbourne are finding form at the right time after a lean spell, recording consecutive wins for the first time in two months.
"We didn't get the third goal, but it was great to see the guys fight so hard to make sure we didn't give another goal away," Victory coach Ernie Merrick said.
At Adelaide Oval, just over 23,000 fans took great delight in the home team's 2-0 victory over former high-flyers Sydney, courtesy of goals from Cassio and Alemao.
It was the Sky Blues' fourth straight loss and left them stuck on 20 points from 18 games, six points behind fourth-placed Queensland.
While Sydney FC remain a mathematical chance of making the playoffs, club stalwart Steve Corica has already conceded their season is over.
"This is the only season we haven't made the top four, so it's been a disappointing one to say the least really," he said.
"But that's football, we've got to get on with it. We've got three games to play still, have a bit of pride in what we are doing and hopefully we get a couple of results." It was a tough night for coach John Kosmina against his former side and he also admitted a season that offered plenty of promise early on was now all-but over.
"We need a lot of luck with other results but the best we can get is 29 points so you could basically say we are history," he said.
Shane Smeltz scored a double in Wellington's 3-0 victory over Newcastle at Westpac Stadium to keep the New Zealand side's finals hopes alive.
The win moves the Phoenix to within a point of Queensland, who are in fourth with a game in hand.