A-League finals race appears over with sixth spot 'Western Sydney's to lose'
Internal jostling for positions will continue but the A-League's finalists appear all but set in stone after Western Sydney fortified sixth spot with four rounds to go.
In trouncing sorry Wellington 3-1 on Sunday, the Wanderers not only secured their first win at temporary home Spotless Stadium, but also climbed five points clear of the seventh-placed Phoenix and six ahead of eighth-placed Newcastle.
It is a mountain even Phoenix co-coach Des Buckingham concedes may be too high, admitting a playoff place is now "Western Sydney's to lose."
His Wanderers counterpart Tony Popovic is all too aware of that and is already redoubling focus for the final push.
"There's still a lot of work to do and we're not going to get carried away with this," Popovic said.
"We're delighted with the result and the week we've had, but if we lost this game we're out of the six.
"So winning one game doesn't change what we have to do from now on."
This Friday the Wanderers host Melbourne City, who have three points' breathing room in third after demolishing Newcastle 4-0 on Saturday to essentially push the Jets out of contention.
With leaders Sydney FC and second-placed Melbourne Victory already streets ahead, the dogfight for third shapes as the most intriguing.
Brisbane and Perth are respectively three and four points adrift of a home final, a match-up with a markedly weaker sixth-place finisher, and a guarantee to avoid premiers-elect Sydney until the Grand Final.
But City possess a far superior goal difference, a factor coach Michael Valkanis acknowledged could prove the difference.
"100 percent," Valkanis said. "The more goals you score, it could be very important in the end."
The Roar could also be plagued by distractions amid allegations assistant coach Ross Aloisi struck Adelaide assistant Jacobo Ramallo in the tunnel after the Reds' highly controversial 2-1 win on Sunday.
Football Federation Australia are investigating the incident and are expected to detail on Monday what -- if any -- charges Aloisi will face.
His brother, head coach John Aloisi, was ropeable after what he believed was a poor decision to send off goalkeeper Michael Theo and award Adelaide an injury-time penalty that robbed Brisbane of a precious point.
Their loss could ultimately be Perth's gain as Kenny Lowe's outfit, so dismally humbled by Melbourne Victory in the first half of the split round last weekend, prepare to host a record-breaking Sky Blues side that has already twice beaten them 4-1 this campaign.