With a favourable draw and an impressive attacking trio, the men in purple should be favourites to qualify for the 2018 AFC Champions League
Perth Glory were the big winners of Melbourne City’s 2-2 draw with Brisbane Roar, with the Western Australians well-placed to push for third and AFC Champions League (ACL) qualification.
Brisbane looked set to continue an impressive few weeks on Saturday night when they entered half-time two goals to the good, but City fought back against their travel-weary visitors to claim a point at AAMI Park.
The draw leaves Roar (29 points) in third in the A-League table with City (27) in fourth but fifth-placed Glory are only behind the latter on goal difference.
Perth crushed reigning A-League champions Adelaide United 5-0 on Friday night to briefly move above City.
With a favourable run into the finals and one of the best attacking line-ups in the A-League, Glory should be considered favourites to finish above Roar and City.
Five of Perth’s last eight matches in the regular season are at home, including back-to-back games at nib Stadium in the coming fortnight.
Of those five games, Kenny Lowe’s side host Brisbane twice, while City will visit them in the final round.
Perth’s destiny is very much in their hands.
Finishing third would be a big moment in Glory’s history – regardless of what they might achieve in the finals – as it would see the two-time National Soccer League champions qualify for the ACL for the first time.
Glory missed out on an ACL berth in 2013 after losing the 2012 A-League grand final to Roar as Australia’s allocation was reduced from 2.5 spots to 1.5 that year.
A-League premiers Central Coast Mariners were granted an automatic qualifying berth in 2013, while Brisbane earned a spot in the qualifying play-offs only to lose to Buriram United.
On Saturday, Roar stretched their unbeaten run in all competitions to six matches but their ACL campaign is likely to have an impact on their A-League form in the coming months.
Brisbane qualified for the ACL group stage this week with an impressive 2-0 win away to Shanghai Shenhua and will have to travel to South Korea, Japan and Thailand before the A-League finals are complete.
City face a tough final eight fixtures with just three home games and long trips to Wellington Phoenix and Perth, plus they must visit runaway leaders Sydney FC.
Apart from Sydney, no club in the A-League can be considered defensively strong.
The Sky Blues have conceded just nine goals in 19 matches, while Roar have the next best record but have let in 23.
The ability to score goals is likely to make the difference when deciding the A-League’s top six this season and Glory have a clear advantage in the front third compared to Brisbane and City.
Perth have scored 36 goals in 2016-17 – behind only Sydney (41) and second-placed Melbourne Victory (39).
Roar (25) and City (30) haven’t been at their best in the forward third this season.
With reigning Johnny Warren Medallist Diego Castro returning to his best form – the 34-year-old attacking midfielder has scored four goals in Glory’s past two matches – Perth have three of the A-League’s top 13 marksmen.
Andy Keogh and Adam Taggart have both scored nine goals, while Castro has eight.
City and Brisbane have just one player each in that top 13 – Bruno Fornaroli (12 goals) and Jamie Maclaren (10).
Maclaren scored a brace against City, while Fornaroli was suspended.
With just 10 points separating third-placed Brisbane and eighth-placed Wellington – ahead of the rest of Round 19 – the battle for A-League finals berths could come down to the last weekend.
But despite that uncertainty, Glory look primed to finish third.