The stakes will be high for both teams when the Central Coast Mariners host Western United in Gosford.
Western United will return to the top of the A-League table by defeating the Central Coast Mariners on Saturday, but anything less than a victory will put Melbourne City back in control of the premiership race.
United trails City – who are currently on AFC Champions League duty in Thailand – by two points but has one game in hand.
By winning that game – Saturday’s match in Gosford – United can move a point of clear of City and stay in charge of its premiership destiny with just two regular season matches to follow.
But should the Mariners – who are desperate to win for their own finals’ ambitions – beat United or the game finish in a draw, it will be City’s Premier’s Plate to lose, and also jeopardise United’s top-two hopes following Melbourne Victory’s 3-1 defeat of Wellington Phoenix on Friday night.
“It’s exciting for both teams because they (the Mariners) are playing for the top six and we’re playing to still be challenging in that final round of the season,” United coach John Aloisi said.
“We know it’s a difficult game. They’ve got very good players going forward, but we know if we play at our best we can cause them problems as well, even away from home.”
Aloisi said United had not spoken as a group about the prospect of finishing in first place, which would deliver the expansion club its first piece of silverware.
“I haven’t mentioned that we have to win these three games to win the premiership,” he said.
“It’s more about (making) sure that we’re ready for the Mariners game.”
United’s quest for premiership and finals success seems likely to take place without star Italian playmaker Alessandro Diamanti, who has been sidelined for more than two months with a knee injury.
“It’s going to be touch-and-go for him to get back,” Aloisi admitted.
The sixth-placed Mariners will inch closer to playing finals football for a second successive season with a win on Saturday.
However, Mariners coach Nick Montgomery said all the pressure would be on United.
“They’re fighting for the Premier’s Plate,” Montgomery said.
“They’ve got a big budget, they’ve brought in a lot of good players in the off season … we’ll give them full respect but … they’re coming to our home. We love playing at Central Coast Stadium.”