Aussie stats legend Andrew Howe has every stat and historical reference you’ll need ahead of this weekend’s sensational final round in the Hyundai A-League.
Leading into Round 27 there are four teams each with a chance of finishing the season in first place on the ladder, while the teams that will end up making the all-important top two is anyone’s guess.
In fact, all final positions within the top six are up for grabs, and so with the short but sharp A-League finals system giving the top four-placed teams home ground advantage, the battle for third and fourth positions will also be meaningful.
The result of Melbourne City’s (44 points, and a +21 goal diff) home match against Adelaide United (46, +15) could go a long way to determining the Premiers Plate winners, depending on how Round 26 leaders Brisbane Roar (47, +9) fare in their away trip to fellow finals-bound Melbourne Victory (40, +7).
Favourable results in these two AAMI Park games for the Wanderers (45, +9) could see them trump City, United and the Roar should they defeat the struggling Wellington in New Zealand.
Meanwhile the seemingly unstoppable Perth Glory (43, +11) travel east to take on Sydney FC, and could finish as high as third on the ladder.
How does this weekend compare to previous ones in the NSL?
Since the Australian national league kicked off in 1977 there have been only a handful of seasons where the top four or five positions on the final ladder were not known until the last round.
The first such final home and away season round took place on the last day of the 1983 campaign.
Leading into the final round in 1983 the top five teams were Preston (52 points), St George (52), Sydney City (51), South Melbourne (51) and Newcastle KB United (49).
The 1983 season used a three points for a win system (which was a one-off – for all other Australian national league seasons from 1977 to 1992 a win was worth two competition points).
Preston stumbled at the final hurdle, losing 1-0 away to rivals Sydney Olympic at Pratten Park. Meanwhile St George thumped Brisbane City 4-0 at St George Stadium to take out the Premiership.
The St George team, coached by Frank Arok, included the three legendary O’Shea brothers John, Mike and Rob, and an 18-year-old Robbie Slater.
Sydney City’s win over Canberra City was therefore academic, while South Melbourne (drew) and Newcastle (lost) scoffed their chances to finish higher on the 1983 ladder.
In terms of the highest number of teams with a chance of finishing on top with one round remaining in an Australian national league season, the 1986 southern division was a stand-out.
After the penultimate round of the 1986 southern season just two points separated the top six teams: Footscray (27 points, +2 goal difference), Brunswick (26, +13), Heidelberg (26, +12), Adelaide City (25, +12), South Melbourne (25, +10) and Sunshine (25, +7).
Footscray could only manage a final round draw against Brisbane Lions, enabling Brunswick to finish first on the ladder on goal difference with an emphatic 3-0 win over South Melbourne at Middle Park, Andrew Zinni scoring a hat-trick for Juventus.
Adelaide City defeated Heidelberg to secure third position and ultimately a national Grand Final appearance and victory, while Sunshine won against West Adelaide to make the finals in 1986 for the only time in its national league existence.
Ten years later, by which time the league had moved to summer season and the three points for a win system was firmly established, the national league saw another thrilling final round with four teams in contention for the Premiership at the death.
With one round remaining the 1995/96 ladder had Marconi and Brisbane Strikers level on points at the top, with both Melbourne Knights and Sydney Olympic one point behind. Olympic took on and defeated the Strikers in the final round to give themselves their best chance, however wins by the Knights (over Wollongong) and Marconi (against West Adelaide) meant Marconi finished first and Melbourne Knights second.
The Stallions’ 2-1 win at Marconi Stadium in April 1996 was a come-from-behind effort, Andy Harper and Francis Awaritefe scoring within three minutes of each other to secure the vital win and Marconi’s fourth and last national league Premiership.
A-League’s early years
The first two seasons of the A-League era both saw runaway Premiers Plate winners in Adelaide United (2005/06) and Melbourne Victory (2006/07), however 2007/08 was a completely different story.
In the eight-team 2007/08 season there were four teams level on points leading into the final regular season round, with Brisbane Roar (+6 goal difference) having the slightest of edges on goal difference over Sydney FC (+4), Central Coast Mariners (+3) and Newcastle Jets (+3).
Amazingly however in the final round the Roar lost to Adelaide United, who had lost their previous four A-League games, while Sydney FC could only manage a draw at home to Melbourne Victory. Newcastle defeated Perth 2-1, however the Jets’ one goal winning margin was not enough as Central Coast rolled Wellington 2-0 at Central Coast Stadium, where John Aloisi and Adam Kwasnik scored to secure the 2007/08 Premiership on goal difference for the Mariners.
While there have been a couple more close season finishes since 2008, the 2015/16 regular season climax is one of the most thrilling on record, with the added edge of teams in contention for the Premiers Plate playing each other.
While fourth-placed Melbourne City take on second-placd Adelaide United on Friday night, the Premiers and indeed all of the important top four positions won’t be determined until later in the weekend, ensuring prolonged excitement in the final home and away round.
A goal-laden 2015/16 season, one of the highest scoring seasons on record, implies some goalfests for the final round, adding another exhilarating dimension to this season’s final round frenzy.
Follow Andrew Howe’s Australian football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto
Adelaide United will face Melbourne City in Round 27 of the Hyundai A-League 2015/16 season on Friday, 8 April at AAMI Park. Kick-off is at 7.10pm ACST.