If one had the cheek to suggest Western Sydney Wanderers would miss the Finals Series a few months ago, you would have heard the laughter echoing from Penrith to Parramatta.
Nobody’s laughing now.
After entering the New Year top of the Westfield W-League ladder, the Red and Black enter the final round of the season looking nervously over their shoulders.
It has been an almighty fall from Dean Heffernan’s side. 2019/20 was finally meant to be the breakthrough season for the Wanderers, who looked like a team destined to challenge Melbourne City for the Premiership in December.
Instead, Western Sydney could only chase shadows as City sealed the Premiers' Plate in a dominant 4-0 triumph last Thursday, a clash that once looked like a straight shoot-out for the title.
Amid a host of injuries, the departures of international stars Denise O’Sullivan and Lynn Williams, and a horror run of four defeats from five, the Wanderers have slid from silverware contention to just about clinging on to their dreams of a first Finals appearance since their 2012/13 inception.
And ahead of Round 14’s decisive set of fixtures, the equation looks ominous.
Heffernan’s side must fly to Western Australia to take on a resurgent Perth Glory team that shocked Sydney FC 2-1 on Saturday, the club’s third win on the bounce.
A win would seal the Wanderers’ first-ever participation in the Finals, but anything less leaves the door wide open for fifth-placed Brisbane Roar to pounce.
Brisbane trail the Red and Black by two points ahead of the ultimate test – a trip to Victoria to face the newly-crowned Premiers.
While you cannot expect City to drop their guard, the fact many of the Premiers’ side will be gearing up to play international football days after rounding out the campaign might just force Rado Vidosic to shuffle his pack ahead of the Finals Series.
City have simply not had a bad performance in them during 2019/20, but Roar will pray that next Sunday will be an off day for the three-time Champions, in a bid to stun the competition and pick up a result that would leave the Wanderers floored.
The Red and Black will be doing everything in their power to regroup. Could there one more sting in the tale?
Stage set for big, Big Blue
Saturday’s Big Blue is the most important game of the season for both Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC.
With their participation in the Finals Series confirmed, Sydney require just a point to seal second position.
But there is so much more on the line for the reigning Champions. Ante Juric’s side will be out to deliver a response to Round 13’s shock loss to Perth and put on a performance to make the rest of the competition sit up and take notice.
Victory, on the other hand, are not safe yet. A point would be enough to secure their standing in the top four but lose and wins for the Wanderers and Brisbane could see them booted out – although their superior goal difference of +8 (Wanderers +3, Brisbane +5) serves as a nice buffer.
Coach Jeff Hopkins ordered his side to come out against Newcastle Jets ‘all guns blazing’ on the weekend and his words clearly struck a chord, with Victory trouncing the Hunter Valley outfit 7-0. Can the 2018/19 Premiership-winning coach rally his troops again?
Perth's giant-killing too little, too late
Morgan Andrews was the star of the show as Perth stunned Sydney in their own backyard on the weekend, with the American firing a double to sink the Sky Blues in Wollongong.
And although Perth’s sensational end to the campaign has come too little too late, last season’s Grand Finalists still have a part to play and could provide the league with a huge shake up if they can beat Western Sydney Wanderers this Saturday.
And on the basis of the two team’s performances over the last month and a half, it is not unreasonable to suggest Perth are the favourites heading into the all-important battle of the west.
Five-star Brisbane ready for last roll of the dice
Brisbane warmed up for Sunday's all or nothing clash with City in excellent style, beating Canberra 5-0 in Heather Garriock's final match at the helm of United.
It was the perfect confidence-booster for Jake Goodship's side, as they prepare to do the improbably and squeeze into the top four by posting a shock result at City.
Roar will be glued on Saturday evening's matches. If Melbourne Victory avoid defeat and Western Sydney Wanderers win, the outcome of the Queenslander's clash with the Premiers will be inconsequential.