When can Perth Glory win the Premiers Plate?
Perth Glory appear destined to lift the Hyundai A-League Premiers Plate for the first time after extending their buffer to nine points in Round 19.
An efficient 4-0 win over Brisbane Roar and draws elsewhere for Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC completed another productive weekend for the table-toppers.
Though recent results have seen them slip off the pace, neither second-placed Victory nor the reigning Premiers will be in a hurry to accede to Perth's hope to end a silverware drought dating back to 2004.
But a 10-match unbeaten streak equalling the club's finest ever run in the Hyundai A-League clearly marks Tony Popovic's men as the overwhelming favourites to stay top through to the end of April.
Here, we assess the fixtures ahead of Glory and when exactly they could be in a position to celebrate.
No easy road to Glory
One thing is for certain: Perth will be made to earn the Premiers Plate.
An awkward run of three consecutive away fixtures will see to that.
Glory's outstanding form since the turn of the year has been built on a sequence of six fixtures from their past eight taking place at HBF Park.
They've collected 16 of a possible 18 points from those matches, but are now set to be closely examined on the road.
Trips to Western Sydney Wanderers, Melbourne City – against whom they drew 0-0 in January – and Adelaide United are next on the agenda.
Whatever the run of results, a huge assignment awaits on their return home: a showpiece clash with Victory on March 30.
Circumstances set for special showdown
That showdown with the reigning champions in Round 23 could well be the one in which Perth claim the Premiers Plate.
All the leaders need to do over their next three matches is to better the points tally Victory manage in the same period, one which sees them contest the Melbourne Derby, host Newcastle Jets and entertain Brisbane Roar in among AFC Champions League commitments.
Accomplishing that task would put Glory in a position to seal the silverware by beating Kevin Muscat's men in front of what is certain to be a huge, partisan crowd at HBF Park.
If Perth's nine-point advantage at the top remains unchanged over the next month, their earliest opportunity to sew up top spot would be – pending three points in their third and final regular-season encounter against Victory – in Round 24, away to bottom-placed Central Coast Mariners.
But if, for example, the Western Australian side's lead was trimmed to six points or less by the end of Round 23, they could be forced to wait until the penultimate game of the season against Sydney FC at the SCG.
That would make for more than just a symbolic changing of the guard ahead of the Finals Series.
The fight for Finals Series places
It's a race in three at the top and so too, seemingly, for fifth and sixth.
Newcastle Jets broke right back into the Finals Series frame with Friday night's surprise 3-1 win over a Melbourne City side that suddenly does not seem assured of post-season action.
An ill-timed run of one win in six matches has left Warren Joyce's outfit open to being overtaken by both Wellington Phoenix and the Jets.
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The Kiwi club trail only on goal difference with Sydney FC, Central Coast and Western Sydney Wanderers their next three opponents.
Newcastle, currently six points adrift in seventh, then head to Wellington in Round 23 and will hope to be within touch by the time those 90 minutes are over.
City, meanwhile, must survive a tough three-game stretch that begins with the derby on Saturday and then sees them square up to Glory and Sydney FC.
Don't take your eyes off what's happening around the top six because there's plenty still to unfold before the Finals Series!