Melbourne City will play host to Perth Glory at AAMI Park on Sunday in an elimination final, just days after the sides met in a nine-goal thriller at nib Stadium.
Striker Adam Taggart has overcome injury to play a key role for Perth since his return from a stint with Fulham, and the Glory’s multidimensional attacking line is shaping as a serious threat to City’s hopes of progressing.
Why he’s important
Taggart’s presence alongside striker Andy Keogh and creative fulcrum Diego Castro rounds off an attacking force bettered only by the runaway premiers in Sydney FC.
Along with Castro hitting his straps, Taggart’s return from injury and subsequent return to form lifted the Glory into top four contention, a dream that was only dashed in the twilight minutes of the regular season.
It has not been smooth sailing for City at the back. John van‘t Schip and Michael Valkanis occasionally experimented with a back three, while Danish central-defender Michael Jakobsen’s injury concerns have seen right-back Manny Muscat and the youthful Ruon Tongyik pick up the slack.
The three fixtures between the teams in 2016-17 produced 20 goals, so while a dour affair would end one club’s season on an ironic note, it is likely one or more of Perth’s prolific scorers will feature again.
His season so far
After marking his return to the A-League with a first half brace against Central Coast Mariners, Taggart was sidelined for five matches by a calf complaint, and the Glory preferred to take a cautious approach with their prized recruit thereafter.
He returned to the pitch in round seven against Adelaide United but would not hit the scoreboard again until Round 11, in a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Sydney. The former Golden Boot winner would go on to score in eight of his next 11 matches, including winners in clashes with Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory.
Taggart’s hot streak coincided with the Glory losing just one match between Rounds 11 and 22, while his scoreless month to follow overlapped with a barren March for Kenny Lowe’s side, taking just two points from an available 12.
The forward has rediscovered some form leading into the play-off rounds, his sliding sealer snuffing out Melbourne City’s hopes of a miracle comeback win in a final-round scoring frenzy at nib.
Despite recording 18 starts in his 22 appearances, Taggart was handled with care earlier in the season as he recovered from injury, as evidenced by his eight substitutions.
His 12 goals saw him finish equal-fifth in the Golden Boot race alongside Victory wizard Marco Rojas, Wellington striker Roy Krishna and teammates Keogh and Castro, seven behind eventual winners Besart Berisha and Jamie Maclaren. He created just 12 chances to score with the majority of play directed through Castro, however.
Taggart has been solid on the road, scoring on four occasions, but his record against Melbourne City this season is less so. Blanketed by Muscat in Round 12, he touched the ball just nine times, and in last weekend’s meeting his completion rate dropped to 64.7%, perhaps redeemed by an early penalty and a late goal.