Preview: Central Coast Mariners
Love him or hate him, Graham Arnold is a highly respected manager in the A-League. Working on a limited budget, Arnold has delivered in spades for the loyal Mariners fans. The bitter ending to last season will burn deep with those involved, and should inspire those who have joined the list this season.
Last year, the team had an uncanny knack of walking away with the three points when not being the best team on the day, but that is the sign of a champion team. Unfortunately, I think 2012/13 could be a long season for the boys from Central Coast, with other teams out-recruiting them over the off season.
PREDICTION: 7th, a massive fall from grace for last year’s premiers. The ACL could also have a negative impact on their domestic results like it did last year.
BEST FINISH: Premiers in 2007/08 and 2011/12.
THE SIGNING: Nick Montgomery appears to be a smart signing for Central Coast. With over 350 games of experience with English club Sheffield United, he will bring some ‘hardness’ to the Mariners. The defensive midfielder hasn’t come with the fanfare of other international signings but I think the signing could be another touch of genius from Arnold.
THE LOSS: The departure of Captain Alex Wilkinson to South Korea came at a surprise to most, and will frustrate Mariners fans. This will further compound last season’s loss of Matt Simon.
THE STAR: Mat Ryan is the best keeper in the league, and the star of this Central Coast team. A preseason trial with premier league clubs Tottenham and West Bromwich Albion will have improved the young keeper ever further. Currently in his last year of his current contract before, I believe, he will make the transition to football in Europe.
THE X FACTOR: Mile Sterjovski didn’t take the A-League by storm in Perth and had a worse time in China. Central Coast has given the Socceroo a great opportunity to prove to the non-believers that he can have a great impact on the league. Expect an exciting season from Mile this season.
OFF THE PITCH: Not a great deal of movement off the pitch for the Mariners, but internally they should still be fuming about last year’s finals crowd of 7,572. This simply isn’t good enough, and any home crowd advantage was lacking due to these poor numbers.
GOLDEN BOOT: This is a wide open race. I’m tipping Patrick Zwaanswijk, but only by one or two goals.
THE MATCH: The final match of the season against Melbourne Heart could decide who makes the finals. I see both clubs evenly matched this season, and a home win could secure a finals berth.
THE START: A fast start will be important for the Mariners. It’s a ‘softish’ start for Graham Arnold’s men where they receive the honour of playing Western Sydney first up. Perth then makes the trip to Bluetongue, where the Mariners will be looking for improvement on last season’s finish. Central Coast could find themselves at the pointy end of the table with away matches against Newcastle and the Melbourne Heart. A slow start early, however, could have consequences for the team that finished top last season.