The 5th place Melbourne Victory play host to 4th placed Central Coast tonight, and despite the tight league positions, the week previous has been chalk and cheese in comparison for the two sides.
Phil Moss' public declaration for enigmatic striker Mitchell Duke to return to form payed dividends for the Mariners last weekend as Duke's powerful late goal proved the difference in Gosford, seeing the struggling club break a 5 game losing streak across all competitions with a 2-1 win against F3 rivals Sydney FC.
Kevin Muscat's men, however, were taught a lesson in humility on Derby night as cross-town rivals Melbourne Heart put four goals without reply past the Victory defence in a timid display from the A-League powerhouse. Muscat would have surely stuck the boot in at training midweek, with high expectations weighing heavily on the shoulders coming into finals.
The Form Book:
The two sides have faced a total of 29 times in the A-League, with the Central Coast holding the slight advantage; 11 wins to 10, with eight draws making up the numbers. Although Melbourne Victory have struggled to beat the Mariners in recent times, winning just one in their last six encounters, it was almost a month ago to the day that the Victory tore apart the Central Coast defence in a clinically rutheless display at the home of the champions.
With finals around the corner, the importance of this match cant be stressed enough, with the winner capable of creating a gap for the top four teams worth its weight in gold this late in proceedings. In pressure situations it has been the Gosford based side who have been the most up to the challenge, the most recent of which being the 2012/13 A-League preliminary final featuring these two sides, where the Central Coast booked a spot in the final with a tight 1-0 win.
The Game Changer:
With his pedigree uncontested in Asia, it was Mariners new Korean signing Kim Seung-Yong who proved he was worthy of his reputation, standing and delivering for the Central Coast with a clinical free kick and a number of clutch passes in the win over Sydney. The Koreans vision and touch exude class, and a strong performance from the attacking midfielder will go a long way to an away win for the Mariners.
Both sides are without key players tonight with the Victory losing holding midfielder and inspirational captain Mark Milligan, as well as former Mariner Tommy Rogic to international duty, whilst centre back Adrian Leijer is still recovering from a facial fracture.
For the Central Coast, Eddy Bosnar has been ruled out with a groin injury, but left back Josh Rose is expected to make a remarkable return in protective headgear just a week after suffering a horrendous head gash. Storm Roux is also expected to feature despite his midweek game for New Zealand.
The Mariners form has been questionable lately, but they showed signs of a strong defensive structure both against Sydney, and Korean side FC Seoul, and with Melbourne Victory missing two key players, it will be difficult to bounce back after their dissapointing derby defeat. I like the away side, Central Coast, for a 2-1 win.
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