Our Central Coast Mariners are riding high after victories in the F3 Derby, followed by a huge three points away to a reinvigorated Heart side have thrown the Gosford club straight back into the mixing pot for a top two place come seasons close in three weeks time. The Coast have timed their return to form to perfection as we slide steadily closer to the 9th installment of the Hyundai A-League finals series, as they look to qualify for their seventh appearance in the play-off stages of the league, and their fourth consecutive dating back to the instatement of Graham Arnold as head coach in 2010/11.
On the western side of Sydney, the Wanderers similarly bucked a string of recent poor results last weekend with a 3-0 win against Perth at home that truly flattered the visitors. Tony Popovic's much maligned rotation policy has prospered in recent weeks on the international front, with strong performances in the Asian Champions League seeing the Wanderers sitting pretty in second spot in Group H, but that form is yet to translate to the national competition.
The Form Book:
Though only two years old, a rivalry has developed between the Mariners and the Wanderers since their 0-all stalemate in what was Western Sydney's first competitive A-League match in Round 1 of last season. In the time proceeding, the clubs have played six times, with the ledger deadlocked across all results - 2 wins apiece and 2 draws. The Central Coast, however, hold the most valuable win of the lot - a 2-0 triumph in the showpiece event of last season to claim their first A-League Championship in four attempts.
Last Time They Met:
T'was two nights before christmas, when these two sides played last, Western Sydney were too good, but that's all in the past.
The teams clashed at Pirtek Stadium in Parramatta on the 23rd of December last year, with the occassion anything but jolly for the Mariners, who were thoroughly outplayed in a 2-0 win to the Wanderers.
The Game Changer:
In what may be his last game in Gosford for the Yellow and Navy, the man affectionately nicknamed 'Sterj' will be eager to show off the full range of the skill and ability that saw him selected 43 times for the national side. Mile has cut an imposing figure in the Mariners line-up during his final season, scoring three times including the winner against Sydney FC in Round 15, and the equaliser that sealed a come-from-behind 2-2 draw with arch rivals Newcastle way back in Round 4, and he will be looking to add another to his tally to cap of what will surely be a memorable night for the Mariners number 21.
Both teams have come good at the back end of the season, as any side with true championship quality does. You judge a team by how they play when they are down, and with that logic in mind it is the Central Coast who have shown they can fight to the end, proving so most recently last weekend in Melbourne, and so in what will surely be a tight and gruelling contest, I think the Mariners will get up 1-0 in a classic to send Sterj off a winner.
You heard it here first.