Its finally here! Finals football has hit the A-League and what a blockbuster weekend we have in store. Say what you will about the premiers plate being the most saught after prize; sudden death and elimination matches leading up to the pinacle that is the A-League Grand Final is what makes Australian sport the lifeblood of our culture, and after Friday night will see Melbourne Victory play Sydney FC in the Big Blue, we then travel north to Gosford where the Central Coast Mariners host Adelaide United where the home side will be looking to take a step farther towards defending their title from last season.
Our Mariners are coming of domestic success after they broke down Brisbane Roar away from home for a huge 2-0 victory that saw the club, written off once again by media pundits in mid February, round out the regular season with 12 wins - the equal second most in the league. Another polished and at times extraordianry performance between the sticks from Liam Reddy against FC Seoul midweek proves a good omen heading into the match on Saturday afternoon, however the Mariners will be looking to strike weapons Mitchell Duke, Matt Simon and Bernie Ibini to tick the scoreboard over at the other end so that bloopers like that of inspirational captain John Hutchinson's don't cost the team as dearly as it did.
Adelaide ended their season in a dissapointing manner at Hunter Stadium where they were out-run, out-passed and generally out-played by an energetic Jets outfit who at the time were fighting for a spot in the top six. Josep Gombau said post match that he was happy with the way that his team played dispite the result, but even the most bias of observers could see that the Reds need a quick return to their creativity in the front third if they are to break down a consistently resolute Mariners defence.
The Form Book:
Central Coast have a strong record against Adelaide United, recording 14 victories in their 28 meetings. The Reds have won eight of the clashes between the pair, while there have been six draws. In another statistical advantage to the home side, Adelaide have won just three times in 13 fixtures at Central Coast Stadium.
Last Time They Met:
Goals to Marcelo Carrusca and Fabio Ferreira in the 15 minutes leading up to the interval saw Adelaide topple a wasteful Mariners outfit 2-0 in the city of churches. Their Round 19 fixture was epitomised by multiple missed opportunities from the yellow and navy in what would be the third in a string of four consecutive losses for the Phil Moss coached side.
Central Coast Mariners: 1.Justin Pasfield (gk), 3.Joshua Rose, 5.Zachary Anderson, 6.Brent Griffiths, 7.John Hutchinson (C), 8.Nick Montgomery, 9.Mitchell Duke, 11.Nick Fitzgerald, 12.Liam Reddy (gk), 15.Storm Roux, 17.Anthony Caceras, 19.Matt Simon, 20.Bernie Ibini, 21.Mile Sterjovski, 25.Eddy Bosnar, 26.Kim Seung-yong, 27.Isaka Cernak, 28.Glen Trifiro
Adelaide United: 1.Eugene Galekovic (gk) (C), 3.Nigel Boogaard, 4.Jon McKain, 5.Osama Malik, 7.Jeronimo Neumann, 8.Isaias, 9.Sergio Cirio, 10.Marcelo Carrusca, 11.Bruce Djite, 14.Cameron Watson, 16.Daniel Bowles, 17.Awer Mabil, 18.Michael Zullo, 20.Paul Izzo (gk), 22.Fabio Ferreira, 23.Jordan Elsey, 25.Ryan Kitto, 32.Nathan Konstandopoulos
The Game Breaker:
On a cold wet January night last season when our Mariners hosted the Jets in the F3 Derby and we got our first real look at Anthony Caceras, a handful of touches and a lack of big game experience failed to convince anyone he truly was the replacement for Tommy Rogic that Graham Arnold thought he was. A little over a year on, and with the benefit of hindsight, we can thank the powers that be he was given a shot, as under Arnolds' and Moss' tutelage he has grown into a mature, defensively smart young player with silky footwork and an uncanny eye for goal from 25 yards. Having lined up in 21 games across all competitions for the reigning champions, this has been Caceras' breakthrough A-League season and with Moss recently resting Hutch and Monty on an alternating basis, you can expect the young gun to have a big impact on the fixture in the middle of the park.
The Tip:When you are passionate about a team, you cant always be blunt about what your thoughts are on the possible result. The Mariners have set a new A-League record this season with the most individual goalscorers in one team - 16 players have chimed in for the Coast in this campaign, but one has to wonder and even worry if the strike force is pulling their weight. The yellow and navy have struggled for goals this season, but in front of a vocal home crowd and coming off two strong performances despite differing results - I like the home team to record a 2-1 win to progress and take on Western Sydney for a spot in the Grand Final.