If you could pick any club to take in a fight, it would be the Central Coast Mariners.
The yellow and navy juggernaut have uncertainty and turmoil as omniscient guests in Gosford, yet continue to pick themselves back up in style – managing a third place finish last season while falling one game short of the showpiece. Despite a full pre-season under Phil Moss’ belt, and a number of overseas attacking recruits, is this finally the year that the mighty walls around Central Coast Stadium cave to the weight of critical expectation?
Last Season: 3rd
Ins: Malick Mane (IFK Gothenburg – loan), Richard Vernes (Budapest Honved – loan), Matthew Nash (Bonnyrigg White Eagles), Liam Rose, Anthony Kalik (AIS), Jacob Poscoliero (Blacktown City).
Outs: Mile Sterjovski (retired), Adam Kwasnik (retired), Justin Pasfield (Tampines Rovers – Singapore), Marcel Seip (FC Emmen – Holland), Marcos Flores (Newcastle Jets), Bernie Ibini (Sydney via loan from Shanghai), Michael McGlinchey (Wellington Phoenix).
Strengths: The Mariners leadership and unrivalled culture remains a steady constant for a club losing talent quicker than Taylor Swift loses boyfriends. Foundation player and club captain John Hutchinson marshals the midfield with English stalwart Nick Montgomery – an experienced duo invaluable to the squad’s youth, while Eddy Bosnar and gloveman Liam Reddy provide cool heads in the heart of defence.
Weaknesses: Where are the goals going to come from in Gosford? Former Socceroo Mile Sterjovski hung up the boots last season, while creative attacking outlets Marcos Flores, Michael McGlinchey and leading goalscorer Bernie Ibini have traded the Mariners in for a new club. With Mitchell Duke and Nick Fitzgerald handy but inconsistent replacements, and Malick Mane unproven at A-League level, a stingy defence may be required for the Central Coast to maintain their success.
Key Player: Mitchell Duke
Having already played and scored at international level for the Socceroos, 23-year-old Mitchell Duke is one of the hottest prospects in Australian football. The pacey right footed striker announced himself with a breakout season in 2012/13, earning a two week trial with West Ham United in England, but has tapered off since with his eye for goal clouded by fluctuating form. Duke will need to fire regularly if the Mariners wish to figure at the back end of the season.
Manager: Phil Moss
After extended and patient tutelage under Graham Arnold, English born Phil Moss took the reigns at the Gosford club midway through last season and assimilated seamlessly into the top job. The 43-year-old expertly blended Arnold’s defensive solidarity with his own offensive flair to keep the decimated Mariners squad competitive, guiding them to an extraordinary semi-final berth. For the first time in a long time, the nucleus of the Central Coast side from the season past remains, and Moss will look for his side to flourish under his tactical flexibility.
Prediction: The little club that could have spent nine seasons defying the critics, and the odds, to regularly find themselves in premiership contention. Only fools write them off, so I’m writing them off. Might scrape into the top six. – Patrick Boddan
Top photo from Yellow Army Facebook page