In what may or may not be the last meeting between the two this season, Central Coast Mariners face Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park in a vital clash tonight to kick off the this round of A-League fixtures. With both on thirty points and stuck in the logjam of finals contenders, this is a ‘six pointer’.
Victory’s defence is still an issue, evidenced in a 4-0 capitulation in the Melbourne derby and appears there won’t be much change between now and season’s end. The problem for them this week is making the most of a relatively normal week where no mid-week trips to China were had, and giving themselves the opportunity to fight back from their nightmare last Saturday, despite missing key players.
It is hard to gauge where Central Coast Mariners are right at this moment, having rebounded from their poor recent form with a late 2-1 win over Sydney FC at home last week. They have looked off the pace and a yard slower than most, and have a heavy schedule to deal with as they continue their Asian Champions League campaign next week.
The ins and outs
Mark Milligan and Tom Rogic represented Australia in yesterday morning’s 4-3 loss to Ecuador, and as a result of that, will not play this week. Kosta Barbarouses, who was on All Whites duty for their 4-2 loss in a friendly with Japan, will be back in Melbourne today and will be monitored by club medical staff.
Storm Roux joined Barbarouses on All Whites duty and it is unclear as to whether he will join the squad. Josh Rose was subbed off last week with a head injury, so it is unclear what his role will be at this stage. Aside from the long-term injuries to Marcos Flores and Adam Kwasnik, there are no other major injury worries.
The 90 minutes
Victory shrugged off their Gosford curse just over a month ago with a convincing 3-1 win over Central Coast. They did so by outnumbering the Mariners in midfield and being clinical in front of goal, something they will need to do again if they are going to be successful.
While two of the club’s best in Milligan and Rogic will be missing, it means Kevin Muscat will have room to move in regards to the starting XI. With Rogic out, James Troisi is a good chance to go central and allow Connor Pain and Andrew Nabbout to take a wing spot. Or he could go with Jesse Makarounas?
That’s just one of the questions surrounding the line-up. The shape of the defence is another issue, with Nick Ansell out, Pablo Contreras will return and that means either Leigh Broxham or Adama Traore will play either at full-back or centre-back.
The Mariners will need to be better and more proactive then they were in their last bout with Victory, where they allowed Victory to sit higher up and stamp their authority on the game even when the Mariners led 1-0.
With three teams (in between places 3-5) all tied on thirty points, every point dropped will hurt, and that point wasn’t lost on Muscat.
“It’s extremely important (to win). Add to that, the congestion of the table around us, finals football is not too far away. There’s a lot of football to be played and this game is important for a number of reasons.”
Adama Traore looked to be in doubt after a knock at training on Tuesday, but it does not appear to be serious.
“He was ok yesterday, it was obviously precautionary (leaving the track on Tuesday), and he was nursing a knock from the weekend. I’m optimistic that he’ll get through training this morning and be available for tomorrow.” Muscat said.
Barbarouses played over an hour last night in Japan, and will be back in time for this match, but his role will be determined within the next twenty-four hours. But Muscat’s mind was on those available.
“He’ll be back tomorrow morning, so I’ll speak to him when he gets back and see how he’s feeling. No doubt he’ll be flying at the pointy end of the plane and rest overnight.”
“There’s a number of boys missing, but if I concentrate on who’s not here, there’s a great chance I’ll miss something that’s going on this week or something I’ll need to prepare for tomorrow night. Last time I looked, we have more than eleven players to choose from, it will be an opportunity for someone else, we’ve been in this situation before and a couple of occasions we’ve come out of it with flying colours.”
Having conceded fourteen goals in their last five A-League matches, it is obvious where Victory’s problems lie, and Muscat was well aware.
“It’s got to the point where we’ve got to show a greater desire not to concede goals and it’s gotta hurt a lot more when we concede goals. We’re shipping goals and we’re making it so hard for ourselves to win games and three of our last wins, we’ve have to come from behind. Last week, we gave ourselves too much of a big ask. We’ve just got to be nice and solid to give ourselves a platform to win games.”
Muscat also addressed Nathan Coe’s place at the club after his axing last weekend, and gave an indication that Lawrence Thomas will retain his spot.
“Coey has got a future at the club, it probably gets highlighted more because it’s a specialist position, but he’s going to have to earn his place back in the team, just like anyone else. Coey has responded very well and I just thought it was an opportunity to give Lawrence a go, he’s been waiting patiently and he got his opportunity last week. From here on in, both are going to have to earn the spot between the sticks.”