This Saturday, the Mariners return to Gosford to take on Adelaide United at 5.30 local time. Both sides are currently in extended undefeated periods- the Mariners 14 games and Adelaide 5. The Reds are yet to lose a game under new coach John Kosmina- former Socceroo teammate and strike partner of Mariners manager Graham Arnold. The match is the Mariners’ 200th competitive game, including A-League, Pre-Season Cup, Champions League and Champions League qualification games.
Despite a string of very strong results, the Mariners form going into this game is somewhat off the boil, by the club’s high standards this season. A draw against Newcastle in a match they were highly favoured to win was followed by a win that was not without elements of luck against a strong Melbourne Heart midweek, largely due to the impressive form of young goalkeeper Matt Ryan. Rostyn Griffiths made his return after several weeks out with a torn hip in that game off the bench, and it would not be a surprise to see him return to the starting eleven ahead of John Hutchinson or Ollie Bozanic. Before his injury, Griffiths was in excellent form, providing a vital link between defence and midfield, as well as being a strong defensive presence. Should he start the match, it could quite possibly lead to a return to the free flowing game which has taken the Mariners 9 points clear at the top of the table this season.
Last time the two teams met, the Mariners put in a dominant display, winning 4-0 in Adelaide, in one of the final games in which Rini Coolen coached the Reds. If the Mariners were to put in a similar performance, they would further consolidate their position as favourites for a second A-League premiership- especially with second and third placed Heart and Brisbane Roar playing one another on the weekend.
Adelaide are in their strongest run of form this season, and have not lost since Kosmina became coach- albeit having had three draws from his five games in charge. However, their poor early season form sees them still sitting eighth on the ladder, now only one point outside the top six. Key to their resurgence has been a tightening of the defence- in their past four games, they have conceded three goals, compared to ten goals in the four games before that. Their attack is still dubious, having scored the least goals in the competition with 17, despite fielding several quality attacking players, and might struggle to break down a Central Coast defence which is the best in the competition, having only conceded 11 goals all season. Sergio van Dijk is in good goal scoring form, with 4 goals in his last 3 games, two of them from the penalty spot.
Should he play, Mariners defender Patrick Zwaanswijk will make his 50th A-League appearance. The defender has had a great season so far, being defensively very solid, and scoring five goals.
Overall, it is a match which both teams would like to think they have a chance of winning. If the Mariners can return to the level of football they have been playing this season, they will be very hard to beat, but if Adelaide are able to disrupt the Mariners passing game, and break down what has become a very tight defence, they are a chance of taking something away from Bluetongue stadium.
Mariners: Ryan, Bojiic, Wilkinson, Zwaanswijk, Rose, Griffiths, McGlinchey, Bozanic, Amini, Ibini-Isei, Hearfield. Subs: Pasfield, Hutchinson, McBreen, Kwasnik.
Adelaide: Galekovic, Boogaard, Mullen, Golec, Watson, Caravella, Barbiero, Malik, Vidosic, van Dijk, Djite. Subs: Birighitti, Usucar, Dilevski, Melling.