Central Coast Mariners coach Graham Arnold believes his team’s previous experience of high pressure football will count as the premiership goes down to the wire.
Central Coast Mariners coach Graham Arnold believes his team-s previous experience of high pressure football will count as the dramatic premiership goes down to the wire.
The Mariners lost top spot to Western Sydney Wanderers last week, giving Tony Popovic-s side a two-point lead as they chase a record equalling ninth straight win.
Arnold-s battle-hardened side have been here before, however, having spent the previous two seasons locked in a close battle with Ange Postecoglou-s record-breaking Brisbane Roar team.
The reigning premiers might not have clinched a grand final win yet but the coach is confident that big-game experience will count in the race for top spot.
“That-s what I-ve said to the players,” Arnold said.
“We-ve had the experience of being on top last year for a huge number of weeks; this year we-ve been on top for, I think, 16 weeks. We-ve had the experience of two finals series, two penalty shoot-out losses and the ACL, so they-ve played some big games. I-ve challenged them to rise to that and enjoy that experience again this year.”
Arnold admits losing at home to the Wanderers was hard to swallow, saying his team deserved the points on the night - but that their performance backed up his belief that the Mariners are the best team in the competition.
“We always try to stay positive and the performance was fantastic. We totally dominated, we outplayed them, we had the chances; we beat ourselves, they didn-t beat us.
“We focus on the performance; if you play like that the results will come, they have to. I don-t think there was that much difference between the Western Sydney performance and the Melbourne Victory performance, except against Victory we put the ball into the back of the net.”
The challenge for the Mariners is to rediscover that threat in front of goal against Sydney FC in a game neither side can afford to lose.
Arnold knows he-s in for a battle. Both previous fixtures between these two this season have been explosive and with the pressure on, the Mariners boss is expecting the Sky Blues to come out swinging after two losses on the road.
“Their home record-s got better,” he said. “It-ll be tough. Frankie willl have them fired up for sure. We-ll get ready for a tough game - but they-re all tough.
“We-ve got the greatest respect for Sydney - they-ve got Del Piero, they-ve got Emerton, Joel Griffiths, Lucas Neill - very proud people who have played at the very highest level.
"They-re going to come out and use all their experience and all the fight they-ve got because they-re on the verge of dropping away from the six, so they-re going to be fired up even more.”
And it doesn-t stop there for Central Coast. After a day-s recovery in Sydney, the Mariners are flying out to Japan to take on Kashiwa Reysol in the AFC Champions League. The travel and high-turnaround of matches clearly isn-t ideal at this stage of the domestic season but again, Arnold says it-s experience that counts.
“It-s tough because the A-League rules are you can only have 23 players - we-ve got three season-ending injuries so we-re down to 19 players at the moment. The players have to back up and that-s all there is to it. We play Saturday and stay in Sydney on Sunday and recover, and on Monday we-ll fly out to Japan.
“I-ve had a good look at Kashiwa; they-re a good side with three Brazilians that are very handy footballers. It-ll be a tough game but if we perform the way we did against Suwon I-ve got confidence. We-ve had the experience of playing last year in the ACL and going away to Japan, China and South Korea so I don-t think it-ll faze our boys this time.”