After leading the ladder for most of the season, the Mariners lost the premiership at the death. Do they have what it takes to stamp their authority on the finals?
For a large part of the season, Central Coast were the best team in the league. The led the ladder and beat everyone else, even handing out a few choice thrashings along the way - one of which just happened to be against Melbourne Victory.
But after missing out on the Premiership, Graham Arnold-s men have to prove they have what it takes to take the finals by the scruff of the neck and say, “This is ours!”
Obviously, the Mariners haven-t managed it before and that weight of history could bring them down again. But on their side they have a season-s worth of excellence and the knowledge that it-s all or nothing for the A-League battlers.
Yes, the Mariners can find their best form Until they gave the game - and ultimately the Premiership - to Western Sydney in that 1-0 loss at Bluetongue Stadium, the Mariners looked like they were on an unstoppable march to a second successive title.
That late falter cost them dear but it doesn-t change the fact that they are still one of the best teams in the competition, able to boast of the joint-best attack (along with Victory) and the second-best defence (just one goal more than the Wanderers).
Even with a portion of his team-s having to travel to China midweek, Graham Arnold-s side are battle-hardened, with a strong core now rested and ready to take on Victory, the side they thumped 6-2 the last time they met.
The two best attacks mean this is a fascinating content - but the Mariners sheer consistency in defence means they hold the upper hand.
The Mariners can prove their quality against Melbourne Victory, and don-t be surprised if that carries them all the way to a little piece of history.
No, they'll choke yet again It pains me to say it but big-game success and the Central Coast Mariners do not go hand-in-hand.
History is littered with them failing in big games and moments; it-s not hard to rattle off a few, but let-s look at it. Last week against Guizhou, they led for most of the match then imploded late on when their ACL advancement was all but assured.
Go back to that game against the Wanderers… they dominated it in the driving rain at Bluetongue Stadium, then the big moment came and Mat Ryan fluffed the penalty.
Go back one year, to this game last year and the Mariners were taking on Perth at Bluetongue ad the pressure told on them yet again. First Patrick Zwaanswijk hit the crossbar with a penalty for the win and then Michael McGlinchey missed one in the shootout to hand Perth a grand final berth.
As of now they are coming of a loss to Guizhou but their A-League form has been good, their structures are standing up and they have that in their favour against Victory, but history and the level of talent that is in their squad is superior to Victory.
Can they back up their brilliant season? No, they can-t.