As we approach the midpoint of season nine of the Hyundai A-League, we take a look at how all the teams are progressing.
Since the Sky Blues won the inaugural title back in 2006, the Champions have defended their title on only one occasion in the A-League's history.
Throw into the mix the Mariners won their maiden crown at the fourth time of asking, the Central Coast will have to defy the record books in order to go back-to-back.
It-s been a rocky season for the boys from Gosford. Following their draw against the Wanderers in the grand final replay of Round 1 they have managed five wins, four draws and three loses to sit third. This is despite a negative-two goal differential from one of the usually free-scoring teams in the competition.
Along the road they-ve picked up some players and lost others for the season. There has been a change in the head coach and an historical match at North Sydney Oval.
The Central Coast-s current predicament has many pundits forecasting the Champions are little chance of defending their title, but the Mariners have always enjoyed swimming against the tide of popular opinion.
Coach Graham Arnold was firstly linked with the vacant Socceroos post, which he lost out to good friend Ange Postecoglou. However on the back of his lauded achievements on the Central Coast the opportunity to apply his trade in Asia appeared on the horizon and Arnold was off to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Up stepped Arnold-s long-standing deputy Phil Moss when the transition took place in November last year. Moss, who had been with the club since mid-2010 was signed until the end of the 2015/16 campaign. An injury-time goal from striker Mitch Duke ensured his rein got off to the best possible start, with their first win in Perth in four seasons.
Since then the goals have dried up on the Central Coast. Losing Kiwi international Michael McGlinchey to Arnold-s Vegalta Sendai and 2011 Johnny Warren medallist Marcos Flores to a knee injury will certainly not help their cause.
However the Mariners did welcome back last season-s golden boot winner in Daniel McBreen mid-season and have young gun Mitch Duke to also lead the line. With a youthful backline consisting of the likes of Storm Roux, Zac Anderson and Trent Sainsbury showing experience beyond their years, the signs are good it-s business as usual at the Mariners nursery.
STAR MAN: Daniel McBreen
Ever the comedian off the pitch, Daniel McBreen may yet prove to be the joker in the pack for the Mariners this season. Quite simply the Mariners need goals and what better person to turn to than last season-s golden boot winner.
The Mariners have only found the back of the net four times in their past seven matches, with McBreen netting a solitary goal since his return last November. This is a far cry from the 17 he chalked up last campaign but given the opportunity he will leave the opposition reeling.
On top of his on field exploits, McBreen is one of the good-guys of the competition, leading the way in the club-s fundraising for Camp Quality with his tomfoolery. Come finals time his experience will be invaluable and we have surely not seen the last of his charging bull.
COACHES REPORT: Graham Arnold/Phil Moss
Throughout the 'Arnold era' Central Coast Mariners won one Hyundai A-League Championship, one Hyundai A-League Premiership, made the last 16 of the 2013 AFC Champions League, and qualified for three consecutive AFC Champions Leagues. He helped nurture a wealth of young talent, many of which are still at the club or abroad.
It-s little wonder Arnold was linked with the Socceroos top job when it became available and his move to the J-league has demonstrated the high regard in which he is held. Despite losing several players to injuries and transfers, there-s little doubt that it's Arnold-s presence the Mariners seem to be missing the most.
Phil Moss has shown he has what it takes to be a head coach in the Hyundai A-League. He certainly has the backing of his players and will only improve as the season wares on. While the Champions have given up a long lead in the race for the Premiership there is every sign the Mariners may yet be the ones to catch come finals time.