How Stajcic is restoring pride to the Mariners badge, step by step

Alen Stajcic is instilling a sense of belief during his first pre-season as Central Coast Mariners boss.

And the club’s first-ever FFA Cup Semi Final at home is evidence of the impact the former Westfield Matildas coach is having in Gosford.

Central Coast will contest an FFA Cup Semi Final for the first time since the competition’s inaugural season on Wednesday night after their gutsy 120-minute shift against Brisbane Roar in the Round of 16, and after Abraham Majok’s scrappy stoppage-time winner against Hume City in the Quarter Finals.

Both matches embodied the newfound spirit within the Mariners squad.

The penalty shoot-out win over Roar was their first win against their Queensland rivals since April 2014, while the club’s ugly win against Hume on a cold Tuesday night showed real grit.

But Staj, as he is affectionately known, understands that the club’s cup campaign is just one small step towards their ultimate goal: restoring pride in the Mariners’ badge.

“The FFA Cup run certainly does help the confidence,” Stajcic said. “But we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. It’s baby steps for us. It’s just one step on the road to rebuilding the confidence around this club and the belief that the players have in themselves.

Click here to find out how to watch the Mariners take on Adelaide United in an FFA Cup Semi Final from 7:30pm AEST.

Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Adelaide United

Abraham Majok sent the Mariners through to the Semi-Finals
Abraham Majok sent the Mariners through to the Semi-Finals of the FFA Cup 2019

“We certainly know that there’s a long way to go and a lot to improve on. Our play in the front third and penalty box needs to improve if we’re going to be competitive in the A-League."

Squad depth and seeing out 90 minutes were two areas that the Mariners suffered their harshest criticisms last season – but there may be early signs that these deficiencies are being addressed.

With three central defenders unavailable in Redcliffe: a 120-minute-plus-performance and the mental steel to prevail in a penalty shoot-out provided a tonic for those on the coast who dared to stay up and watch their team win.

Not to mention a 92nd minute winner at ABD Stadium against Hume: Mariners fans may now have reasons to start believing.

“It was great that we could test our depth at that level [against Brisbane],” Stajcic said. “To have three of our centre backs out in [Kye] Rowles, [Giancarlo] Gallifuoco and [Ruon] Tongyik and still be able to put together a solid back four, and be competitive over a full 120 minutes was pleasing.

“We were satisfied with the fitness levels considering the time of the year but as I said before, lots to work on between now and round one [Hyundai A-League],” Stajcic said.

INS AND OUTS: Central Coast Mariners

If the start of Stajcic’s tenure was anything to go by, the climb was never going to be gifted. On March 16, just four days after his appointment, Staj delivered a gutsy 3-2 win away from home against their fierce rivals Newcastle Jets. The first taste of what ‘life under Staj’ might hold for the Coast’s football faithful.

Fast forward six months, Staj is now deep into one of the most crucial pre-seasons in Mariners’ history. Working tirelessly to build a squad with no less than 11 new players, each with a story more intriguing than the next.

Stajcic spoke of his plan to attract a new wave of leaders to the club, who will drive a culture of accountability and positivity.

“Our new players have brought in a new energy, enthusiasm, they have fit into the club seamlessly,” Stajcic said.

“They have promoted such a positive environment around the group, so I am really impressed with their attitudes.

“By the way they carry themselves you can just see their hunger and determination to contribute to this team being as competitive as it can be.”

Stajcic executed on his plan to bring leaders to the Coast, courting captains from all corners of the globe. Mix Ziggy Gordon (Scottish), Eun-Sun Kim (Korea Republic), Milan Duric (Serbian) in with all-time leading goal scorer and current captain Matt Simon and you have a group of leaders, yet unlikely teammates, who demand success.

Ziggy Gordon has been blown away by the team spirit within the Mariners
Ziggy Gordon has been blown away by the team spirit within the Mariners

Commanding attacking aces like Tommy Oar, Danny De Silva and Jordan Murray – all with a point of their own to prove – it’s a compelling narrative building among this diverse Mariners squad.

“Recruiting natural leaders will be a key element to rebuilding this club and rebooting for want of a better term,” Stajcic said.

“It’s important we change attitudes and behaviours. When you’ve got quality leaders like Matt Simon, Kim, Milan and Ziggy it really adds a lot of experience and knowledge to the group that they can share with the younger ones. They all lead by example and we are seeing that already.”

The next hurdle now awaits: an FFA Cup home Semi-Final against Adelaide and a prime opportunity to write the next chapter of a fast-growing narrative, in front of their passionate supporter base.

“Every match for us is important,” Stajcic said. “Every friendly, every FFA Cup game, every A-League game, we’re treating them all the same.”

“Three quarters of this team is new, it’s football’s world’s longest pre-season but for us it’s been very important. Those combinations and chemistry only build every game and matches like Hume, that were a real test, is just going to improve us going forward,” Stajcic said.

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Mariners boss Alen Stajcic was all smiles after his side's win over Maitland in the Round of 32
Mariners boss Alen Stajcic was all smiles after his side's win over Maitland in the Round of 32