Under new boss Paul Okon, the Mariners made some encouraging steps forward in the Hyundai A-League 2016/17 Season. We take a look at a season of highs and lows and predict what’s in store in the next 12 months.
Record: Played 27, Won 6, Drawn 5, Lost 16
Leading Goal Scorer: Roy O'Donovan (11)
Best home crowd: 11,398 – Round 14 against Sydney FC
Star performer: Paul Izzo
The Central Coast custodian was among the competition's best, enhancing his reputation with a string of excellent performances. Nearly three-quarters of the shots fired in his direction were repelled with his agile shot-stopping an eye-catching feature of his quickly developing game. Still only 22, big things are expected of a goalkeeper who has already represented Australia at under-17, under-20 and under-23 level. It's just a shame for Mariners fans the next stage of his development won't happen at their club, with a move to Adelaide United confirmed.
Breakout player: Trent Buhagiar
After less than three hours of playing time last season, the lightning-quick Gosford teenager was given a chance to shine in 2016/17, featuring in all but one of Central Coast's 27 games, including ten starts. In a memorable four-day stretch between Christmas and New Year, he scored a maiden Hyundai A-League goal within five minutes of coming on against Melbourne Victory before repeating the dose with an assured left-footed finish in the 2-2 draw with Melbourne City on New Year's Eve. Definitely one to watch!
Goal of the year: Connor Pain
The former Melbourne Victory attacker scored only one goal in his first season as a Mariner, but it was an absolute belter. With the round five clash against Adelaide at Coopers Stadium locked up at 1-1, Pain collected the ball on the left-hand edge of the penalty area, cut inside and unleashed an unstoppable drive into the top corner to give the Mariners all three points.
For the first time since March 2014, the Mariners won three straight Hyundai A-League games. The run started with a second 2-0 victory of the campaign against Perth Glory, followed by a 2-1 win against Adelaide United, featuring a very popular and long-awaited first Hyundai A-League goal for Kwabena Appiah in his 52nd appearance. Not content, the Mariners then went to Spotless Stadium for the most impressive performance of the lot, with Roy O'Donovan's brace securing another 2-0 victory. The Irishman's second was a beautiful lob over Vedran Janjetovic to seal the third straight win.
Lowlight: Mid-season blues
The peak outlined above came off the back of a real trough. After eight rounds the Mariners were handily placed, flirting briefly with the top six after an impressive home 2-0 win over Glory. By contrast, the next eight weeks were dreadful, with seven losses and just a solitary point from the 24 on offer. Any realistic hopes of finals football largely evaporated in that wretched two-month stretch.
What they need:
With Roy O'Donovan departing, replacing his goal output will be coach Paul Okon's biggest assignment. The Irishman has accounted for nearly one-third of the Mariners' haul during his two seasons in Gosford and is a massive loss. To make matters worse, Fabio Ferreira is also on the move to an as yet unknown overseas club, leaving the attacking stocks severely depleted. Two new goalkeepers are also required, with both Izzo and veteran Ivan Necevski leaving. Ben Kennedy is believed to have agreed terms, but his move from Newcastle is yet to be confirmed.
Acquisitions for next season:
Losses for next season:
Roy O'Donovan, Paul Izzo, Fabio Ferreira, Ivan Necevski
Outlook for 2017/18:Losing three of the club's best players – Roy O'Donovan, Fabio Ferreira and Paul Izzo – means recruitment is absolutely key for Paul Okon. He'll have some room to move though with Jacques Faty and Mickael Tavares also off-contract, freeing up further visa spots if the Senegalese pair are not re-signed. The Mariners boss is extremely popular with his players and his heart-on-the-sleeve mentality is admired on the Central Coast, but there's plenty of work to do if the Mariners are to avoid a fourth straight season without finals football.