Mariners below par, says Arnold

Graham Arnold admitted his Mariners were below their best in the F3 derby after his tactical acumen was stretched to the limit by Gary van Egmond's Newcastle Jets in Saturday's 1-1 draw.

Graham Arnold admitted his Mariners were below their best in the F3 derby after his tactical acumen was stretched to the limit by Gary van Egmond's Newcastle Jets in Saturday's 1-1 draw.

The Central Coast coach was forced to change his formation three times to adjust to the various questions posed to him by van Egmond and Arnold praised the way his players adapted to those tweaks, claiming they still could have won a match in which Troy Hearfield missed a penalty.

"I was happy with the character the boys showed today on an off-ish day," Arnold said. "I'll sit down tonight with (fitness coach) Andrew Clark and talk about why a few players were off.

"Derbies all around the world are tough games. The A-League is very tight and even though the Jets are second last there's only a point or two to sixth spot. So there's a lot to fight for and we expected that. But at the end of the day we missed a penalty had enough chances to win the game."

A gripping match with many swings of momentum started in favour of the visitors as van Egmond's back three and stacked midfield acted like a straightjacket to Central Coast's normally expansive possession game.

Arnold said there was no surprise in the way Newcastle lined up but that his side failed to execute the adjustments they had worked on, a fact that led to a hatful of formation changes and counter-changes by each coach.

"I'm always prepared and the players are always prepared with a plan B and a plan C just in case," Arnold said.

"I knew 'Dutchy' would set up that way and we practised yesterday against a 3-4-3 but in the first 30 minutes the boys just had a bit of trouble grasping it and getting space.

"The fact they had three central defenders in their starting line-up I knew that if I went to a front three then one of them would have to play right or left back with Zadkovich dropping back into a back four. I felt after I made that change we adapted very and gave them a lot of trouble out wide, especially with McGlinchey against Topor-Stanley.

"I spoke at half time with my senior players and they were comfortable with the change to a 4-2-3-1, and at one stage we went to a 4-2-4 with two holders to see if (the Jets) would then play five at the back.

"We were prepared to let Kantarovski be free in midfield and go for it. That's when we got the goal and balls were flying across the goalmouth. Once we got the goal we went back to a 4-2-3-1 and the guys adapted easily."

Arnold admitted he was bemused as to why Hearfield had taken the penalty instead of regular taker Patrick Zwaanswijk, who eventually headed the second half equaliser, but refused to publicly criticise his young striker.

"Patrick's our penalty taker so I was surprised, yeah," he said. "But it also comes down to the players and who is feeling good and wants to take it. So if a player is very confident then that's fine."