Mariners look for biggest fight-back

Heading into the second leg of the Hyundai A-League major semi-final, the Central Coast Mariners must produce their biggest fight-back of the season if they are to secure a home grand final.

Heading into the second leg of the Hyundai A-League major semi-final, the Central Coast Mariners must produce their biggest fight-back of the season if they are to secure a home grand final.

The Mariners have been bywords for consistency and resiliency this season, particularly in defence, where they have conceded just 24 goals in 27 games.

But, as the cliché goes, defences win titles, strikers win games - and that-s where the Mariners biggest challenge lies ahead of the second leg against Brisbane Roar at Bluetongue Stadium.

Central Coast have actually fought their way back from similar positions twice already this season: they came back from 2-1 to beat Adelaide United 3-2 in Gosford in week 16, and claimed a vital point when they drew 3-3 with Gold Coast United after going down 3-1 in Queensland.

But coming back against the bottom two teams does not compare to scoring three goals against Brisbane Roar in a knock-out game.

The Mariners have scored 10 fewer goals that the Roar this year, while Brisbane have conceded only four more.

Brisbane have goal-scorers across their final third (Berisha, 19; Nichols, 8; Henrique, 6) while the Mariners can only look to an ageing defender and a promising but still-developing striker (Zwaanswijk and Ibini, both on six goals).

The Mariners might have the consistency to get past the post first, but doubts hang over their capacity to tear into opposition defences the way Roar can. Nor do they boast someone like Shane Smeltz or Paul Ifill who can turn the game on its head with a moment of individual brilliance.

Graham Arnold went to Suncorp Stadium last week with a note of caution, packing the midfield with Mustafa Amini and Tomas Rogic playing behind Bernie Ibini. But his side were subdued in the first half, as Ibini was left isolated and the continued to sit deep as Roar applied the pressure.

They improved after the introduction of Daniel McBreen gave them a stronger presence upfront and stopped the Roar from constantly moving into the Mariners half - but still the difference was the strikers. Brisbane could have had three or four had they not been so profligate, while the visitors could not get past Michael Theoklitos.

And so the Mariners faithful must go to Gosford hoping to see what would have to be their side-s best performance of the season.

Graham Arnold has every faith in his side, and he should - they are the Premiers. Now he has to let them off the leash to show Brisbane just why they-re the best team in the league.