Mariners ready for Roar

After wrapping up second spot on the ladder, Central Coast Mariners coach Graham Arnold had one message to send to all-conquering premiers Brisbane Roar, the team his side will face in the first week of the finals 'we're ready for you'.

After wrapping up second spot on the ladder, Central Coast Mariners coach Graham Arnold had one message to send to all-conquering premiers Brisbane Roar, the team his side will face in the first week of the finals 'we're ready for you'.

The Mariners' 3-1 triumph over Gold Coast United on Wednesday night sealed the matchup with the Roar but neither the result or its implications would have pleased Arnold more than the manner in which his depleted line-up tossed aside Miron Bleiberg's men.

Injury had rendered Matt Simon, Adam Kwasnik, Pedj Bojic and Patricio Perez all unavailable but it mattered little as Central Coast's brigade of youngsters - including Mustafa Amini, Mitchell Duke and Bernie Ibini-Isei, who all scored their maiden senior goals - stepped into their shoes with minimal fuss, showing the true depth of the Mariners squad.

It all combined to allow Arnold to send an ominous warning to the runaway league leaders: "We're ready."

"The boys are fit and touch wood nothing happens Sunday so we have 22 players to choose from," he said. "I thought the 3-3 draw at home (against Brisbane) gave the group a lot of confidence. Ange has done an unbelievable job and they're on a record run but I will say that we are ready."

"We've worked a lot on our defensive structure because I knew we'd be a bit rough at the start of the season but the way we've grown has been fantastic. We're scoring goals but we struggled at the start. Now you can see it's free flowing. Everyone knows what's happening."

Not only is their system fluid but also it is now assisted by regular contributions from Central Coast's teenage contingent, and Arnold said he was 'blown away' by their performance against United.

"I'm blown away to be honest. The young boys did fantastically well. I knew what the kids had. Musti has had 18 games this season but Bernie is the leading goalscorer in the youth league," he said.

"(Patricio) Perez had some stiffness in his back this morning so we decided to not to take any risks and Mitchell Duke got a flight at 5.00pm, got a cab straight from the airport to the stadium and scored a goal, so he's had a great day."

"We work the kids hard and they've developed enormously. At the start of the year I couldn't have done what I did tonight and played five or six kids in the team. Now people are saying what a strong squad we have."

"You wouldn't have said that at the start of the year. Musti had just come out of the AIS and was a little teletubby-type thing and didn't have much strength but (fitness coach) Andrew Clark has done a fantastic job with him and the other young boys. They're growing."

"I'm not saying that's what the A-League should be about but I think they've got to get rid of this injury replacement rule. What's the use of having a youth league if someone gets injured and you can bring in an overage player from somewhere when you've got these kids who work their backsides off?"