Preview: Adelaide United v Central Coast Mariners

Wider history dictates that neither side has the wood on the other, but recently the Mariners have been all over the Reds.

Date: Friday, 2 December 2011 Kick-off: 8.00pm AEDT, 7.30pm local Venue: Hindmarsh Stadium

Head-to-head Played 19: Wins: Adelaide 6, Central Coast 7, Draws: 6

Previous encounter Central Coast 2, Adelaide 1, 29 January 2011

History: Wider history dictates that neither side has the wood on the other, but recently the Mariners have been all over the Reds. Adelaide haven't beaten Central Coast since September 2009, and since then have only put a total of three goals in five matches past the Gosford club.

Last time they met at Hindmarsh, Argentine maestro Patricio Perez was sublime as the Mariners took away a season-defining 2-1 win that all but sealed second spot on the ladder.

Form:

Past five matches: Adelaide: LDWDD Central Coast: WWDWW

Summary of form: Adelaide have enjoyed a slight upturn in fortunes over the past four matches. They haven't lost since that embarrassing 7-1 toweling in Brisbane, but at the same time have only six points from a possible 12 and are still yet to truly convince this term.

Meanwhile, down in Gosford it's been vintage Mariners, they way they've snuck into second spot completely unannounced. Unbeaten in their last five starts, Graham Arnold's men are three points clear of third place, and playing far better football than the Reds, who have a stunning side on paper but not on the park.

Match Committee: The Olyroos are done until February, which comes as a big boost for both the Mariners and the Reds. For Central Coast, goalkeeping sensation Mathew Ryan, winger Oliver Bozanic and defender Brad McDonald are back, while Adelaide will welcome the return of Daniel Mullen and Mark Birighitti.

But the injury problems continue for United. With Cassio (foot) out for an indefinite period and Nigel Boogard suspended for one more week, they will be joined on the sidelines by marquee man Dario Vidosic, who has an un-displaced fracture in his back. Evgeniy Levchenko (calf) and Sergio van Dijk (calf) both face fitness tests.

Danger men:

Zenon Caravella - With United suffering though a rollercoaster start to the season there have been few certainties for Reds fans, aside from the knowledge that workhorse Caravella will give everything he's got for as long as he can when he's on the park.

A prudent purchase by Rini Coolen from Gold Coast in the off-season, 'Z' is a true all-rounder in midfield - perhaps too versatile for his own good, given how Coolen tends to shift the 28-year-old around to fill gaps in his XI. With Dario Vidosic potentially out for some weeks, Caravella might have his chance to find a spot and settle down, starting on Friday night.

Mustafa Amini - The new and improved Mustafa Amini made his first start for Central Coast last week. Stronger, fitter and refreshed after running the gauntlet that was his debut season, the 18-year-old certainly wasn't at his best against the Heart - but that means we're one match closer to once again seeing his game-breaking brilliance.

"Musti" is a gifted player - he's tougher than he looks, far more mature than his tender age would suggest and looks right at home in the thick of the action. Just imagine where he'll be five years down the track.

At the end of the day…

What a difference eight weeks can make. Before the season, Central Coast were generally tipped for the slide. With rumoured financial problems, no real outstanding international recruits and the haunting memory of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in that Grand Final against Brisbane, it seemed as if the Mariners were bound for a lean season.

On the other hand, nearly everyone expected Adelaide, boasting the likes of Vidosic, van Dijk and McKain, to be up there challenging the Roar for the title. Two months into the new campaign and the tables have turned dramatically.

The Reds just can't get it together, while Central Coast are riding shotgun in second place. They got there courtesy of four wins in their last five games, and with United struggling, they just might get another on Friday night.