Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Adelaide United

The Mariners have beaten the Reds twice already this season and should have reason to believe they can make it a hat-trick of victories.

Date: Saturday 17 March, 2012 Kick-off: 5.30pm AEDT Venue: Bluetongue Stadium

Head-to-head Played: 21 Wins: Central Coast 9, Adelaide 6, Draws: 6

Previous encounter Central Coast 3, Adelaide 2, 21 January 2012

History: A rampant Central Coast side embarrassed the Reds at Hindmarsh Stadium the first time they met this season. Adelaide were completely outclassed, letting in three first half goals and another in the second to suffer their worst home defeat since 2006.

They went a little closer the last time these two sides did battle, with the scoreline locked at 2-2 late in the second half of their January clash in Gosford, but Josh Rose poked home the winner and sealed the three points for the Mariners in a thrilling contest.

Even though the ladder leaders have won two from two against United this term, traditionally clashes between them have been tight and tense.

Form: Past five matches: Central Coast: DLDDL Adelaide: LLLWD

Summary of form:

The Mariners' grip on the Premiers' Plate is slipping by the day. It was only a few short weeks ago that they'd assumed the mantle of invincibility from Brisbane.

Aurelio Vidmar then swooped to take away some of their best young players for Australian Under-23 duty and things started to get a little tougher.

They've now won just two of their last nine games and, with their AFC Champions League participation adding more than a few long-haul flights to an already hectic schedule, the depth of Graham Arnold's side will continue to be tested over the coming weeks. If they can't get back to that form of old then the Roar will have no qualms about snatching the title away from them.

Meanwhile, it seems as if Adelaide's AFC Champions League campaign came at the right time.

After losing three domestic games in a row, the Reds travelled to Uzbekistan to face FC Bunyodkor and took home a famous victory.

It came about thanks to a sturdy defensive effort and a new focus on counter-attacking, and John Kosmina used those same tactics against Brisbane on the weekend to great effect. The Roar had loads of chances but United were able to frustrate them enough to secure a share of the spoils, and it wouldn't be out of the question to assume they'll head to Bluetongue Stadium with the same mindset.

Match Committee: There are no real injury concerns for Central Coast, although it is important to note that Tom Rogic, Mustafa Amini and Bernie Ibini all played for the Australian Under-23s during the week.

Adelaide's Mark Birighitti was in the squad as well, but whether he backs up depends on the result of a fitness test for skipper Eugene Galekovic (ankle). Sergio van Dijk (back) is also unlikely, while Spase Dilevski (groin) and Fabian Barbiero (suspended) won't be seen for a while.

Danger men: John Sutton - The clock is ticking for the Scottish marskman, who was brought to Central Coast to replace Matt Simon because the club could not find anyone like him in Australia at short notice. Though, in fairness, it does take some players longer than others to adjust to the Hyundai A-League, Sutton really needs to find some scoring form right away.

With finals around the corner and continental competition now in full swing, the Tottenham Hotspur youth product must fire to take some pressure off the shoulders of his fellow strikers.

Zenon Caravella - The midfield workhorse had perhaps his best game for Adelaide on the weekend since joining the club from Gold Coast - that was, until, a sloppy backpass with less than 20 minutes to go led to Brisbane's Besart Berisha nailing the equalizer.

Still, Caravella buzzed around in the centre of the park and provided plenty of energy to a jetlagged United side, and together with anchor Osama Malik, coach John Kosmina may have found an ideal midfield pairing.

At the end of the day… The Mariners have beaten the Reds twice already this season and should have reason to believe they can make it a hat-trick of victories. With just about a full compliment of players to pick from as well as home-ground advantage, they should expect to claim all three points here.

However, they can be sure that Adelaide will put up another defensive roadblock, after adjusting their approach for their matches against Bunyodkor and Brisbane.

The question is whether Central Coast have the ability to get past it? On paper, we're sure they can - Amini, Ibini, Sutton, Kwasnik, Rogic and Bozanic are all players capable of not only scoring goals, but setting them up for others as well. But in practice, putting away a winning score has been easier said than done. We fancy the new-look Reds to frustrate the Mariners, but that may not be enough.