Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Gold Coast United

Whenever these two sides play it's always a tight affair, regardless of form or positions on the table.

Date: Saturday, December 31 Kick-off: 6.15pm AEDT, 6.15pm Local Venue: Bluetongue Stadium

Head-to-head Played 8: Wins: Central Coast 3, Gold Coast 2, Draws: 3

Previous encounter Central Coast 1, Gold Coast 1, October 15, 2011

History: Whenever these two sides play it's always a tight affair, regardless of form or positions on the table. The two clubs have met eight times with just one match being decided by more than two goals, which means another tense encounter should materialise in this one.

In their previous meeting earlier this season it was only a late goal from Patrick Zwaanswijk that saved the Mariners from defeat, cancelling out James Brown's opener in a 1-1 draw in Gosford in round two.

Form: Past five matches: Central Coast: WWWWW Gold Coast: LLDWW

Things just keep getting better for the Central Coast with last weekend's 3-1 win over the Glory their sixth in a row in a sequence of nine games without a loss. Graham Arnold's side are firing on all cylinders and have opened up a healthy gap at the top of the table.

How things have changed for the Gold Coast. A couple of weeks ago they were propping up the rest of the league on the back of five games without a win. But two wins on the bounce, including a late 1-0 win over champions Brisbane on Boxing Day, has Miron Bleiberg's side off the bottom, in a confident mood and eyeing off another big scalp in the Mariners. Win this one and the finals spots are well within reach.

Match Committee: No major worries for the Mariners with all their big guns fit and available for selection. The only problem for Arnold is deciding which of his in-form players to put in his staring side.

There was some bad news for United out of the win over the Roar with Dutchman Paul Beekmans picking up a fifth yellow card meaning he's suspended for this one while striker Dylan Macallister is unlikely to play after straining a hamstring muscle.

Ante Rozic is available again after serving a suspension but goalkeeper Glen Moss (adductor) is out for at least two months after surgery last week.

Danger men: Bernie Ibini - Ibini continues to develop into one of the most exciting and damaging young strikers in the competition. His pace is a real weapon for the Mariners and he's starting to find consistent form in front of goal as well. Ibini's strike against the Glory last week was his fourth goal of the season and he also set up Matt Simon's one in another impressive display.

Michael Thwaite - While Gold Coast's form has been a little up-and-down so far this season, one thing has been constant and that's the form of their skipper.

Michael Thwaite plays the game the way it should be played, hard and fair and with a constant smile on his face. Not only is the former Victory star strong in defence but he also has the ability to create something going forward for his side.

At the end of the day… Can anyone stop the Mariners when they are in this vein of form? Six wins in a row, playing exciting football and scoring a heap of goals as well. They have a full squad to choose from and generally relish the festive season games on their home patch.

A few weeks ago this game would have appeared an easy three points for the Central Coast. But Miron Bleiberg has got his side back on track after a horror run and they will relish the opportunity to try and stop the Mariners' juggernaut.

The loss of Beekmans, who is a calming and creative influence in the middle of the park, is a huge on for the visitors to cover and may just give the likes of Rostyn Griffiths, Oliver Bozanic and Michael McGlinchey they extra space they need to take control of the midfield.

The Gold Coast will do their best to shut down the Mariners' key players but it's hard to see anything other than a home win in this one.