Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Gold Coast United

It's easy to forget that the Mariners only just shaded United in last season's preliminary final.

Date: Saturday, October 15 Kick-off: 5.30pm AEDT, 5.30pm local Venue: Bluetongue Stadium

Head-to-head Played 7: Wins: Central Coast 3, Gold Coast 2, Draws: 2

Previous encounter Central Coast 1, Gold Coast 0, 5 March 2011

History: Matches between the A-League's two 'Coast' teams are generally tight and tense affairs - of the seven meetings they've had, only one has been decided by more than two goals. The last time they met was last season's preliminary final at Bluetongue Stadium, when a late Adam Kwasnik goal sealed the Mariners a grand final berth and left United tumbling out of the finals race at the last hurdle. The visitors had their chances but were kept at bay time and time again by eventual Joe Marston Medalist, goalkeeping wonderkid Mathew Ryan.


Past five matches: Gold Coast: D Central Coast: L

Summary of form: Last week the Mariners were again thwarted by a team that is fast becoming their nemesis - Brisbane Roar. Without departed Argentine playmaker Patricio Perez and his injured understudy, Mustafa Amini, they lacked a cutting edge up front were simply outclassed in most departments by the Roar. That can't be said for how Gold Coast went against Wellington - for the most part, the tourist strip club dominated proceedings and had plenty of shots on goal, but just couldn't get past veteran shotstopper Mark Paston for the life of them. That is, until rising star James Brown popped up with his brilliant late equaliser that has been replayed again and again over the past week.

Match Committee: The Mariners have named the same 19-man provisional squad as he did for last weekend's match against the Roar. That means Amini (osteitis pubis), Alex Wilkinson (broken forearm) and Stuart Musialik (adductor) are all sidelined once again this week. Conversely, Gold Coast have no real injury concerns of their own - the only question mark is over Maceo Rigters, who should start unless the unthinkable occurs and he's held up by visa-related red tape for the second match in a row.

Danger men:

Mathew Ryan - Of all of the promising young 'keepers to come out of Australia in recent years, surely 19-year-old Ryan must be the cream of the crop. He was almost single-handedly responsible for getting the Mariners into last season's grand final, after a string of remarkable saves kept United from breaching his goal. The spectre of a repeat performance from Ryan must surely be haunting Gold Coast's frontmen.

Maceo Rigters - The well-built Dutchman couldn't play the Phoenix due to visa issues, and while he still isn't 100 percent cleared to play yet it's highly likely that this administrative bungle will be resolved by late Friday. He would have cursing his luck too, given the massive amount of scoring opportunities that his side created against Wellington. His pedigree suggests he has the class and ability to finish them off, and his presence will give United another avenue to goal as an alternative to Dylan Macallister.

At the end of the day…

It's easy to forget that the Mariners only just shaded United in last season's preliminary final. On another day and the likes of Shane Smeltz, Bruce Djite and Joel Porter would have put away their chances long before Adam Kwasnik pounced with his sucker-punch goal. But now, nearly eight months later and it's a massively different story. Gold Coast are being almost universally predicted to finish wooden spooners, Smeltz (Perth) and Djite (Adelaide) are gone, and, while he's still dangerous, Porter is recovering from a recurring hamstring injury and will probably start on the bench as he did last week.

Things have changed for the Mariners, too. While other sides have dipped into the transfer market and tried to spend their way to the top, Central Coast have largely stuck to their guns and have a similar squad to what they did last season. There are no big marquee players, no proven gamebreakers - just Graham Arnold and his well-drilled crew. That wasn't enough last week against the Roar, with the reigning champions making them pay for a number of sloppy, silly mistakes despite moving the ball about reasonably well.

Whether they will be punished for those same mistakes this week is the question. At times against the Phoenix, Gold Coast looked dangerous but were unable to truly capitalize on their territory and opportunities. If Maceo Rigters plays, then that could change - but if he doesn't, then United's thin strikeforce will be tested and the outcome could be telling. The Mariners, on the other hand, have proven themselves to be clinical when they need to be and formidable at home, so a win to the hosts looms as the most likely result.