Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Melbourne Heart

The Mariners have enjoyed a terrific start to the season and it is hard to see that stopping, particularly at home.

Date: Friday 14 December, 2012 Kick-off: 7.30pm AEDT Venue: Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford

Head-to-head: Played: 7, Wins: Central Coast Mariners 5, Melbourne Heart 1, Draws: 1

Previous encounter: Central Coast Mariners 1, Melbourne Heart 0, 28 October 2012

Form: Past five matches: Central Coast: WLWDL Melbourne Heart: WLDWL

The Game The round 11 encounter offers Graham Arnold's side the chance to consolidate their place at the summit of Australia's top flight.

The Mariners are strong favourites for the clash but Melbourne Heart have improved recently, with a three-match unbeaten run back-ended by a 1-0 win against Perth Glory last week.

Central Coast last played against the red and white of Melbourne in October. On that day, Pedj Bojic's stunning free kick ensured Arnold's side returned to New South Wales with all three points.

And, having triumphed 2-0 over Newcastle Jets in F3 Derby 28 at the weekend, Central Coast will be looking extend their own unbeaten run to seven games.

Daniel McBreen bagged a brace in the win over the Jets and the 35-year-old is now the leading scorer in the A-League with nine goals this season.

The return of Tom Rogic from Socceroos duty will also help the Mariners, who will enter the match hunting their fourth consecutive win.

The Big Issue The loss of striker Mate Dugandzic for the rest of the season is a huge blow for Melbourne Heart and one they are already feeling the brunt of.

Heart have netted just four times in their past four matches and their attack lacks a prolific finisher, with not one player scoring four goals or more this season.

Gamebreaker McBreen's confidence is unsurprisingly high given he leads the league's goal-scoring charts.

Both his goals against the Jets were superbly taken and Heart's defence will need to be on top of their game to stop the veteran.

Prediction: Central Coast Mariners 2 - 0 Melbourne

The Mariners have enjoyed a terrific start to the season and it is hard to see that stopping, particularly at home.

Scoring goals has not been a problem for Central Coast - they have a league-high 19 - and Heart goalkeeper Clint Bolton will probably have a busy evening.

Heart have struggled for consistency this season and although the likes of Aziz Behich and Richard Garcia will return from national team commitments for the match, Graham Arnold's side look to be better equipped.

The bottom line: Heart are just too flaky to tip them to challenge the competition leaders on the road.