Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Melbourne Victory

Matches between the Mariners and Victory have always proven to be tough, uncompromising affairs.

Date: Wednesday 4 January, 2012 Kick-off: 7.45pm AEDT, 7.45pm local Venue: Bluetongue Stadium

Head-to-head Played 19: Wins: Central Coast 6, Victory 8, Draws: 5

Previous encounter: Central Coast 0, Victory 0, 12 November 2011

History: Matches between the Mariners and Victory have always proven to be tough, uncompromising affairs. Indeed, in recent years the two clubs have come to represent polar opposites in terms of footballing philosophies.

Melbourne remain under the spell of star-power, while Central Coast are all about graft and togetherness. In November, the two sides cancelled each other out in a 0-0 draw at Bluetongue, but since then the Gosford club has kicked on and are comfortable ladder leaders.

Form: Past five matches: Central Coast: WWWWD Victory: LDWLL

Summary of form: It's not a good time to be a Melbourne Victory fan.

All season long, they've teased the A-League with the odd patch of good form - inevitable, given their lengthy list of attacking options. But the reality is it's just not working out for coach Mehmet Durakovic and his star-studded squad.

Despite taking an early lead against Brisbane on Saturday night, they just couldn't hold on, losing 3-1 and helping play the Roar back into form.

There's no such worries in Gosford though. Three points clear on top of the table, the Mariners haven't lost since late October and have the best defensive record in the competition. Their scoreless stalemate with bottom club Gold Coast was a minor hiccup, given it ended their run of six straight wins, but there's no denying that Graham Arnold's men are the form team of the A-League.

Match Committee: Neither side has any major injury or suspension concerns heading into this one. That means we'll be seeing the might of the Central Coast machine at their very best, and all of Victory's big names lined up at once. Add in a cracking summer's evening in Gosford and this match has all the makings of a classic.

Danger men: Matt Simon - Wednesday's match will be Simon's last home game in Mariners colours. With his switch to K-League side Chunnam Dragons now a mere formality, the burly marksman will no doubt be desperate to leave Bluetongue Stadium on a high.

His combination with young gun Bernie Ibini has been great to watch over recent weeks, and you can't help but feel they have one more great double act left in them before Simon moves abroad.

Harry Kewell - The critics have been lining up Melbourne's marquee man over the past few weeks for his lack of highlight reel moments. But for a split second on New Year's Eve, the Kewell of old was back.

Barely 120 seconds into Victory's clash with Brisbane, the 'Wizard of Oz' slipped past two defenders with ease and smashed a stunning low drive into the bottom corner of the net. It was his first from open play in the A-League and a timely reminder that Kewell only needs an inch of space to change a game. Don't write him off.

At the end of the day… You probably couldn't get a bigger contrast from two football clubs than what you get when you compare Central Coast and Melbourne Victory. The former clearly represents the collective - a clearly defined system, solid if unspectacular players, consistent approaches, consistent performers.

It's worked out brilliantly for them this season, with the Mariners perched on top of the table and showing no signs of slowing down, despite the impending challenges of Melbourne Heart and a resurgent Brisbane Roar.

Victory, given their intent on becoming an Asian powerhouse, have taken a different tact.

To paraphrase Miron Bleiberg, they're building from the penthouse rather than the foundations. The signing of Harry Kewell was a watershed moment for the A-League, but the rest of the club's recruitment has left plenty to be desired.

There are clear holes at the back and overall, the team just is not clicking. There's still plenty of quality on their books, but the assets they have are not being played in a way that allows them to fire. Are they good enough to shoot up the table? Probably. Can they arrest their steady slide to the bottom? Probably, but not against the Mariners.