Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets

Not much splitting these two fierce rivals with the Central Coast enjoying nine wins to Newcastle's eight (with eight draws) in the 25 previous F3 derbies.

Date: Saturday, January 14 Kick-off: 5.30pm AEDT Venue: Bluetongue Stadium

Head-to-head Played 25: Wins: Central Coast 9, Newcastle 8, Draws: 8

Previous encounter Central Coast 2, Newcastle 0, December 10, 2011

History: Not much splitting these two fierce rivals with the Central Coast enjoying nine wins to Newcastle's eight (with eight draws) in the 25 previous F3 derbies. The Mariners have got the better of the recent meetings though with just one defeat to the Jets (in Round 3 this season) since October 2009.

The Jets of course won the biggest ever clash between the two clubs in the 2008 Grand Final.

The most recent clash was won by the Mariners, with a goal in each half to Rostyn Griffiths and the recently-departed Matt Simon handing Graham Arnold's side a 2-0 win.

Form: Past five matches: Central Coast Mariners: WWDWW Newcastle Jets: LLDWL

Who said the loss of Matt Simon would be a body-blow for the Mariners. The runaway league leaders played arguably their best half of football this season in the opening 45 minutes against Sydney FC last Sunday, grabbing an early goal before holding on for a 1-0 win. In truth the game should have been out of the Sky Blues sight at half-time with the Mariners playing some brilliant football but not converting their chances into goals.

It seems to be troubling time for the Jets who have dropped out of the top six now with just one win in their last five games.

Off-field drama surrounding key midfielder Kasey Wehrman hasn't helped and it may have been in factor in their 2-1 loss to Melbourne Victory last Saturday night. It's a shame for Jets fans this game is away from Ausgrid Stadium as Gary van Egmond's troops have picked up just one point on their travels this campaign.

Match Committee: Nothing but good news for the Mariners with basically a full squad to choose from. Adam Kwasnik got some game time against Sydney last weekend and gives Arnold another option in attack since the departure of Simon.

Daniel McBreen did a serviceable job from the start alongside Bernie Ibini in attack and should keep his spot in the starting XI. Although Kwasnik and Troy Hearfield are pushing hard for a berth as well.

The biggest talking point out of Newcastle right now surrounds the future of Wehrman who lost his place in the squad for negative comments about the club made in a newspaper article. It's crucial for the Jets' finals chances this situation gets resolved quickly because there's no doubt the Jets are a better side with Wehrman pulling the strings in midfield. Tarek Elrich is suspended after a red card against the Victory.

Danger men: Mustafa Amini - The Afroed midfield whiz continues to show why German giants Borussia Dortmund were quick to snap him up with a string of impressive performances this season. The youngster provides the extra touch of class the Mariners need going forward, which mixes perfectly with the pace of Ibini and the power of McBreen. Sydney struggled to contain Amini last week and it's his ability to find pockets of space around the opposition box that should have the Jets defenders on high alert.

Sung-Hwan Byun - After scoring two own goals in the loss to Melbourne Victory last weekend, you might think the Korean is more of a danger to his own side than the Mariners. But Byun is a much better player than last week's debacle suggests and he provides great balance to the Jets play on the left-hand side.

He will have his hands full trying to stop the last forward runs of Mariners fullback Pedj Bojic but if Byun can win that battle, it will cut out one avenue of supply to the likes of Ibini and McBreen.

At the end of the day… On a 12-game unbeaten run, the Mariners are quite rightly being trumpeted as title favourites as the Hyundai A-League heads into the second half of the season. They are playing with confidence, flair and their typical efficiency which makes them extremely difficult to beat. Arnold has them playing to a simple and perfect game-plan which means even when key personnel like Simon leave, it's easy for someone else to step in and play their role.

The Jets' away form is a real concern and van Egmond conceded after the loss to Victory last weekend that his side won't be playing finals football unless they can turn it around quickly. Van Egmond will need to find a replacement for the suspended Elrich, which is a big blow for the Jets. Much will again fall on the likes of Jeremy Brockie and Ryan Griffiths to make things happen for Newcastle and if the Mariners can keep those two quiet, they have enough strike power at the other end to make it count.

It will be tight but the home side's form is simply too good at the moment and they should have just a bit too much quality for the Jets.

Teams

Central Coast Mariners squad: 1. Mathew Ryan (Gk), 2. Daniel McBreen, 3. Joshua Rose, 5. Brad Porter, 6. Patrick Zwaanswijk, 7. John Hutchinson, 8. Rostyn Griffiths, 9. Bernie Ibini, 10. Adriano Pellegrino, 11. Oliver Bozanic, 12. Troy Hearfield, 13. Stuart Musialik, 14. Michael McGlinchey, 15. Brad McDonald, 16. Trent Sainsbury, 17. Tomas Rogic, 18. Alex Wilkinson, 20. Justin Pasfield (Gk), 21. Sam Gallagher, 22. Mustafa Amini, 23. Adam Kwasnik *six to be omitted*

In: 5. Brad Porter, 10. Adriano Pellegrino, 13. Stuart Musialik, 15. Brad McDonald, 17. Tomas Rogic, 21. Sam Gallagher (All promoted), 8. Rostyn Griffiths (Returns from injury) Out: Pedj Bojic (Suspended) Unavailable: Nil

Newcastle Jets squad: 1. Ben Kennedy (gk), 2. Taylor Regan, 3.Mario Simic, 4. Nikolai Topor-Stanley, 5. Tiago Calvano, 6. Ben Kantarovski, 8. Jeremy Brockie, 9. Michael Bridges, 10. Ruben Zadkovich, 13. Sung-Hwan Byun, 14. Labinot Haliti, 17. James Virgili, 18. Marco Jesic, 19. Matthew Nash, 22. Ali Abbas, 23. Ryan Griffiths, 25. Jacob Pepper *two to be omitted*

In: 4. Nikolai Topor-Stanley, 17. James Virgili (all promoted), 10. Ruben Zadkovich (returns from suspension) Out: 11. Tarek Elrich (suspended - 1 match) Unavailable: Sam Gallaway (knee), 24.Francis Jeffers (ankle), 12. Jobe Wheelhouse (virus)