Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Sydney FC

The Sky Blues have performed better away from home than on their home turf this season so they can head up the F3 with confidence, but it probably won’t be enough to get the better of the Mariners.

Date: Saturday, March 3 Kick-off: 7.45pm AEDT, Venue: Bluetongue Stadium

Head-to-head Played 21: Wins: Sydney FC 8, Central Coast 7, Draws: 6

Previous encounter Sydney 0, Central Coast 1 January 8, 2012

History: This fixture is always a tight one to call and the head-to-head record shows that with Sydney just edging out the Mariners with eight wins to seven (and six draws). But it-s the Central Coast outfit that have taken the spoils in their most recent meetings, including winning both matches earlier this season on Sydney-s home turf at the SFS.

The Mariners won the first game 3-2 and then backed it up early in the new year with a dominant 1-0 win thanks to a goal from Australian under-23 midfielder Oliver Bozanic.

Form: Past five matches: Central Coast: LLWDL Sydney FC: DLWWL

The Mariners are still three points clear at top of the A-League ladder but their grip on the Premier-s Plate seems to be slipping by the week. Graham Arnold-s side have won just one of their last five matches, with three losses in that period. With the Asian Champions League campaign just about to begin, the Mariners desperately need the three points in this one to start easing the pressure on their quest for top spot.

Sydney-s recent resurgence took a big hit last weekend with another disappointing home performance, going down 1-0 to the Wellington Phoenix. The result has seen the Sky Blues drop out of the top six again and with just four games left time is running out to secure a spot in the playoffs. Last week-s loss is a blow, losing again on Saturday night and it may be fatal.

Match Committee: The Mariners will be without midfielder Rostyn Griffiths after he agreed to join Chinese club Guangzhou on a two-year deal, subject to passing a medical. John Hutchinson is the man most likely to slot into his holding midfield role.

With the Australian under-23 players now back on board the Mariners squad now has a much formidable look about it with Matt Ryan, Oliver Bozanic and Mustafa Amini now back and fully focused on the run-in to the finals.

Sydney will be hoping Marquee men Brett Emerton and Nick Carle come through the Socceroos World Cup qualifier unscathed while they should also have Karol Kisel, Seb Ryall (injury) and Dimitri Petratos (Australian under-23 duty) available again. Mark Bridge is likely to miss another week with his ankle problem.

Danger men: John Sutton - It-s been a slow start to his A-League career for Englishman John Sutton but he should be starting to feel a bit more comfortable now with his teammates after getting a few matches under his belt. Sutton missed a penalty in the loss to Melbourne Heart last weekend and will be striving hard to put that right.

Brett Emerton - In the big games it-s up to the big name players to step up and Emerton certainly fits that bill at Sydney. The Qantas Socceroos midfielder has played his best football of the season over the last few weeks and if he can encourage a few of his team-mates to lift with him then the Sky Blues will be back in business for the top six.

At the end of the day… This is a vital game for both sides for vastly different reasons. The Mariners are desperately trying to cling onto top spot and the Premier-s Plate while Sydney are fighting just to keep their finals hopes alive. The two clubs come into the clash with similar form and on the back of a loss disappointing losses.

The Central Coast were lacklustre in the defeat to the Melbourne Heart last weekend and Arnold will demand a response, especially in front of their home fans. The return of their Australian under-23 contingent on a full-time basis is a big boost and be just give them the extra impetus to end their poor run of form. Sydney are running out of time to secure their top six spot but with games against three of the clubs ahead of them over the next four weeks have their finals destiny in their own hands.

The Sky Blues have performed better away from home than on their home turf this season so they can head up the F3 with confidence, but it probably won-t be enough to get the better of the Mariners who have had the wood on Sydney this season.