Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Wellington Phoenix

In one of the vagaries of the A-League draw, these sides haven’t met since way back in early November, in what was just the fifth week of the season.

Date: Saturday, February 18 Kick-off: 5.30pm AEDT Venue: Bluetongue Stadium

Head-to-head Played 13: Wins: Central Coast 6, Wellington 5, Draws: 2

Previous encounter Wellington 1, Central Coast 2, November 4, 2011

History: In one of the vagaries of the A-League draw, these sides haven-t met since way back in early November, in what was just the fifth week of the season.

On that occasion both sides were at the wrong end of the table and it was the Mariners who got their season going with a hard-fought 2-1 win in Wellington.

Bernie Ibini and Matt Simon got the goals for the visitors either side of a Chris Greenacre strike. The win has the Central Coast side just ahead in the head-to-head meetings between the clubs, with six victories to Wellington-s five.

Form: Past five matches: Central Coast: DWWLL Wellington: WWWWL

Are the runaway league leaders in a form slump?

Seemingly cruising towards the Premiers Plate a couple of weeks ago, Graham Arnold-s side have come back to the field a little with back-to-back losses.

They are still five points clear from second-placed Brisbane - and with a game in hand - and should go into the finals in top spot but some small cracks are starting to appear after their club record 15-game unbeaten run.

Wellington-s four-game winning streak hit the skids last weekend with a disappointing 2-0 home loss to the resurgent Roar. The Phoenix are still in third place but with a number of sides lining up behind trying to secure a place in the top six, Ricki Herbert will want to make sure it was just an aberration. The good news is the club-s away form has been brilliant in recent weeks with the Phoenix posting three wins on the trot on their travels.

Match Committee: The Mariners will be without young defender Trent Sainsbury who was sent off in the loss to Melbourne Victory last weekend. With Pedj Bojic struggling with a knee injury Graham Arnold could need to find someone else to slot in at right back.

Troy Hearfield (hamstring) missed last week-s match and with John Sutton to make his debut is unlikely to get a spot back in the squad regardless of whether he recovers or not.

The Phoenix have been hit hard by suspension with skipper Andrew Durante and midfielder Tim Brown both sidelined after picking up their fifth yellow cards of the season. Manny Muscat returns from a suspension of his own while Nick Ward is also in contention for a return after a hamstring strain.

Danger men: John Sutton - The Englishman is set to make his A-League debut since signing for the Mariners from Scottish club, Hearts at the start of the month.

Brought in to replace Matt Simon, Sutton is big, powerful and strong in the air and could be just the player the Central Coast need heading into the finals. He had a respectable scoring record in the SPL and lower leagues in England and if the Phoenix allow him any chances he-s likely to make them pay.

Chris Greenacre - Greenacre hasn-t got much of the plaudits for Wellington-s recent resurgence but the experienced striker is a vital cog in the Phoenix armoury.

While most of the focus has been on the likes of Paul Ifill, Dani Sanchez and Tim Brown, the Englishman has quietly gone about his business up top for the Kiwis. It-s not just his four goals which have proved invaluable for the Phoenix but Greenacre works extremely hard without the ball which allows the other players around him to shine.

At the end of the day… A couple of weeks ago the question wasn-t if the Mariners would win the Premiers Plate but by how much. But things change quickly in the A-League and Central Coast have opened the door with back-to-back losses.

The fact their mini-slump has come around the same time that speculation over the future coach Graham Arnold and a possible move to Sydney may just be a coincidence but if it is affecting the playing group then the Phoenix are a great chance here.

Herbert-s side should fancy their chances given they are virtually at full strength and have seemed to have solved their travel sickness. It looms as a much more vital game for the Phoenix who are in danger of falling back to the pack if they slump to another loss.

This fixture has only seen two games out of 13 where both teams have scored in the same match which means the first goal could be crucial in this one.

Arguments can be madefor why both sides will win this one but hard to split. Home ground advantage may just get the Mariners over line but only by the odd goal.


Central Coast Mariners Squad: 2. Daniel MCBREEN, 3. Joshua ROSE, 4. Pedj BOJIC, 5. Brad PORTER, 6. Patrick ZWAANSWIJK, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 8. Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 9. Bernie IBINI, 10. Adriano PELLEGRINO, 12. Troy HEARFIELD, 13. Stuart MUSIALIK, 14. Michael MCGLINCHEY, 15. Brad MCDONALD, 17. Tomas ROGIC, 18. Alex WILKINSON (C), 19. John SUTTON, 20. Justin PASFIELD (Gk), 23. Adam KWASNIK, 24. Mitchell DUKE, 31. Brody CRANE (Gk) *five to be omitted*

In: 4. Pedj BOJIC (returns from injury), 5. Brad PORTER (promoted), 12. Troy HEARFIELD (returns from injury), 13. Stuart MUSIALIK (promoted), 15. Brad MCDONALD (promoted), 24. Mitchell DUKE (promoted), 19. John SUTTON Out: 16. Trent SAINSBURY, 22. Sam GALLAGHER (both suspended) Unavailable: 1. Mathew RYAN, 11. Oliver BOZANIC, 22. Mustafa AMINI (all Qantas Australian U23 duty)

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark Paston (GK), 3. Tony Lochhead, 4. Brent Griffiths, 7. Leo Bertos, 8. Paul Ifill, 9. Chris Greenacre, 11. Daniel, 12. Nicky Ward, 14. Mirjan Pavlovic, 17. Vince Lia, 18. Ben Sigmund, 19. Jimmy Downey, 20, Tony Warner (GK), 21. Dani Sanchez, 24. Alex Smith

In: Brent Griffiths (promoted), Mirjan Pavlovic (promoted), Manny Muscat (returns from suspension), Nicky Ward (returns from injury) Out: Tim Brown, Andrew Durante (both suspended - 1 match) Unavailable: Cameron Lindsay (international duty), Lucas Pantelis (knee injury - indefinite)