Preview: Central Coast v Melbourne
Melbourne may be top of the table heading into this match, but will be well aware of the hold Central Coast has had over it this season with the Mariners having won both matches at Etihad Stadium comfortably.
Date: Saturday December 12 Kick-off: 19:00 AEDT Venue: Bluetongue Stadium TV and Radio: Live & exclusive broadcast on Fox Sports 2 HD and Sky Sports 1. Hyundai A-League club broadcast partner is Coast FM 96.3 (Gosford). To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.com.au
Head-to-head 14 A-League meetings: Melbourne Victory - 6 wins, Central Coast - 5 wins, Draws - 3
Previous meeting Melbourne Victory 0, Central Coast Mariners 4, Round 14, November 2009
Past Five Matches: Central Coast Mariners: Round 13: Central Coast Mariners 0, Adelaide United 0, Canberra Stadium Round 14: Melbourne Victory 0, Central Coast Mariners 4, Etihad Stadium Round 15: North Queensland Fury 1, Central Coast Mariners 5, Dairy Farmers Stadium Round 16: Central Coast Mariners 0, Perth Glory 0, Bluetongue Stadium Round 17: Gold Coast United 2, Central Coast Mariners 1, Skilled Park
Melbourne Victory: Round 13: Perth Glory 1, Melbourne Victory 2, ME Bank Stadium Round 14: Melbourne Victory 0, Central Coast Mariners 4, Etihad Stadium Round 15: Brisbane Roar 0, Melbourne Victory 1, Suncorp Stadium Round 16: Melbourne Victory 4, Gold Coast United 0, Etihad Stadium Round 17: Wellington Phoenix 1, Melbourne Victory 1, Westpac Stadium
Analysis: Melbourne may be top of the table heading into this match, but will be well aware of the hold Central Coast has had over it this season with the Mariners having won both matches at Etihad Stadium comfortably.
Considering Melbourne has only lost four matches this season, and has only failed to score on three occasions, the Mariners' record of having beaten the defending champs 2-0 and 4-0 is of major significance. Those results stand out - along with the 3-0 home defeat to Sydney - as by far Melbourne's worst performances of the season.
But outside of that, Melbourne has been excellent, particularly on the road where it has picked up six wins and a draw from its eight matches. That has enabled it to establish a three-point buffer on top of the table and seven-point gap on the fourth-placed Mariners despite those two results earlier in the season.
While the Mariners this season and the Victory last season have been lauded for their defence, encounters between these two have tended to produce plenty of goals, with 26 scored in the past seven meetings.
Prior to this season, Lawrie McKinna tended to employ a high defence against Melbourne and as a rule, the Victory was able to spring it open, but in the two games at Etihad Stadium, he gave more room for his midfield to work and was rewarded with two wins. Nicky Travis was influential in both of those successes and Melbourne will be keen to keep him out of the game this time around.
The problem McKinna faces is trying to get a consistent performance from his team week-in, week out. After successive four-goal wins away to Melbourne and North Queensland, the Mariners lurched to a dull 0-0 draw against Perth and then a 2-1 loss to Gold Coast. They could have eked out a draw at Skilled Park last week but were denied a penalty appeal late on.
While they boast an impressive defensive record of conceding just 11 goals from 17 games this season, the Mariners seem to have lost their mojo and a home game is not the comfort it would appear. They have managed just one win and four draws from five matches at Bluetongue this season at an average of only one goal per game. With six of their final 10 matches played in Gosford, a return to winning form on home soil will be vital to the club's charge to the finals.
Michael McGlinchey misses this game with an ankle injury, while McKinna has included Matthew Lewis as well as strikers Nik Mrdja and Dylan Macallister.
Melbourne travelled to Wellington last week, the hardest place to get an away win in the league at the moment, and when they went down to 10 men and then down a goal before the hour mark, it looked like the were set for defeat. But as has become the norm with the Victory, they persisted all the way to the 90 minutes and earned a point thanks to Rody Vargas' late header.
The visitors lose Nick Ward suspended for this match and include Mate Dugandzic with Tom Pondeljak likely to return to the starting line-up.
The key for Melbourne will be gaining control of the midfield and cutting off supply to the Mariners' strikers. With defensive midfield pair Billy Celeski and Grant Brebner both on the long-term injury list, that task will largely fall to Leigh Broxham, while Kevin Muscat, Adrian Leijer and Rody Vargas will be called on to step forward and help out. The challenge is then to free up Carlos Hernandez and Archie Thompson, who seems to have lost his scoring knack against the Mariners, to put pressure of the stingiest defence in the league.
Central Coast Mariners squad: 1. Andrew REDMAYNE (GK), 2. Matthew CROWELL, 4. Brad PORTER, 5. Pedj BOJIC, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 8. Dean HEFFERNAN, 9. Nik MRDJA, 11. Dylan MACALLISTER, 12. Matthew LEWIS, 15. Andrew CLARK, 16. Nigel BOOGAARD, 18. Alex WILKINSON (C), 19. Matt SIMON, 20. Danny VUKOVIC (GK), 21. Ahmad ELRICH, 22. Nicky TRAVIS, 23. Adam KWASNIK. *two to be omitted*
In: Matthew LEWIS (promoted), Nik MRDJA (promoted), Dylan MACALLISTER (promoted)
Out: Michael McGLINCHEY (ankle - 1 week)
Unavailable: Chris DOIG (quad - 1 week)
Melbourne Victory squad: 1.Mitchell LANGERAK (gk), 2.Kevin MUSCAT (c), 3.Mate DUGANDZIC, 5.Surat SUKHA, 6.Leigh BROXHAM, 7.Matthew KEMP, 10.Archie THOMPSON, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 15.Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 17.Matthew FOSCHINI, 20.Glen MOSS (gk), 21.Robbie KRUSE, 23.Adrian LEIJER, 27.Sutee SUKSOMKIT
In: Mate DUGANDZIC (promoted)
Out: Nick WARD (suspended, 1 week)
Unavailable: Marvin ANGULO (pending registration), Evan BERGER (hamstring, 5 weeks), Grant BREBNER (ankle, 5 weeks), Billy CELESKI (knee, season), Steven PACE (abdomen, indefinite)