Preview: Gold Coast United v Central Coast Mariners

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but these two sides actually fought it out in last season's preliminary final.

Gold Coast United v Central Coast Mariners Date: Wednesday 22 February, 2012 Kick-off: 8.00pm AEDT, 7.00pm local Venue: Skilled Park

Head-to-head Played: 9 Wins: Gold Coast 2, Central Coast 2, Draws: 5

Previous encounter Central Coast 0, Gold Coast 0, 31 December 2011

History: It seems like a lifetime ago now, but these two sides actually fought it out in last season's preliminary final. And there wasn't a great deal between them - a late, typically sneaky goal from Adam Kwasnik guided Central Coast into the big dance at Suncorp Stadium. Times have changed, but the two matches the Mariners and Gold Coast have played this season were both stalemates. In fact, United remain the only team the Mariners have not beaten this term.


Past five matches: Gold Coast: LDLLL Central Coast: WWLLW

Summary of form: The boys from the Glitter Strip are still searching for their first win in 2012. It's been a long time between drinks for them - their last sip was on Boxing Day, in that 1-0 win over the Roar. Since then they've been on a lean run of nine matches without victory. Six of them were losses, including Friday night's 1-0 loss to Melbourne Heart - although essentially, United fielded their National Youth League team in that fixture and did well to escape a thrashing at the hands of the home side. Their horror run with injury has played a significant part, but so has the turmoil and uncertainty at the club.

For the Mariners, it was all rosy until a couple of weeks ago. It seemed a foregone conclusion that they'd take the premiership by some margin of points, but consecutive losses to Brisbane and Melbourne Victory allowed the rest of the pack to edge a little closer to them. However, they steadied the ship somewhat with a convincing 2-0 win over Wellington at home on the weekend. Perhaps those two defeats were the losses they had to have ahead of the finals series, in which they're expected to play a massive part. They're still comfortably top of the table, with five points and a game in hand over the second-placed Roar.

Match Committee: The biggest absentee for Gold Coast is obviously not a player - it's Miron Bleiberg, who quit his post (or was sacked, if you listen to owner Clive Palmer) on Sunday. Youth team coach and senior assistant Mike Mulvey will take the reins after steering United to a respectable 1-0 loss at Melbourne Heart. What team he fields remains to be seen. There was only one player - Kristian Rees - over the age of 23 in their starting line-up for their last match. Michael Thwaite (suspension) will surely slot back into the heart of defence, but it is unlikely that James Brown (ankle), Ante Rozic (hamstring) and Peter Jungschlager (hip) will be able to play. There's still a host of other long-term casualties, like Joel Porter (calf), Dylan Macallister (hamstring) and Glen Moss (adductor), while Jonas Salley and Paul Beekmans departed long ago.

No such problems for Central Coast - their only concerns surround Qantas Australian U23s trio Mat Ryan, Mustafa Amini and Oliver Bozanic, who are still overseas in camp and won't play. New signing John Sutton made his debut last week and settled in well.

Danger men:

Michael Thwaite - United's captain returns from suspension this week and his leadership will be sorely needed, at least on-field. With all the turmoil going on at the club, it's easy to forget there's football to be played and in terms of that, Gold Coast can still salvage some dignity. They're bottom of the table, but things would be much worse were it not for the desperation of Thwaite at the back - and the injection of life he gives the side when he decides to stream forward.

Tom Rogic - If it wasn't for Clive Palmer shooting from the hip, Rogic would be the toast of Australian football. The silky playmaker already has two goals to his name just a few weeks into his Mariners career, but it's the manner with which he's slotted in for the absent Mustafa Amini which has most fans pumped. Not since Mathew Leckie has Australian domestic football been so captivated by the first few games of a debutant. He's the Hyundai A-League's version of Linsanity, although perhaps on a much smaller scale.

At the end of the day… Remember when this match was meant to be played? It was originally scheduled for 27 January, but of course had to be postponed due to the wild weather on the Gold Coast. That was less than a month ago, but in that time the landscape has changed dramatically for both United and the Mariners. Clearly there's a lot more going on at Gold Coast than meets the eye. It'd be great to talk just about football but the events of the past week are the elephant in the dressing room. Their coach is gone, their maverick owner has his eyes set on A-League reform by any means necessary, there was the kerfuffle around Mitch Cooper and the captaincy... it's easy to forget that Gold Coast United are actually a football club, who play football. But things aren't going great guns in that department either - Mike Mulvey has been handed the same length injury list that Miron Bleiberg was blessed with, and the players themselves admit they've been distracted with all that's been going on. You'd certainly expect a rampant Central Coast side to deal with them. They say there's no such thing as a sure thing in football, but this is close.