Gold Coast's young brigade will learn how to be as consistently disciplined as Central Coast eventually. But it won't be this week.
Date: Friday 27 January, 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: The Mariners might be runaway league leaders, and United mightn't look capable of lifting themselves from bottom spot, but this season there's been nothing between these two sides head-to-head.
Gold Coast are the only team Graham Arnold's men have not beaten in their merry march to an almost-certain premiership. They've fought out two tough draws - the first a 1-1 result back in week 2 and the second a scoreless stalemate on New Year's Eve.
The latter gave Gold Coast their fourth consecutive clean sheet, but nearly a month on, they haven't been able to keep once since.
Past five matches: Gold Coast: DLDLL Central Coast: WWDWW
Summary of form: You can see why these sides are top and bottom of the league. Nobody can touch Central Coast at the moment. They're unbeaten in 15 games. They're 11 points clear of second place. In terms of goals scored and conceded, they have the best defence in the league and the second-best attack.
Their last two outings were both wins - the first a 1-0 win over one-time title challengers Melbourne Heart and a gritty 3-2 triumph over an Adelaide side still riding the wave of confidence gained from the appointment of John Kosmina.
United, on the other hand, are once again mired in a real rough patch. They haven't won since Boxing Day and, five points away from their nearest rivals, are fast running out of excuses.
Despite all the talk of bad luck, woodwork and poor refereeing decisions, Gold Coast have not shown they're good enough to beat the top sides or hold onto a lead when the heat is on.
Match Committee: Maceo Rigters (ankle) will return for Gold Coast, but apart from him little has changed in the medical room at Robina.
Glen Moss (adductor), Joel Porter (calf), Tahj Minniecon (heel), Chris Broadfoot (ankle) and Dylan Macallister (hamstring) are still a while off making their own comebacks, while Paul Beekmans is still in his native Holland on personal leave and is not expected back for at least another week or so. Meanwhile, Central Coast have no injury concerns at all.
James Brown - Overlooked for Qantas Australian U-23s selection, 21-year-old Brown may have something of a point to prove this Friday. He had an incredible start to the season, scoring against the Mariners in their first clash of the season and carrying his team through their indifferent opening few weeks.
He hasn't found the back of the net in a while though, and that's partly because he's been playing in a slightly more withdrawn midfield role in the absence of Beekmans. It's a position that allows Brown to be a little more creative with his passing, so Central Coast will need to be cautious when he has the ball.
Joshua Rose - Gold Coast have had troubles down the right flank all season, which presents Rose with a golden opportunity on Friday. He's widely regarded as one of the best left-backs in the league on his day, and he's just as good with the ball at his feet as he is when he's trying to get it off the opposition.
With Peter Jungschlager in a somewhat unfamiliar position as a right full-back, there may be holes down the wing for Rose to exploit if he's capable.
At the end of the day... This is a top-versus-bottom clash, but Gold Coast arguably shouldn't be where they are. They've got a great squad, a smart coach in Miron Bleiberg, and have played some really attractive football at times this season.
But they just can't win. Even when they get in front, as they did in Sydney on Sunday, they find a way to surrender their lead and fall behind. It's the curse of inexperience.
As good as players like Ben Halloran and Brown can be with their blistering pace and exciting skills, they're only now just learning what it takes to be a full-time footballer in the Hyundai A-League's school of hard knocks.
That's something Central Coast know backwards - the best way to describe the Mariners is professional. Each of their players knows their job, they go out and do it for the full 90 minutes each week, and invariably that results in three points.
It sounds simple, but it's not - Gold Coast's young brigade will learn how to do that eventually. But it won't be this week. Central Coast should win.