Preview: Perth Glory v Central Coast Mariners

Perth's own inconsistency, coupled with their poor record against the Mariners, makes this a tough match to predict - but a draw would certainly not surprise.

Date: Sunday 11 March, 2012 Kick-off: 7.30pm AEDT, 4.30pm local Venue: nib Stadium

Head-to-head Played: 20 Wins: Perth 2, Central Coast 13, Draws: 5

Previous encounter Central Coast 3, Perth 1, 23 December 2011

History: It's fair to say Central Coast are the Glory's bogey side. Their last win over the Mariners was in January 2010. Before that, it was September 2006. Before that ... nothing. Just two wins in almost seven seasons.

The Mariners have continued their dominance this term with victories in their two meetings so far. The first was a hard-fought 2-1 win in Gosford, with strike sensation Bernie Ibini-Isei scoring the matchwinner.

More recently the Coast took advantage of an early red card to Josh Mitchell and eased to a 3-1 triumph at nib Stadium.

Form: Past five matches: Perth: WLWLW Central Coast: WDLDD

Summary of form: Since surprising everybody with their jolt up the table over the holiday season, Perth have been fairly inconsistent. After stringing three wins in a row together earlier in the year, they've lost twice in their last four games - at home to Brisbane two weeks ago, and away to Sydney before that.

But they were certainly impressive in their last start, a 2-0 triumph over Adelaide at Hindmarsh. Billy Mehmet and Jacob Burns both struck in the first half as the Glory grabbed a result that did their chances of a home final no harm at all.

The challenge is to now iron out the creases in their form and to stop dropping the odd match, because the cut-throat nature of finals means there is no room for mistakes. Slip up, and it's all for nought.

The Mariners have had a lot on their plate - there's no doubt their grasp of the premiership has slipped over the course of the last few weeks. Their last win was at home to Wellington mid last month - since then, Brisbane Roar's pursuit of the ladder leadership has gathered serious momentum.

The boys from Gosford have not been helped by the scheduling of their AFC Champions League campaign. Central Coast were in China on Wednesday night, earning a scoreless draw away to Tianjin Teda to get their Asian adventure off to a steady start.

They now must back up that trip with a long-haul flight to Western Australia. As Graham Arnold says, that's football.

Match Committee: Both clubs have fallen victim to the Asian player drain in recent weeks. Perth have lost Mile Sterjovski and Adam Hughes to Chinese clubs, while the Mariners allowed Matt Simon to move to the K-League, and accepted a tidy transfer fee for Rostyn Griffiths' move to Guangzhou R&F.

All four were key players - in particular, screeners Hughes and Griffiths, who provided a solid link between defence and midfield. With those familiar faces gone, Perth and Central Coast will be leaning on their depth to see them through. The Glory will be aided by the likely return of Shane Smeltz and Liam Miller from injury.

Danger men: Jacob Burns - The Perth skipper's reputation as a hardman in the centre of the park often overshadows the good work he does in the engine room. Burns is a tireless worker, a natural ball-winner and a good passer.

Sure, he talks the talk alright - Burns is the type of player who gets under the skin of the opposition, and that certainly helps him do his job, but he's good enough to back up his words with actions.

John Sutton - The Scottish marksman has had an inauspicious start to life down under. We were told he's a like-for-like replacement for Matt Simon, but he's still yet to break his duck and is taking time to adjust to the Hyundai A-League.

Looking at his pedigree, there's no doubt he has the potential to flourish up front for Central Coast - but now that the business end of the season is well and truly here, the sooner he starts imitating Simon's goalscoring feats, the better for the Mariners.

At the end of the day… This is a massively important game for the Mariners. Just a few hours before kick-off in Perth, Brisbane will have done battle with Adelaide United.

A win there against the ninth-placed club would put the Roar on equal points with the Gosford club. Their superior goal difference, in fact, will see them top the table. With the finals in sight and a spot in next year's AFC Champions League on the line for the team who claims the Premiers' Plate, the result of this match will go a long way to determining who will win the two-horse race for the top.

The trip across the Nullarbor is never easy, but history shows that Central Coast have taken full points away from the toughest road game in Australia on four occasions.

But given they come into this match off the back of a marathon trip to China for their AFC Champions League fixture, this might be a bridge too far.

Graham Arnold and his men would have certainly earned a few more stamps in their passports over the last few days, but the question is whether or not the travel will tire them. They are only human, after all, and while they've been in the air and out of the country, the Glory have been preparing to take advantage of any weariness.

Perth's own inconsistency, coupled with their poor record against the Mariners, makes this a tough match to predict - but a draw would certainly not surprise.