Sydney are in desperate need of a win and will be hell-bent on erasing the memory of the thrashing from earlier this season.
Date: Thursday, December 27, 2012 Kick-off: 7.30pm AEDT Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Head-to-head: Played 23: Wins: Sydney FC 8, Central Coast 8, Draws: 7
Previous encounter: Central Coast 7-2 Sydney FC, November 3, 2012
Form: Past five matches: Sydney FC: LDWLL Mariners: WWWWD
The Game: Sydney FC players must still be having nightmares from their meeting with the Mariners earlier this season.
On that occasion, the Sky Blues were on the end of an embarrassing 7-2 drubbing and they seem to have lurched from one crisis to another ever since, while the Mariners are enjoying a nine-game unbeaten run. It means this clash brings together two sides at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Sydney are low on confidence, running dead last and six points adrift of the top six while Graham Arnold's side look almost invincible at the top of their league with all their key players firing. The Mariners have been dealt a blow though with tireless right-back Pedj Bojic to miss the match through suspension. Zac Anderson or Brent Griffiths are the most likely replacements.
The Sky Blues will again be without defender Pascal Bosschaart, but Jason Culina has been named in the squad. Skipper Terry McFlynn has been battling a virus but should play. Panamanian international Yairo Yau has been a rare bright spot for Sydney and should start in a more central position in this one given the trouble he caused the Jets when switched to that role after 25 minutes on Saturday.
The big issue: Sydney - Where do we start? The Sky Blues have troubles all over the park. They are still leaking too many soft goals, don't have enough movement off the ball and can't seem to create too much unless it comes from the classy touches of Alessandro Del Piero. But the main area for concern for Frank Farina must be his side's inability to maintain possession. Far too many times this season the Sky Blues have worked hard to win the ball only to lack ideas in the middle of the park and give it right back to the opposition. One way to stop the amount of goals conceded is to keep the ball for long periods. If the opposition don't have the ball they can't score. Let's hope Farina can get that message through to his troops.
Mariners - There's not too much to worry about on the Central Coast but the absence of Bojic will be a test. One aspect of the club's brilliant run so far this season has been the settled nature of their line-up, particularly the back four. With the exception of a one-game suspension for Patrick Zwaanswijk, the Mariners have had the same defensive line all season. And Bojic won't be easy to replace. The 28-year-old is the form right-back of the A-League, not only getting up and down the flank for the full 90 minutes but also adding assists and goals to his impressive game. Arnold's side will lose a part of their attacking spark without Bojic and the Sky Blues might try and exploit that area.
The game breaker: Daniel McBreen - The evergreen striker is scoring for fun at the moment, with his strike against Wellington over the weekend his 10th of the season. Arnold promised McBreen a new contract once he got to double figures in the goal-scoring charts but don't expect the 35-year-old to take his foot off the gas now a new deal has been secured. McBreen got a hat-trick the last time these two sides met and with Sydney's back four still looking fairly fragile will fancy his chances of cashing in again.
Prediction: Sydney 1-3 Mariners Sydney are in desperate need of a win and will be hell-bent on erasing the memory of the thrashing from earlier this season. With the top six sides pulling further away and two tough road trips to come, the Sky Blues could do with maximum points in front of their home fans. But there's just nothing to suggest that can possibly happen. The Mariners simply look too skilful, too confident and too strong all over the park. Complacency seems the only thing that might bring them undone but Arnold won't allow that to set in, especially in a fixture with Sydney.