Preview: Sydney FC v Central Coast Mariners

Sydney face the toughest run home of all the side's fighting for a spot at the bottom of the top six, playing the competition's top three side's over the next three weeks.

Date: Saturday, March 9, 2013 Kick-off: 5.30pm AEDT Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Head-to-head: Played 24: Wins: Sydney 9, Mariners 8, Draws: 7

Previous encounter: Sydney FC 1-0 Mariners, December 27, 2012

Form: Past five matches: Sydney FC: DWWLL Mariners: DWLWL

The Game: Things are looking bleak for Sydney FC after they dropped to eighth spot following back-to-back losses, including last weekend's 2-1 defeat to Perth Glory.

Quite simply, if the Sky Blues want to play finals football they have to win here. Luckily their recent home record is good with Sydney winning their past five matches in a row at Allianz Stadium.

Frank Farina will be forced into more than one change with left-back Fabio suspended and Lucas Neill a late withdrawal after suffering a calf tear during training on Thursday.

Tiago Calvano is likely to join Adam Griffiths in the centre, while Sebastian Ryall returns from a one-game ban and is likely to come straight back in a right-back, with the versatile Rhyan Grant taking Fabio's spot. The poor form of Brett Emerton and Ali Abbas could also see changes in midfield with Terry Antonis pushing hard for a start.

Central Coast will be smarting after losing top spot last weekend after their 1-0 home defeat against the Western Sydney Wanderers. The Mariners are desperate to retain the Premiers Plate and know only a victory against Sydney will keep those hopes alive.

With a midweek trip to Japan for the AFC Champions League to come following this match, Graham Arnold has some interesting selection decisions to make, but he does have the luxury of having all his big names fit and available. The two sides have split the previous meetings this season but it was a late Brett Emerton header that gave the Sky Blues a 1-0 win at Allianz in December.

The Big Issue: Sydney: The club denied they had a problem a few weeks ago but another red card to Fabio last weekend shows the Sky Blues certainly have an issue with discipline. It's the second time the defender has been red-carded this season and came just a week after Sebastian Ryall was also dismissed.

With every result so crucial from now until the end of the season, Sydney can ill-afford to find themselves playing without a full complement of players again.

Mariners: It's been a tough couple of weeks for Graham Arnold's side, who have played three tough matches in atrocious conditions in the space of seven days. It means recovery and rest will be vital for the remainder of the season, particularly with a number of ACL games mixed in with commitments in the A-League.

The Mariners will also need to sharpen up in front of goal, squandering a number of clear-cut chances against the Wanderers before coming unstuck on the break.

The Gamebreaker Alessandro Del Piero: His side may have stumbled over the last fortnight but the Italian veteran continues to be a shining light for the Sky Blues. His wonder strike against Perth last weekend was not only one of the goals of the season, it was Del Piero's 12th of the campaign to keep him in the running for the Golden Boot.

Sydney will be hoping he has a couple more pieces of magic up his sleeve this weekend if they are to keep their finals hopes alive.

Prediction: Sydney 1-2 Mariners Sydney face the toughest run home of all the side's fighting for a spot at the bottom of the top six, playing the competition's top three side's over the next three weeks. It means they need to make the most of their home matches if they are to sneak into the playoffs.

It's a good thing, then, that their home record is strong and in Del Piero they have someone who knows how to handle the pressure and deliver in the big games. The Mariners will be hurting after losing top spot and you would expect a response from Arnold's troops.