There's plenty at stake for both sides in an intriguing Friday night fixture in the New Zealand capital.
Date: Friday, November 4 Kick-off: 7.30pm NZT, 5.30pm AEDT Venue: Westpac Stadium
Head-to-head Played 12: Wellington 5, Central Coast 5, Draws: 2
Previous encounter Central Coast 1, Wellington 0, Bluetongue Stadium, January 2010
History: There's nothing particularly exciting going on in the history between these sides as past matches have been littered with plenty of 1-0 and 2-0 results. In fact, it's quite an odd stat that only of the previous 12 matches between these teams has seen both clubs score a goal. That was back on October 21 2007 when Central Coast enjoyed a 2-1 away win over the Phoenix. Last season, Wellington may have started well with a 2-0 victory in the first game these sides played, but Central Coast won the other two matches. This included a rare 3-0 victory for the away side at Westpac Stadium, where defender Josh Rose scored a double, and a 2-0 result at home for the Mariners late in the campaign.
Form: Matches so far: Wellington: DWLL Central Coast: LDLW
It hasn't been the most auspicious of starts to the new season by either club. The Phoenix may have drawn with Gold Coast and beaten Newcastle in the first two rounds, but since then disciplinary problems have contributed to them losing their last two games to Perth (away) and Melbourne Victory (home). That being said, Wellington have enjoyed long periods of dominance in both those games and have created plenty of chances. They just haven't put them away.
The same could have been said for Central Coast as their injury-hit squad lost two of their first three games and were fortunate to draw with Gold Coast in Week 2. But despite conceding an early goal to Perth last week, the Mariners found a way to come from behind and defeat the Glory 2-1. Central Coast were somewhat fortunate Perth gave the ball away on two occasions for the two goals, but they were still good enough to convert their chances and take maximum points.
Match Committee: There's more bad news on the disciplinary front for Wellington as key defender Ben Sigmund, who's probably been the team's best player over the opening month, received a red card for dragging down Archie Thompson last week. It's the fourth dismissal in the last three games for the Phoenix and with such a small squad, coach Ricki Herbert has to clamp down on his players' disciplinary record. Sigmund will miss this match and is expected to be replaced by Brent Griffiths, while the versatile Manny Muscat will return from a week's suspension to play. Former Perth Glory speedster Jimmy Downey is a chance to line up at right back after training strongly but Paul Ifill hasn't recovered from a groin strain.
Conversely, things just keep getting better for Central Coast coach Graham Arnold. Key midfielder Mustafa Amini returned from injury to play a role off the bench last week, while Arnold will regain the services of the influential John Hutchinson for this match after he returned from a loan spell at Chinese Super League club Chengdu Blades. Adam Kwasnik has a minor calf injury, though, and won't be risked against Wellington.
Danger men: Brent Griffiths - Griffiths is probably more a danger to himself if his Perth Glory form was anything to go by last season. Indeed, the former Perth defender managed two red cards and three yellows in five Hyundai A-League appearances last season, while also, somewhat unfairly, being called responsible for some catastrophic defensive errors at the end of the last campaign. However, that was then, and this is now and Griffiths has the chance to start afresh when he probably makes his Phoenix debut in place of Sigmund on Friday night. However, in an odd twist, he may come up against brother Royston, for the first time in a competitive fixture in this game.
Central Coast - He was the Mariners' danger man last week, but having scored his first Hyundai A-League goal against Perth Glory, teenage striker Bernie Ibini-Isei should be riding a wave of confidence into this encounter.
At the end of the day… There's plenty at stake for both sides in an intriguing Friday night fixture in the New Zealand capital. Wellington will be desperate to get back to winning ways after two consecutive losses and certainly won't want to lose at their fortress, Westpac Stadium, two weeks in a row. Central Coast on the other hand, will be looking to build on last week's result in order to develop some winning momentum.
Despite losing the last two games, Wellington hasn't played badly. But in the absence of Paul Ifill they haven't been able to convert the chances they've created, with Chris Greenacre almost needing Ifill on the park to supply him with the creative passes he needs to score. Dani Sanchez has also missed plenty of chances, but having tucked away a late goal in last week's 2-1 loss, he may be ready to score a few more. Although, they've lacked in manpower, the Phoenix midfield has also been impressive, often dominating play and releasing their forwards, so Central Coast may have their work cut out for them controlling that.
The Mariners on the other hand, weren't outstanding against Perth. They struggled for any meaningful forward forays for much of the first half but were still able to score twice as a result of their strikers' predatory instincts as Matt Simon and Ibini-Isei scored. With their goalscorers in form, and with Amini and Hutchinson possibly back in the midfield to supply them, then Wellington's depleted defence may be somewhat vulnerable. But Central Coast will have to lift their rating in the middle of the park to overcome a very tenacious Phoenix onball division. I suspect a 1-1 draw in this encounter but it could very easily go either way.