Back in October when these teams played out a 0-0 draw in the first week of the new season, who would have thought that come 2013 they would be facing off in what is probably the match of the round?
Date: Sunday 6 January, 2013 Kick-off: 6pm AEDT Venue: Parramatta Stadium
Head-to-head Played 1: Wins: Western Sydney 0, Central Coast 0, Draws: 1 Previous encounter Western Sydney 0, Central Coast 0, October 6 2012
Form: Past five matches: Western Sydney: WWDLW Central Coast: WWWDW
The Game Back in October when these teams played out a 0-0 draw in the first week of the new season, who would have thought that come 2013 they would be facing off in what is probably the match of the round? Once again, the Mariners are leading the way at the top of the A-League table, two points ahead of second-placed Adelaide. But they face a tough task on Sunday as they travel to Parramatta to take on the competition's surprise packets, who are just seven points off the top in third.
Both clubs also head into this encounter buoyed by hard-fought wins in games many thought they would struggle in over New Year's. For Wanderers, the pundits believed the in-form Melbourne Victory were a good thing to break down Western Sydney's resolute defence. But Tony Popovic's side produced a solid 2-1 victory over Melbourne via a brilliant two goals from Shinji Ono.
Central Coast, meanwhile, maintained their historical dominance over Perth Glory in a 1-0 win on New Year's Eve. The Mariners were expected to struggle as they headed into that encounter without key players Tomas Rogic (suspension), John Hutchinson (suspension), Daniel McBreen (suspension) and Patrick Zwaanswijk (groin) but Graham Arnold's undermanned side showed their fighting spirit as they battled to a 1-0 win. It was hardly classic stuff from the Mariners and Bernie Ibini's goal was pretty dubious but Central Coast still found a way to win with a second-string side and it's wins like this that sometimes are the most character building of all.
The big issue Western Sydney - This scribe is seriously struggling to come up with issues for Wanderers this weekend. Indeed the only question that's really hanging over the club at the moment relates to Ono's contract. The Wanderers have announced a stack of re-signings in the last few days but Ono, who is on a one-year deal, has not been among them. However, when that's the main issue facing your side heading into the second half of the season, then you don't have too many worries.
Central Coast - Graham Arnold faces a good selection headache in the sense he has plenty of options as Hutchinson and McBreen return from suspension. Rogic still has two games to serve for his nasty tackle on Rhyan Grant, and the youngster may have even played his last game for the Mariners as Reading have reportedly tabled an offer for him. But Arnold will be able to bring Hutchinson back into midfield while McBreen will return to lead the attack. But the coach has also said the pair may have to work their way back into the team as well, after their replacements did the job against Perth Glory. Zwaanswijk is also a chance to return after battling a groin complaint.
Gamebreaker Western Sydney - Shinji Ono showed why he is a gamebreaker with two seriously classy goals against Victory. The first of those goals came when he expertly tapped the ball up and controlled it in the air on two occasions before driving home was a joy to behold. And the second, where he wrong-footed the Melbourne defence, wasn't far off the first one's quality. Ono's family is in Sydney at present for an extended stay and many believe this is reason for the Japanese international's blistering form. If it is, expect Popovic to be shouting them a round trip to Australia come finals time.
Central Coast - Daniel McBreen picked up a fifth yellow card for the season in the 1-0 loss to Sydney and had to sit out the match against former club Perth Glory. But he is still the joint leading top scorer in the A-League this season with 10 goals to his name alongside Wellington's Jeremy Brockie, and he'll be looking to make up for his absence in the last game with a big performance against Wanderers' resolute defence.
Prediction: Central Coast 1-1 Western Sydney Wanderers The two meanest defences in the A-League come up against each other so don't expect an absolute goal-fest in this one. The Mariners have conceded just 10 goals this season while Western Sydney have shipped 11. Those records are primarily responsible for these sides being in first and third respectively on the table but it will probably means goals will be hard to come by on Sunday evening. But what fans will get to see, however, will be an absorbing contest between two high-quality sides who will look to pick each other apart and find a way through each other's impregnable defence. It could be scoreless, but it will certainly be intense.