Test of strength for Mariners

Despite setting the pace for much of the season Central Coast Mariners are in dire need of a win when they host Adelaide United at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday.

Despite setting the pace for much of the season Central Coast Mariners are in dire need of a win when they host Adelaide United at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday.

The Mariners are still in the box seat to claim the Hyundai A-League Premier's Plate but arresting a woeful run of form heading into the post-season will be coach Graham Arnold's chief concern.

The Mariners have claimed just five points from a possible 21 in their last seven league matches and they were held to a goalless draw by Chinese Super League outfit Tianjin Teda in the AFC Champions League last Wednesday.

In their most recent encounter, Central Coast suffered a disappointing 1-0 loss to Perth Glory at nib Stadium, and the question many in the football world are asking is precisely how Arnold can turn his team's fortunes around with just two games before finals start.

In early February the Mariners were riding the wave of a 15-match unbeaten streak and, with an 11-point lead on top of the ladder, the prospect of a second title - and the chance to avenge the heartbreak of last season's penalty shoot-out loss to Brisbane - loomed large.

Since then, however, Arnold's men have been on a downward spiral, with just one win from their past seven A-League matches seeing their lead eroded to a meagre two points over the Roar.

It would be foolish to pin the Mariners' slide solely on the departure of striker Matt Simon to K-League outfit Chunnam Dragons. Although his sale cannot have helped.

Certainly the Mariners' output in attack has diminished in recent weeks, with the team scoring just one goal in their last four games - and that came via the unlikely route of midfielder Troy Hearfield.

Bernie Ibini-Isei, Adam Kwasnik and veteran Daniel McBreen must lift their output with finals approaching.

Playmaker Tomas Rogic was the toast of the Hyundai A-League after making his debut in January, but the 19-year-old has come back to the field in recent weeks - perhaps to be expected given his inexperience and the close scrutiny his early performances commanded.

In a sign Arnold is managing the youngster's workload ahead of the finals, Rogic played just 30 minutes against Tianjin and less than an hour against the Glory, while on-loan midfielder Mustafa Amini is another the coach needs to get more out of as the business end nears.

Wherever he looks for a spark to ignite his side, Arnold must do it quickly - the 2007/08 A-League champions look as flat as a tack.

And with champions Brisbane unbeaten in their last six league games, steps must be taken before Arnold and his men are struck by a sickening feeling of deja-vu.