Melbourne Victory's season goes on the line at AAMI Park on Friday night and their opponents could not be tougher – a Central Coast Mariners side smarting from their first loss in 15 matches.
Melbourne Victory's season goes on the line at AAMI Park on Friday night and their opponents could not be tougher - a Central Coast Mariners side smarting from their first loss in 15 matches.
The Mariners have been in sensational form for much of 2011/12, and are seven points clear of the Wellington Phoenix on top of the Hyundai A-League ladder after going unbeaten for over three months.
Following their 1-0 loss to the Newcastle Jets on October 23, leaving them with just one point from their opening three matches, Graham Arnold's men went on to win 12 of their next 15, with their only blemishes being draws against Newcastle, Gold Coast and the Victory.
That run came to a screeching halt on Saturday, when archrivals - and the Mariners' conquerors in last season's grand final - Brisbane Roar inflicted a 2-0 defeat at Bluetongue Stadium courtesy of goals from Erik Paartalu and Besart Berisha.
To be fair to the Mariners, they were without regular goalkeeper Mat Ryan, midfielder Oliver Bozanic and on-loan playmaker Mustafa Amini, who are all on Australian under-23 Olympic qualifying duty.
The pressure will be on stand-in keeper Justin Pasfield, who made two crucial errors against the Roar and will be keen to make amends in Melbourne.
While the Mariners have been a model of consistency this term, the Victory are one of the competition's basket cases.
New coach Jim Magilton is yet to preside over a win for the struggling club, leading them to four draws and a 4-1 thumping from Perth Glory in his five games at the helm.
The once-mighty Victory have given up late goals in two of those four draws, with Sebastian Ryall netting in the 89th minute to salvage a point for Sydney FC, while Michael Thwaite scored for Gold Coast in the third minute of stoppage time to break Victory hearts last Wednesday.
In their last start they were held to a disappointing 0-0 draw by cross-town rivals Melbourne Heart to leave them languishing in eighth place, three points behind Newcastle in sixth.
Despite the uninspiring performance against Heart, Magilton said he could still take positives from the match.
"We're getting there, I firmly believe we're getting there," the Northern Irishman said after the match.
"Regardless (of) what it looks to you guys (the media), to me I can see changes and I can see positivity and I can see things are going to change."
Change cannot come quickly enough for Magilton, with just seven matches remaining to shore up a finals spot.
The question heading into Friday's match is two-fold - how will the Mariners respond from their first setback in over three months, and will the penny finally drop for Magilton's star-studded but largely ineffective Victory squad?