Central Coast Mariners begin the defence of their crown with an A-League Grand Final rematch against Western Sydney Wanderers at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday night. A big crowd is expected, with Wanderers fans once again snapping up all available tickets in the away section in Gosford.
The Mariners are missing a couple of key men – Michael McGlinchey is away on international duty with New Zealand, while last season’s top scorer Daniel McBreen has three weeks left of a loan spell in China. There will be debuts for new recruits Marcos Flores and Marcel Seip.
Flores in particular is one to watch this year. Last season at Melbourne Victory he failed to reproduce the form he showed previously with Adelaide that led to him being named as the competitions best player. The move to the Mariners should see Flores have more of the football, whereas the tactic employed by the Victory was to get the ball wide as early as possible to maximise the pace of Thompson and Rojas.
A lot has been said about whether the Mariners can cope with the loss of some of their stars from the last few seasons. While the departures of talent such as Rogic, Ryan and Zwaanswijk will hurt, the club have managed to retain the services of other key men such as Trent Sainsbury, McGlinchey and McBreen. With the recruitment of Flores and Seip – as well as the return from Asia of Matt Simon – the Mariners should once again be title challengers.
The Wanderers have retained the core of last season’s Minor Premiership winning squad, and have added experienced players such as Matthew Spiranovic and Dean Heffernan. The fairytale seems to be continuing with news that the club has sold all of its available memberships for this season. On the pitch they may find that opposition teams will lift their game, but Tony Popovic’s side look well equipped to avoid ‘second season syndrome’.
Saturday 12th October, Bluetongue Stadium Gosford 17:30
Central Coast Mariners v Western Sydney Wanderers