If you’re going to seriously lay out your credentials to succeed in the A-League, then you’ll have to beat Sydney FC.
Sydney have been the standout club over the last five years – a byword for excellence – and those few…those happy few who’ve beaten the Sky Blues have tended to wind up Champions.
Last night’s match at Kogarah saw the continuation of the Mariners’ brilliant start to the season. And once again, it all started at the back.
Birra was barely tested but did whatever he had to do with consummate expertise. His diving save at the feet of Jordan Swibel in the dying minutes kept the Mariners ahead and moments later, they were two up and out of sight.
I’ve written a lot about the impact of Rowles and Tongyik this year. The CCM centre backs have been – for me – the best back two in the league (so far). They are both much better players than last year and still very young. Arnie was in the crowd tonight and could do worse than to pick them for the Olyroos (in the unlikely circumstance that the Olyroos go to Tokyo).
Once again, Bozanic, Nisbet and Stensness ruled the midfield, and Danny De Silva continued his outstanding form going forward.
But they were all good. It was the shape and system that beat Sydney and Steve Corica must have been fuming on the sideline as he perceived how Stajcic had beaten him. A super-compact defence denied Sydney’s traditional strengths and the Mariners’ capacity to break quickly bore juicy fruit indeed.
The first goal was utterly deserved after sustained pressure – Bouman’s run behind the defence forced Ben Warland to turn the ball into his own net rather than let Matt Simon do it.
There was an element of luck around the second goal when a loose ball broke to Kuol, whose shot was then deflected past Redmayne. But this was exactly the same sort of luck that saw the Mariner’s beaten by the Wanderers midweek (in a game they didn’t deserve to lose).
So now the Central Coast, after four matches, sit proudly atop the table and thoroughly deserve their position. Three wins and an unlucky loss suggest that something profoundly positive has happened in Gosford.
They are clearly a happy group, and for a long time fan that’s important. The Mariners don’t have anything like the resources of the big (traditionally successful) clubs so have to get by on more intangible incentives – like winning the approval of your mates.
And your coach.
The Matildas’ loss has been very much the Mariners’ gain. This is a coach with a clear vision who is clearly capable of transmitting that vision to his players and having them buy in. The shape and system is obvious and traditionally “individual” players are now part of the team.
I’m looking at you Danny De Silva. I’m a long time fan of his ability but what has Stajcic done or said to inspire him to career best form? Over the last few years you’d be laughed at for suggesting he’d ever be a Socceroo, but the next few NT matches might only feature A-League players, and if that’s the case…De Silva has to be in the conversation. And so does Bozanic.
That’s how well the Mariners are going this year.
The club that produced: Mat Ryan, Danny Vukovic, Trent Sainsbury, Alex Wilkinson, Tom Rogic, Musti Amini, Ollie Bozanic, Mile Jedinak, Mitch Duke, and yes…Matt Simon…is once again looking like it might be producing players for the national team. Rowles and Tongyik are certainly destined for higher honours.
Mind you, there are others around the league who excite me. How good was young Stynes the other night – he reminds me of Max Burgess – who reminds me of a young Matt Le Tissier. (What’s happened to Burgess?)
But it was great night for the Mariners who are making my last few articles look reasonably non-hysterical with their strong consistent form.
Adrian's books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. His new novel, Welcome to Ord City, is now available.