Okay, this Mariners season is officially a disaster.
I saw promising signs early – even had some confidence that we had a team capable of making the top six. My confidence was then ratcheted down to: maybe we’ve got a team good enough to avoid the spoon.
I no longer have even that, because god knows what’s happening in Gosford. They’re no longer playing like a team – they’re playing like a bunch of individuals playing for their personal futures. They also look like a bunch of individuals who don’t like each other very much.
They’re not the real Mariners.
Let’s just look at a couple of players who were doing well at the start of the season. Lewis Miller was brilliant in the first few games. I loved his energy, work rate, and general impact. He always played with a smile on his face, but now he looks somewhere between irritated and downright terrified.
He had at least four chances to get crosses over in the first half against Wellington and didn’t hit one. Instead he either lost the ball or went backwards after turning away from the early chance. He also seems to go missing in defence these days, at crucial moments and I have to wonder whether he really understands his role when the Mariners are playing three at the back.
The other player I’m looking at is Kye Rowles. I’ve followed his career since the Joeys, where I thought he was brilliant – a young Trent Sainsbury I said, at the time. He was outstanding in the early part of the season but looks distracted now – entirely lacking in confidence.
He’s another looking a tad lost in a three at the back system – totally asleep for Wellington’s second goal which was painfully simple in its execution. A defender can never relax when the other team are in possession.
No matter where the ball is, it’s only ever one or two passes from danger and Rowles switched off because Wellington had a throw in their own half. A first time ball over the top and Rowles was rolled. (I don’t expect him to keep up with Sotirio (third goal) but I do expect the team to sit deeper against that sort of pace and put more pressure on the ball in the middle of the park.)
His excellent passing range has also gone off the boil. His ability to consistently find feet with both five and 50 metre passes was what inspired my Sainsbury comparison. That’s gone.
But Miller and Rowles aren’t the only ones failing to match their earlier form. It’s across the board – I could go through the entire team and make similar contrasts. But what most upsets me is that the team look unhappy and don’t seem to care.
They’re professional footballers, for heaven’s sake! They’ve got the best job in the world so why aren’t they enjoying it?
A really strong indicator of the lack of care is the very poor pass completion rate. The Mariners are slow in transition, slow in the pass and slow to move. Consequently, they are always under pressure when they receive the ball (if they receive the ball) and have little commitment to ball retention. The number of impossible passes or low percentage flicks they go for does my head in. I can only imagine what it does to Alen Stajcic.
But in the end, it’s Stajcic who has to shoulder the burden and the bulk of the blame.
He’s the one who most contributes to team culture, so if the Mariners don’t care, it’s down to him.
I do get that the Mariners have the least resources of any club, so anything better than last is some sort of success. But I’m accustomed to the Mariners punching way above their weight, like they did under Lawrie McKinna and Arnie.
Any coach (or player) coming into our club needs to understand that culture is everything. Lawrie always had a no dickheads policy in recruitment and that served us extremely well. The team genuinely liked each other and fought for each other with a passion you don’t often see in professional football.
That passion was the Mariners’ 12th Man, with the crowd being the 13th.
The real Mariners.
Both those extra men have been AWOL for a really long time and Stajcic might be the man to find them.
Adrian's books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. He will have a new novel out shortly.