Alen Stajcic has a reputation for being an innovator and a winner. He did it with the Matildas, but could the Central Coast Mariners also have finally turned the corner?
The Mariners have definitely improved this season while continuing to occupy their customary rung at the foot of the ladder. Last week they outplayed Sydney but still managed to lose. This week was different – there might have been a little bit of luck, but there was also a whole lot of science.
When the Mariners’ side was revealed I was both surprised and impressed. The set up and personnel really showed how Alen Stajcic had thought about the opposition strengths and how he might counter and defeat them.
Tommy Oar at left back (with a licence to roam) was a master stroke to counter the pace of Halloran. He had a blinder also, despite Halloran’s cracker in the 46th minute.
Without the ball, the forward press was noticeably effective. The Mariners flooded the midfield, always two on one closing down the man on the ball. Their energy blew Adelaide off the park for 20 minutes, but a team as good as the Reds will always recover and have their moments.
This is where the luck came in. Adelaide missed two or three chances that could easily have gone in, and might also have had a penalty late when Oar appeared to clip Halloran in the box.
Mind you, the Mariners have had at least two penalties given against them this year that weren’t – and cost points – so they were due for a break.
In possession, the wide men moved up, the central pair moved wide and Kim Eun Seung or Danny De Silva dropped between them to start proceedings.
They worked really hard across the park to create two-on-one situations and with a couple of better last balls or finishes, the Mariners could have put the game away early.
This is exactly the kind of effort and performance that built the Mariners ethos in the first place. Lawrie McKinna’s team didn’t have too many stars but they worked harder than anyone else and had a team spirit the bling boys could only dream of.
This bred success which attracted the special players to the club (and a special coach in Arnie) – who bought into the Mariners work rate and spirit. Quality plus energy plus indomitable winning spirit is a powerful blend.
The Mariners lost that blend when Arnie left, and all their quality players were sold overseas. But I’m just, maybe, starting to see the right kind of signs again. The work rate this season is obvious and the resilience is growing.
There’s a little bit of established quality in the likes of Duric, De Silva and Tommy Oar (and Birrighitti).
Kye Rowles is starting to look like a really good player also and Murray, Miller, Stensness and Silvera are growing in stature.
Most of all, I’m enjoying the impact of the coach, which we’ve not seen since Arnie (with the small exception of Paul Okon who looked like he was building something). The team are going out with a shape and a plan, and look like they are gaining confidence every week.
If they win their match in hand, the Mariners will be in the top six.
Who saw that coming?
Alen Stajcic became a household name with the Matildas. If he can drag the Rag-arse Rover Mariners back into the finals he’d have to be considered among the top echelon of Australian coaches in the men’s game also.
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