Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Sydney FC

Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC will meet in Round 21 of the A-League at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday, March 1 at 5.30pm AEDT.

Played 27 - Wins: Central Coast 10, Sydney FC 10, Draws: 7

Previous encounter:
Sydney FC 0 - 1 Central Coast, January 18 2013

Past five matches
Central Coast Mariners: LLLLW
Sydney FC: WWLLW

The Game:
Central Coast Mariners are in the midst of one of their worst form runs in their history as they stare down the barrel of five straight losses across all competitions. Belted last week during the second half by Wellington as the Phoenix came from behind for a 4-1 win, things won't get any easier this week as the Mariners attempt to overcome a mid-week trip to South Korea – where they lost 2-0 in their AFC Champions League opener to FC Seoul – with a clash against a Sydney side that may just be finding some momentum with two straight wins.

The Big Issue:
Central Coast simply have to find a way to score to put pressure on their opponents. In their five-game losing streak they have scored just three goals and wasted a host of opportunities. Against Wellington, Mile Sterjovski missed a penalty and saw another good chance saved on the line. If either of those efforts had gone in, last Friday night's game could have had a significantly different outcome as there were times when the Mariners were controlling the second half before the Phoenix caught them on the break on a few occasions. Central Coast also have to find a way to stop conceding around half-time as well, with Kenny Cunningham's goal last week within moments of the re-start being a prime example.

For Sydney, the big issue remains their reliance on marquee man Alessandro Del Piero. In their win against Perth Glory it was Del Piero doing the damage in a match where the Sky Blues were forced on the defensive and the pattern repeated itself in last week's 2-0 win over Newcastle. For much of that encounter, the Jets dominated Sydney and fund several holes in their defence without putting them away. Of course, having been kept in the contest by Newcastle's generosity, the Sky Blues hit back with second-half goals from Sasa Ognenovoski and a Del Piero penalty. But the fact Sydney were simply prepared to play deep without really taking the game on may not be such a good sign.

The Game Breaker:
Alessandro Del Piero. The Italian veteran is keeping Sydney FC in the finals hunt with his efforts over the last couple of weeks, but he is probably due a quiet game and Sydney seem to really struggle when this occurs. That being said, the Del Piero combination with Ranko Despotovic appears to be blossoming as the link-up work between the pair contributed to one goal against Perth and almost led to another against the Jets.

Prediction: Central Coast 1 Sydney FC 0
The Mariners went into last week's clash with Wellington undermanned as Matt Simon, Josh Rose, Nick Fitzgerald and Brent Griffiths were all suspended. All of those players will be available, while new recruit Eddy Bosnar and forward Mile Sterjovski will also be fresh after not making the midweek trip to Seoul. Central Coast will be desperate to overturn their losing run but one suspects this will be something of a grind as they lack the class to finish off opportunities without departed striker Daniel McBreen. The Phoenix exposed how vulnerable the Mariners can be on the counter and the Sky Blues will definitely try and exploit this, but having beaten Sydney 1-0 on two occasions so far this season, I think the Gosford side will make it a hat-trick of such results as they return to winning ways.