Preview: Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners

Brisbane Roar and the Central Coast Mariners will meet in Round 17 of the 2013-14 A-League season at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday, February 2 at 5pm AEDT.

Head-to-head:
Played: 32 - Wins: Roar 17, Mariners 6, Draws: 9

Previous encounter:
Mariners 0-1 Roar, November 10, 2013

Form:
Past five matches:
Roar: WDLWW
Mariners: WWDDW

The Game:
Brisbane returned to winning ways last weekend, coming from a goal down at the break to beat the in-form Wellington Phoenix 2-1. Despite an up-and-down last few weeks, Mike Mulvey's side still have a healthy five-point buffer – with a game in hand – at the top of the A-League ladder. And the news gets even better this week with star striker Besart Berisha to return from suspension, while Ivan Franjic could also feature again as he gets closer to overcoming his injury. The club also boosted their striking options this week signing former favourite son Jean Carlos Solorzano for the remainder of the season. 

Those expecting the Mariners to fall apart once Graham Arnold moved on continue to be left red-faced, with the defending champions surging up the ladder on the back of a five-game unbeaten run. They blew local rivals Newcastle Jets away in a devastating first-half last weekend, with goals to Anthony Caceres, Daniel McBreen and Matt Simon giving them a 3-0 win in the F3 Derby. While the club has yet to bring in any re-enforcements during the transfer window, Phil Moss does have nearly all his key players fit, with the only real conundrum whether to re-call skipper John Hutchinson or stick with impressive youngster Caceres in midfield.

The big issue:
Roar – Home form. It was only Luke Bratten's late strike against the Phoenix last weekend that ensured Brisbane snapped a two-game losing streak in front of their home fans. After Suncorp had become a bit of a fortress at the start of the season, the Roar have found it hard to put side's away on their home turf of late and must put that right as they head towards the business end of the campaign.

Mariners – Their horror record against Brisbane. Mariners fans should look away now. Since the inception of the A-League the boys from the Central Coast have tasted victory against the Roar just six times from 32 games. While a lot of that success has come in the last couple of seasons, this Mariners group will need to forget all about that statistic if they hope to topple the league-leaders on Sunday.

The game breaker:
Thomas Broich – The Roar have one of the most gifted squads in the competition but Broich is arguably their most important player. After an average 2012/13 campaign, the German has been back to his best this season and has really lifted his game especially when the likes of Berisha, Henrique and Liam Miller have been absent through injury. If the Mariners are to spring an upset here, they will need to keep Broich quiet anyway they can. 

Prediction: Roar 2-1 Mariners
Given the form of both these sides and their ladder positions this looms as the biggest and most important match of the weekend. A Brisbane win and they will take another huge step towards the Premiers' Plate but if the Mariners can spring a surprise all of a sudden the top of the ladder will become a lot more congested. Phil Moss seems to have his side getting better every week but this could be one hurdle where they come up just a bit short.