Arnold seeks reputation restoration

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Graham Arnold once went AWOL. It wasn't after a big night out or even a brief stint in the army, but rather after the Australian under-23 side had been knocked out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the first round.

Rather than fronting up the media to explain how it all went wrong, Arnold simply skipped town for two weeks to leave the press and fans baffled as to how he could confidently proclaim the Olyroos a medal chance, only to watch in stony silence as his team failed to win a game.

Needless to say, the former Socceroos striker isn't the most popular of coaches in Australian football circles, but he's found an unlikely ally in new Central Coast Mariners goalkeeper Jess Vanstratten.

The one-time Juventus shot-stopper called Arnold a "breath of fresh air" after signing on at the Gosford club during the off-season, although such comments should be seen in the context that Vanstratten's former coach is Gold Coast United's resident lunatic Miron Bleiberg.

"I didn't agree with some of Miron's methods but in the end we all shook hands and said thanks for the time and they let me loose," says Vanstratten of his time on the Gold Coast, almost sounding professionally conciliatory until he slipped by adding: "For me, just to work with a coach that makes sense has been good, because last year it was a bit hard to make sense of some of the things that was going on up there."

Arnold: "You haven't seen me..."

Vanstratten has found a new home at Bluetongue Stadium, and that's exactly where Central Coast find themselves on Sunday afternoon as they take on Adelaide United in the Mariners' first home game of the season.

It may not be the kind of fixture which sets the pulses racing, but the Mariners won't care after they pulled off a 1-0 victory at debutants Melbourne Heart last time out, with skipper Alex Wilkinson crashing home a header to send the Gosford side top of the table.

There wasn't much to suggest the Mariners had moved away from the long-ball tactics preferred in the latter stages of former coach Lawrie McKinna's tenure, but new man Arnold holds high hopes for Argentine playmaker Patricio Perez.

The diminutive playmaker lit up the pre-season despite seeing limited action, and after missing the win over Melbourne Heart, the self-styled No.10 may finally provide some attacking spark in an otherwise one-dimensional outfit.

Central Coast were the only team to taste victory in an opening round which featured two scintillating 3-3 draws, the first of which was played out at the newly renamed NIB Stadium, as Robbie Fowler's Perth Glory let slip two points by allowing a battling North Queensland Fury to equalise deep into stoppage time.

Shannon Cole's equaliser for Sydney FC in their 3-3 draw at home to Melbourne Victory was slightly more photogenic, as the substitute curled a free-kick over the wall and past Victory new boy Michael Petkovic.

But it's the Mariners who made the biggest name for themselves in the opening round of action, and with Graham Arnold looking to restore his battered reputation, the unfancied Gosford side may quietly harbour ambitions of repeating their unexpected 2007/08 title success.

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