A-League Finals Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Adelaide United
Played: 28, Wins: Central Coast 14, Adelaide 8, Draws: 6
Adelaide 2-0 Central Coast, February 14 2014
Past five matches:
Central Coast: LWLWW
A place in the semi-finals is up for grabs as Central Coast and Adelaide face the prospect of Saturday being their final day of the season. Josep Gombau's Reds outfit come into the finals in unconvincing form, while the Mariners may have been on a high before John Hutchinson's own goal cost them a point against FC Seoul in the AFC Champions League on Wednesday. The fitness of Phil Moss' squad remains a big question ahead of the clash at Central Coast Stadium, while Adelaide's form and record at the ground is poor.
The big issue:
Mariners – questions remain over just how big an impact mid-week action has on Moss' side, especially after conceding such a heartbreaking late goal. Central Coast looked on track to secure a key point in Group F, only for Hutchinson to beat goalkeeper Liam Reddy, who had kept the Mariners in the game. What kind of psychological blow such a loss is remains to be seen. Moss has rotated his squad well throughout the busy period, and has Bernie Ibini, Nick Fitzgerald and Mitchell Duke relatively fresh.
Adelaide – can Gombau's side overcome what has been a dreadful record at Bluetongue, as well as their unpredictable recent form? Adelaide have just three wins in 13 visits to the venue, and failed to win their last two games of the regular season against opposition who missed out on the finals. But they can take some comfort from their efforts against the Mariners this season, having claimed 2-0 and 4-0 wins in their past two meetings. A slick playing surface will also suit their style.
The game breaker:
Fabio Ferreira – the Portuguese star has enjoyed a strong campaign and taking on the Mariners has suited him. Ferreira netted in both of Adelaide's win over Central Coast this season, and should fancy his chances if Josh Rose starts at left-back as expected. The Reds need to get Ferreira involved as often as possible, with his pace, trickery and crossing ability a key for them if they are to reach the semi-finals.
Prediction: Central Coast 1-2 Adelaide (AET)
Gombau's side are capable of just about anything with the attacking talent at their disposal, and that could eventually get the better of the Mariners. The in-form Reddy could have a major say, while Central Coast will enjoy playing on the counter-attack. A good playing surface should make for a thrilling encounter in a do-or-die clash. Ferreira, Jeronimo, Marcelo Carrusca and Sergio Cirio have the quality in the attacking third. Central Coast deserve to enter as favourites after finishing third and upsetting Brisbane in their last league game. They will need a strong showing in defence and to take their chances on the counter-attack, with the pace of Ibini and Fitzgerald potentially decisive.