A-League Preview: Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets
Played: 31, Wins: Mariners 11, Jets 9, Draws: 11
Previous encounter: Mariners 3-0 Jets, January 25 2014
Past five matches:
This is a must-win F3 Derby for Central Coast and Newcastle as the tight battle for places in the bottom half of the top six continues. The Mariners have lost six of their past eight matches in all competitions, but come into the encounter on a high after their 2-1 win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday night. Phil Moss' men need to use that win to kick-start their domestic campaign. The Jets have won three of their past four, keeping consecutive clean sheets, but there was still plenty of feeling at training as goalkeeper Mark Birighitti and defender Taylor Regan demonstrated with a nice little dust-up last Monday.
The big issue:
Mariners – can Central Coast use their win in Asia as a platform late in the A-League campaign? Losses in five of their past six domestically have the Mariners in serious danger of slipping out of the top six, now just a point clear of the seventh-placed Jets. They face Western Sydney and Brisbane in two of their final five A-League matches so a meeting with Newcastle is crucial if they want to play finals.
Jets – just what happens to the Jets when they have to travel to Bluetongue Stadium? Newcastle's record at Central Coast is dreadful, with just one win in 15 trips to the Mariners. The other 14 have seen seven losses and as many draws. Clayton Zane needs to get his men enjoying the trip down the M1 Pacific Motorway as they aim for their first win at the Mariners since January 2008, when James Holland and Joel Griffiths were on the scoresheet.
The game breaker:
Adam Taggart – the 20-year-old is the league's top goalscorer and Australia coach Ange Postecoglou is keeping a close eye on him late in the campaign. Taggart already has three goals in Socceroos colours – all at the 2013 East Asian Cup – and a strong finish to the season could see him on the plane to Brazil. He has scored five times since the start of February and is clinical, so if given the opportunity has the ability to punish the Mariners.
Prediction: Mariners 1-1 Jets
Newcastle's record at Bluetongue makes for dreadful reading and even with a firing Taggart, it is hard to ignore. The Mariners will be on a high after their success mid-week and should be good enough to at least avoid a loss. Taggart is a match-winner when on and it has been a long time since the Mariners kept a clean sheet. Central Coast's 3-0 win over the Jets in January was the last time they kept a team goalless. A lot is on the line in Gosford and a draw would be an OK result for both.