A-League Preview: Perth Glory v Central Coast Mariners
Played: 27, Wins: Glory 5, Mariners 17, Draws: 5
Mariners 2-1 Glory, December 31 2013
Past five matches:
Central Coast have a massive chance to consolidate second place ahead of a trip to struggling Perth on Saturday. Despite losing several players mid-season, and their coach in late 2013, the Mariners continue to perform strongly. The champions are a point ahead of Western Sydney with two regular-season games remaining. Phil Moss will be eager to see his side claim a win over Perth to close in on a place in the semi-finals. They come into the clash on the back of a victory in the AFC Champions League, but meet a Glory side who finally ended a 10-match winless run by beating Newcastle last time out.
The big issue:
Glory – whether Kenny Lowe's men have the goals in them to upset the Mariners and dent their chances of a second-place finish. With just 24 goals in 25 games, Perth have easily the league's worst attack. A trio of teams with 30 are next, with the Glory struggling to find the net regularly this season. Shane Smeltz has only scored four times to be their leading goalscorer.
Mariners – how long can the Mariners continue their hot run of form? Moss' side have won five of their past six in all competitions, topping Group F in Asia and closing in on second place domestically. Central Coast have been far from the league's most entertaining team, but they have been getting the job done. Results are about all that matters at this time of the season and another win would be a massive boost for the Mariners.
The game breaker:
Bernie Ibini – the exciting attacker has been a key reason for the Mariners' winning run. Ibini scored late winners against both Western Sydney and Melbourne Heart in two important victories for Moss' men. Given a start in the win over Beijing Guoan, Ibini was again threatening with his speed and directness. His hot run of form could be what the Mariners need to extend their run and be a major threat in the finals.
Prediction: Glory 0-2 Mariners
Central Coast have a remarkable record against Perth, winning 17 of the 27 meetings between the two teams. While the Glory will have a bit more confidence after their victory over the Jets, this shapes as a bigger challenge. The Mariners' recovery from Tuesday night will be important, but they have managed themselves well even during their Asian adventure. Perth are aiming to avoid finishing bottom, but there is more on the line for a Mariners side who – if they finish second – will be just a win away from another grand final appearance.