Preview: Melbourne Victory v Central Coast

The Mariners are traditionally a tough team to play and we haven’t beaten them this season.

Date: Friday December 31
Kick-off: 6:00pm
Venue: Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford
Television: Live and exclusive on Fox Sports 1 from 6:00pm (AEDT).
Live Match Centre

Played 17, Melbourne Victory 7, Central Coast Mariners 6. Draws: 4.

Previous Meeting:
Melbourne Victory 2, Central Coast Mariners 2, AAMI Park, November 18 2010.

Why we don’t like ’em
Because we’re both going for a top four spot. The Mariners are traditionally a tough team to play and we haven-t beaten them this season. Last time we played though, a 78th minute own goal from goalkeeper Michael Petkovic resulted in a 2-2 draw, a game in which Victory were the better team throughout.
The first time we met this campaign in Gosford, the Mariners pulled off a smash and grab job on us, winning 2-0 thanks to Rostyn Griffiths and Daniel McBreen. Saying that, unlike our past two opponents Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory, the Victory does boast a superior overall record against the Mariners.

Past five matches:
Melbourne Victory:
Melbourne Victory 2, Newcastle Jets 1, AAMI Park
Melbourne Victory 2, Perth Glory 0, AAMI Park
Melbourne Heart 1, Melbourne Victory 3, AAMI Park
Melbourne Victory 3, Brisbane Roar 3, AAMI Park
Wellington Phoenix 2, Melbourne Victory 2, Westpac Stadium

Central Coast:
Central Coast Mariners 2, Adelaide United 0, Bluetongue Stadium
Central Coast Mariners 1, North Queensland Fury 0, Bluetongue Stadium
Perth Glory 1, Central Coast Mariners 1, nib Stadium
Central Coast Mariners 4, Sydney FC 0, Bluetongue Stadium
Central Coast Mariners 1, Brisbane Roar 5, Bluetongue Stadium

Decisions for Ernie
After three straight wins and going unbeaten in our past six matches, Ernie-s decision-making has been pretty damn good. The 2-1 win over Newcastle was a great result, but the Jets did have the better in general play, something the coach has touched upon. Popular Scotsman Grant Brebner comes back into the starting side and will certainly shore-up a midfield that struggled to retain possession against the Jets. Defender Matthew Kemp is making better progress than expected from his groin injury, but will make his return against Wellington rather than this clash. Having played a 3-4-3 against the Jets, Ernie is expected to stay with the same formation, particularly with defensive trio Kevin Muscat, Rodrigo Vargas and Adrian Leijer rock-solid.

Behind Enemy Lines
Life-s pretty good for the Mariners and coach Graham Arnold right now. A strong 2-0 home win over Adelaide United in their most recent clash means confidence is high for the boys from Bluetongue. The loss of Rostyn Griffiths and Pedj Bojic, both important members of the Mariners squad, through suspension will hurt, but Matthew Lewis and Trent Sainsbury have both earned promotions to cover in the pair-s absence. The return of Argentinian import Patricio Perez has been a welcome bonus for the Mariners as well.

Our Hero
Robbie Kruse – It just has to be Kruse. Life can-t get much better for the 22-year-old, who was named in the Socceroos Asian Cup squad during the week. Produced a wonderful piece of magic to set up Ricardinho for Victory-s last-gasp winner against the Jets, telling evidence he is dangerous even when not on the scoresheet. Against the uncompromising Mariners defence his skill and eye for goal will be crucial.

Danger Man
Patricio Perez – A former Argentina youth team-mate of Lionel Messi, Perez is enjoying the fruits of an extended run in the first team after suspension and then injury. Has been involved in the last four Mariners games, and coincidentally they have gone unbeaten, winning three and drawing one. His creativity unlocks defences, with in-form strikers Adam Kwasnik and Matt Simon both benefiting from his presence.

Why we will win
Because we-re on a roll. Six games unbeaten, three consecutive home wins suggests the Victory are building at exactly the right time. Confidence is high in the camp, with Ernie saying that winning matches during this time of the season is all that counts.
You can expect an attacking brand of football from the Victory, especially from Kruse, who would like to leave with a bang before the Asian Cup. He has grown as a player this season, both in scoring goals, but also setting them up as he showed by laying on Ricardinho-s winner against Newcastle.
Speaking of the Brazilian, he may well again play a key role, especially as he needs some miles in those legs while Kruse is away. Boosted by his best spell for the Victory against the Jets, expect some more samba flair from him.
One major cog in Victory-s impressive run has been the form of the defence. The back three of Kevin Muscat, Adrian Leijer and Rodrigo Vargas restricted Newcastle to long range efforts last week and it took a Ruben Zadkovich special to get past goalkeeper Michael Petkovic.
The Mariners are at their best with the bread and butter goals, so a similarily resolute display from the back three will go a long way to shoring up the points.
Finally in the two matches they-ve played this season, the Victory has suffered a loss and a draw. Not many teams deny Victory at least one win against them during the season.

Melbourne Victory: 1.Michael PETKOVIC (gk), 2. Kevin MUSCAT (c), 3. Mate DUGANDZIC, 5. Surat SUKHA, 6. Leigh BROXHAM, 9. RICARDINHO, 11.Marvin ANGULO, 12.Rodrigo VARGAS, 13. Diogo FERREIRA, 14. Billy CELESKI, 15. Tom PONDELJAK, 16.Carlos HERNANDEZ, 19. Evan BERGER, 20. Sebastian MATTEI (gk), 21. Robbie KRUSE, 23. Adrian LEIJER.
*one to be omitted*

In: Grant BREBNER (returns from suspension)
Out: Nil
Unavailable: Archie THOMPSON (hamstring), Matthew KEMP (groin), Grant BREBNER (suspended)

Central Coast Mariners: 20. Mathew RYAN (gk), 2. Daniel McBREEN, 3. Joshua ROSE, 6. Patrick ZWAANSWIJK, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 10. Patricio PEREZ, 11. Oliver BOZANIC, 12. Matthew LEWIS, 14. Michael McGLINCHEY, 16. Trent SAINSBURY, 17. Chris DOIG, 18. Alex WILKINSON (c), 19. Matt SIMON, 22. Mustafa AMINI, 23. Adam KWASNIK, 30. Paul HENDERSON (gk).
*one to be omitted*

In: Matthew LEWIS (promoted), Trent SAINSBURY (promoted)
Out: Rostyn GRIFFITHS (suspended – one match), Pedj BOJIC (suspended – 2 weeks (pending appeal))
Unavailable: Brad PORTER (knee – 8 weeks), Jess VANSTRATTAN (knee – season)