End of season charge

WITH two losses on the trot for the Central Coast Mariners it is easy to believe that the wheels are beginning to fall off Graham Arnold’s well-drilled machine, but I think it will prevail as a blessing in disguise.

WITH two losses on the trot for the Central Coast Mariners it is easy to believe that the wheels are beginning to fall off Graham Arnold-s well-drilled machine, but I think it will prevail as a blessing in disguise.

After a lackluster performance against Sydney FC, the Mariners have dropped six consecutive points for the first time this season, which has allowed Western Sydney Wanderers to take a five-point lead at the top of the Hyundai A-League ladder.

In the post match press conference Graham Arnold described Western Sydney having “two hands on the premier-s plate”.

The loss to Western Sydney on the previous Saturday in front of over 18,000 supporters created the dent in Graham Arnold-s hopes of winning the club-s third premiership, with the Wanderers picking up maximum points from their past nine hit outs - a league record.

The Mariners- run into finals football has usually come hand in hand with late regular season form that has allowed the team to charge into the first week of the post-season. True, this end of season form has yet to translate into a Championship, which has left an empty spot in the trophy cabinet of the Hyundai A-League-s most consistent club.

With just three games left to play until this season-s Hyundai A-League Finals Series, the Mariners have lost top spot to the Wanderers. In most leagues around Europe that is silverware suicide. But not necessarily in Australia, where on any given day tenth can beat first which we saw Wellington go so close to accomplishing last weekend.

This time round the Mariners have a chance to hunt the Wanderers with a four game run before and into the Finals. Some may consider it just the set of circumstances this team of champions Arnold has assembled may well relish.

Arnold-s right hand man, Phil Moss said two weeks ago that our match against Western Sydney was just another game in the grand plan that is: a minor premiership; second round qualification in the AFC Champions league and a Grand Final winner-s medal.

With all the pressure and attention now on the 11-month-old Western Sydney Wanderers the Mariners can go back to doing what they do best and “fly under the radar”, going about their business with maximum efficiency, and minimal fanfare.

The Mariners- run to the Hyundai A-League Finals consists of Brisbane Roar (home), Adelaide United (away) and Melbourne Heart (home).

On top of Hyundai A-League matches, the Mariners are in Japan right now gearing up for their next AFC Champions League match against Kashiwa Reysol on Wednesday.

Between now and grand final day Graham Arnold-s outfit will also come up against Guizhou Renhe in Gosford for their third Asian confrontation where they currently sit equal second in their group.

With no major milestones, winning records or club firsts to worry about breaking before they compete in finals football once again, the team-s sole focus can be on priming themselves for an end of season charge.

The players are confident and while the ball didn-t hit the back of the net against Wanderers, Suwon or the Sky Blues, the team still have a chance to peak at a great time. Despite the side-s first home loss of the season they still put in a big performance in tough conditions yet Tony Popovic-s team did enough to steal the points.

This weekend-s Bluetongue Sunday session against the old foe Brisbane Roar is the perfect way to continue our season and with Joshua Rose, Pedj Bojic, Daniel McBreen and Mile Sterjovski all having remained in Australia to freshen their legs, Arnold will be faced with more selection headaches - just the way he likes it.

Western Sydney makes the journey to Melbourne to face off against the Heart who have been tough to beat at home all season this weekend. Should Wanderers slip up and the Mariners win, Central Coast will be within striking distance in the final two rounds of the campaign.

With three games to play before the Finals Series, there may be many more twists and turns in the regular season yet. Any skid by the Wanderers could prove costly in the race to the Premier-s Plate.