This Sunday the Central Coast Mariners Academy Under 18’s play out an all A-League Academy Grand Final when they face the Western Sydney Wanderers Academy at Sydney United Sports Ground. Kick-off is set for 10am.
It seems a fitting finale, as the two sides finished first (CCMA) and second (WSWA) on the PS4 NPL 2 Under 18’s ladder at the conclusion of the regular season.
For just the second time this the season, the 18’s fell a goal behind early last weekend when Marconi Stallions took the lead 11 minutes into last Saturday’s elimination final. The resilient Mariners Academy fought back to comfortably win 4-2 at Lambert park.
The Wanderers faced the only team to defeat the Mariners Academy in the regular season, Northern Tigers, and showed their class defeating them 4-0 on Saturday afternoon. Wanderers, who finished the regular season in 2nd, have had a good run in recent weeks winning their last five games scoring a whopping 27 goals.
It was six weeks ago when the U18’s Wanderers conceded their last goal and that was when the Mariners Academy showed their class, thumping the Wanderers 8-0.
The Yellow and Navy Under 18’s also ran rampant over the Red and Black in round nine when they defeated the Wanderers 4-0 at Blacktown International Sports Park.
The Wanderers pose many different threats on the field, with attacker Dylan Ruiz-Diaz finishing equal first in the golden boot standings on 21 goals from 20 games, while Anthony Vastag scored a double last weekend which took his tally to 15.
It will take some serious work to break down the brick wall that is the Mariners’ defence. Conceding just the 28 goals in the regular season, it has been a colossal task for the opposition to penetrate, and no doubt this weekend Pete Preston’s men will be looking to yet again starve the opposition of clear cut opportunities in front of goal.
Captain Kyle Johnson was happy with last weekend’s performance but knows his team will need to lift a gear if they are to lift the trophy this Sunday.
“Obviously it is always nice to get a win, we know that finals series games are always going to be tough no matter what form you’re in,” Johnson said. “Marconi came out of the blocks firing last weekend and we took our time to get going. If we do that against the Wanderers this weekend we won’t get away with it as easily.
“The Wanderers Academy are similar to us, they have players constantly moving between the top three grades, but no matter who they put on the park it will be a tough test. People might look at the results and think we are well suited but it’s a Grand Final and it is a completely different test.
“None of the boys are getting ahead of themselves and we are all ready for the challenge,” Johnson said.
For coach Peter Preston, it is a similar outlook on last week’s performance.
“It was a sloppy performance from us against Marconi in the first half but we showed character to run away with it in the second,” Preston said. “I thought we started very nervous and didn’t have a lot of flow. Our defensive pressure was really good but we weren’t positive enough with the ball, but as the game went on the boys slowly took control of the game and our quality improved.
When quizzed about what his team will have to do to give themselves the best possible chance of lifting the trophy on Sunday, Preston said:
“Firstly, they need to enjoy the occasion and not get caught up thinking about it too much. Both teams have some real quality so whoever settles first and gets into their rhythm will go a long way to getting a positive result.
“As always, we pride ourselves on a fast start and this week will be no different. If we can create chances early and take them that would be great as well.
“Grand Final day is about the players, I will prepare the same as I do every week, I need to focus on my job and allow the boys to focus on theirs. It is cliché but the more relaxed we can be the better we will become on match day.
"We have a full squad to pick from which keeps everyone focused throughout the week. It is just a matter of enjoying training this week and have a clear focus to play the best we can come Sunday,” Preston said.
Sunday 17th September 2017
PlayStation NPL U18’s Men’s 2 Grand Final
Match: Central Coast Mariners Academy vs Western Sydney Wanderers Academy
Venue: Sydney United Sports Centre