Central Coast coach Graham Arnold will pit his brigade of local youngsters up against Gold Coast’s imported experience as the Mariners look to kick-start their A-League campaign on Saturday.
The Mariners’ list of talented youngsters includes teens Mustafa Amini and Bernie Ibini-Isei – who both received call-ups to the Young Socceroos squad this year – while 22-year-old Oliver Bozanic shone as the captain of the Olyroos.
And that impressive youth was on display again in last week’s grand final reply against Brisbane, with 19-year-old shot-stopper Matt Ryan – a revelation of last season – pulling off an array of acrobatic saves to keep the Roar scoreless until their late winner.
And with Ryan performing like he did last week after only recently recovering from a serious knee injury, you can understand why the youngster has no doubt in his ability for the Bluetongue Stadium clash.
“Whoever has the confidence tends to play well and my confidence is sky high at the moment and I’m just looking forward to getting out on the pitch every week,” Ryan told AAP on Friday.
“There’ll be a few youngsters out on the pitch on Saturday night but it’s like that old saying `it’s not how old you are, it’s how good you are’.
“I’ve got all the confidence in myself and all the young boys at the Mariners to fulfil the job at hand against Gold Coast.”
The Gold Coast, who went on an off-season spending spree to replace the likes of Shane Smeltz and Bruce Djite, now have seven overseas names in their squad – among them Dutch trio Maceo Rigters, Paul Beekmans and Peter Jungschlage and Adama Traore from the Ivory Coast.
“(Coach) Miron (Blieberg) has bought a lot of experienced players, the average age of his starting line-up is probably in the late 20s,” Mariners coach Arnold said.
“He’s got a lot of visa players there too with the new Dutch boys he’s brought in and Traore so they’ll definitely be a tough side to beat and a very experienced side.”
The star of Gold Coast’s opening clash with Wellington, however, was Sydney-born 21-year-old James Brown, who scored the spectacular late equaliser.
He left an impression on Arnold, who admitted “I’d love to have him at the Central Coast”.
And while Amini will be sidelined until at least the end of the month with injury, it will give Ibini-Isei the chance to shine.
“I’ve got big hopes and big expectations with Bernie,” Arnold said.
“He does things that a lot of the other strikers can’t do, he’s so quick and he’s such a good finisher.
“I’m very happy with our young boys and we’re they’re at, I’ve got a lot of confidence in them.
“It doesn’t matter for me the age of the player, you probably will see many times this season Matty Ryan, Bernie and Musti on the field at the same time along with Olie Bozanic and many other youngsters.
“If our performances are consistently like they were last week then our goal of making the top-six is definitely achievable.”