A physically demanding schedule has Central Coast coach Graham Arnold trapped between juggling players for the club’s A-League and Asian Champions League missions.
Speaking after salvaging a come-from-behind 3-3 draw with last-placed Gold Coast in a rescheduled fixture on Wednesday, Arnold said he might have to poll Mariners fans to gauge which title they wanted to win most.
“I haven’t given the ACL a lot of thought just yet. I just want to get Melbourne Heart out of the way,” said Arnold.
“I might have to start a voting poll with Mariners supporters on what they want us to concentrate on – the A-League competition or the ACL.”
Arnold said the club could have done without playing the game against Gold Coast which was washed out earlier this month.
“It’s just added to the heavier schedule for us,” he said.
“We’ve got Melbourne Heart on Sunday, then we’ve got Sydney FC next Saturday and then we’re off to China (first ACL game).
“After that, we’ve got a lovely game against Perth away, so it’s a busy time.”
On the positive side, Arnold will get Oliver Bozanic and goalkeeper Matthew Ryan back from Olyroo duty to help the Mariners through a tough stretch of games.
Ryan will return to the club after being part of the Socceroos World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Melbourne next week.
“Fortunately, we get a few Olyroo boys back this month who’ll add some quality and depth to our squad,” he said.
The Mariners are one of three Australian clubs to qualify for the 2012 AFC along with Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United.
They open their campaign against Chinese qualifiers Tianjin Teda in Group E in China on March 6.
While last year’s runners-up have the A-League squarely in their sights – sitting six points clear on the ladder with just five rounds to go – they also have an eye on becoming the first Australian club to win the ACL, a showdown featuring Asia’s best club sides.