Well-rested and refreshed, Central Coast coach Graham Arnold is hoping the Mariners can breathe life into their fading Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign against China’s Tianjin Teda on Tuesday.
The Mariners sit last in Group G with two matches to play but Arnold believes they still remain a hope of securing a top-two finish and progressing to the knockout stage.
That would require a win at Gosford on Tuesday and another in their final match away to Japan’s Nagoya Grampus in a fortnight – no mean feat for a side yet to win an ACL match in 10 attempts.
But Arnold expects to see the Mariners of old after a much-needed two-week break following a hectic schedule of A-League and ACL comprising eight matches in just over a month.
The Mariners looked a shadow of the side that claimed this season’s A-League Premiers’ Plate in their last ACL clash, a 5-0 trouncing by Seongnam Ilhwa in Korea on April 18.
“They’ve got the power back in their legs,” Arnold said of his players on Monday.
“They’ve trained the house down the last few days, they look like they were before and I’m expecting a fantastic performance.”
The heavy defeat in Seongnam dealt a blow to the Mariners’ goal difference (-5) and could hurt their chances of progression, but Arnold is confident two wins of any margin will get his side through to the next round.
“Everything’s still in our hands at the moment,” Arnold said.
“If we win tomorrow night 1-0, then go to Nagoya and win 1-0, we’re there.”
Mariners captain Alex Wilkinson agreed they were reinvigorated but admitted there were some demons to exorcise from the loss to Seongnam.
“Everyone can say that we backed up three days after the (preliminary final loss to Perth) but still, it was nowhere near good enough,” he said of the performance.
“… but the boys are looking really sharp.”
Arnold has virtually a full strength squad with left back Josh Rose returning from suspension.
Tom Rogic is expected to start in midfield ahead of fellow young gun Mustafa Amini, who will likely make his last appearance in Gosford before returning to German club Borussia Dortmund after being signed and then loaned back for the season.