The Mariners wouldn’t win the chook raffle at the Central Coast Leagues Club if they were holding the only ticket and conducting the draw themselves.
Just like Ralph Wiggum’s televised heartbreak at the Krusty the Clown Anniversary Special, there was a moment in yesterday’s F3 derby when you could actually pinpoint the second the Mariners blew their chance of victory.
It came in the 63rd minute when Connor Pain robbed possession from Newcastle defender Jason Hoffman and burst through one-on-one with Jets goalkeeper Glen Moss.
Presented with the opportunity to double the Central Coast’s lead, Pain instead rolled a tame shot from the edge of the 18-yard box which Moss got down to save with ease.
Pain took less than four minutes to open his goalscoring account for the season. He’s barely looked like scoring since.
It’s symptomatic of a Mariners side that tries hard but ultimately lacks the quality to trouble literally any of the other nine sides in the A-League.
They really shouldn’t lack the quality though.
In their starting side yesterday was one bloke with more than 50 caps for New Zealand, another who came directly from the English Premier League and a former Newcastle Jets winger you’d think would have the biggest point to prove of all.
So what’s the problem? Is it the coach?
This is the same Mike Mulvey, it’s worth remembering, who won the premiers plate by ten points with Brisbane Roar before masterminding a grand final win in his only full season in charge.
Is it a lack of local players and a disconnect with the local Gosford community?
It’s hard to see how with Matt Simon – the Wizard of Woy Woy – up front.
So what is it then?
If anyone knows, write your answers on a postcard and send them directly to club owner Mike Charlesworth.
“Over the years we’ve obviously experienced our fair share of ups and downs,” said Charlesworth at the start of the season. “But right now I feel particularly optimistic about the club’s future.”
Unfortunately for Mariners fans, right now the club looks addicted to losing as much as anything.
They actually played reasonably well yesterday, but a few key lapses in concentration cost them dearly.
The first was when Pain snatched at his chance to seal the game when he had time to take a couple more touches and sidestep both Moss and the back-tracking Nikolai Topor-Stanley.
The second came just a few minutes later when Jason Hoffman’s fairly tame-looking header seemed to slip straight through the grasp of Mariners goalkeeper Adam Pearce.
The header probably came at an awkward height, but all Pearce seemed to do was get in defender Andrew Hoole’s way on the line and push the ball into his own net.
The third and decisive lapse saw Jets substitute Kaine Sheppard chip a long ball over the top for Newcastle’s marquee man Ronny Vargas to control and lash home.
The Venezuelan is simply too good a player to miss. Maybe that’s the difference.
So where to now, then, for the Mariners?
The fixture list doesn’t get any easier. They host current league leaders Perth Glory in their traditional New Year’s Eve fixture in Gosford.
Maybe Mulvey should throw caution to the wind and give his NPL signings Jordan Murray and Josh MacDonald more of a run than they’ve been getting.
Or maybe he just needs a bit of luck to fall the way of players like Matt Millar and Matt Simon, who try their hearts out every week without much success.
And much as the Mariners benefited financially from the huge contingent of Newcastle Jets fans yesterday, they could probably do with a few more of their own supporters in the stands.
But one thing is certain. They need a win.
After the worst start in A-League history, they simply cannot afford to start the new year the same way they’ve finished this one.