Two months ago, canny Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick described his Newcastle Jets squad as “the strongest squad since I’ve been at the club.”
For Alen Stajcic and the Central Coast Mariners, the time for words is over .
Central Coast fans will see similarities with this pre-season and last pre-season. Solid recruitment, a coach promising a new start and more promising youngsters brought into the squad.
Now it is time to see whether Alen Stajcic can deliver the hope and belief that the Mariners fans so desperately crave, and which his predecessors failed to deliver.
If Stajcic’s Mariners were to beat Maitland FC it could spell a new era of success where the Central Coast does have a team to play finals football. If Alen Stajcic’s side fails to beat the Northern NPL side it could spell another disastrous season where the cycle of broken promises continues and another wooden spoon awaits.
Tommy Oar has already expressed the desire for his team to go deep in the Cup and hopefully they can (as a strong Mariners side is good for the A-League).
Last pre-season Mike Mulvey announced his determination to bring back a ‘winning culture’ to the club. His tenure started well considering his side won six of eight pre-season matches including a 3-0 win over the Western Sydney Wanderers. However, the FFA Cup is where the alarm bells started ringing as Mulvey’s side crashed out 3-0 to a Marco Kurtz’s Adelaide United. Why?
The FFA Cup RD32 is so important for teams and fans across the A-League because so often it is a marker for how a team will fare during the season. In the five years of the FFA Cup, 65 per cent of teams knocked out in the RD32 fail to make finals football. For the Mariners getting knocked out in the FFA Cup RD32 has seen them finish outside the top six in the past four seasons, twice against NPL competition.
Only once have the men in navy and yellow tasted the fresh air in RD16 way back in 2014, which was subsequently followed by a torrid A-League season which saw a seventh-place finish.
Getting past the R32 can pay big dividends for any A-League club in the A-League season as 73.3 per cent of teams who get past this stage manage to make the top six. The FFA Cup is very important for measuring A-League success even if it is not an exact science.
If Central Coast lose their first competitive match it could spell disaster for their A-League season and Stajcic could be sitting in the same position Mulvey was at the end of last season. With the question ringing in his ears and the ears of all Mariners supporters, “What has changed during [this] 12 months?”
Stajcic has the chance to rise above his predecessors and form a Mariners side that the Central Coast can be proud of and defeating Maitland FC would be a bloody good start.