It's make or break for both teams, but we can't see the Mariners recovering well enough for this one.
It's make or break for both teams, so can the Mariners overcome a rough couple of weeks to get back on track?
Date: Tuesday 1 May, 2012 Kick-off: 7.30pm AEST, 7.30pm local Venue: Bluetongue Stadium Head-to-head Played: 3 Wins: Central Coast 0, Tianjin 1, Draw: 2
Previous encounter Tianjin 0, Central Coast 0, 7 March 2012
History: These two sides, who were drawn together in the same group during the 2008 AFC Champions League, both shot blanks the last time they met. The Chinese FA Cup holders drew 0-0 with Central Coast in what was Tianjin's first competitive fixture of the year. It was a brilliant result for the Mariners, who at the time were still locked in a battle with Brisbane Roar for A-League supremacy. But they've still never beaten Tianjin Teda in three attempts, following a 2-2 draw and a 1-0 loss to the Chinese Super League club a few years back. This, perhaps, is their best opportunity to do so.
Form: Past five matches:
Central Coast: LDLLL Tianjin: LWDWL
It's been all downhill for Central Coast ever since they were booted out of the A-League finals series.
Graham Arnold's men haven't won since late March, when they beat the Phoenix in Wellington to claim the Premier's Plate. Following that was a 5-2 aggregate loss to the Roar in the major semi-final, a 1-1 draw with Seongnam at home and then a heartbreaking loss on penalties to eventual A-League runners-up Perth. They seemingly saved their worst result for last, travelling to Korea to face Seongnam four days after their title hopes were abruptly cut short by the Glory. They returned battered, bruised and even lower on confidence after a 5-0 spanking.
Tianjin Teda meanwhile sit eighth on the Chinese Super League table and above the Mariners in ACL Group G only on goal difference. Through the middle of this month, Tianjin put together a decent three-match undefeated streak following a win over Nicholas Anelka's Shanghai Shenhua, a bore draw at Nagoya Grampus and then a 2-0 victory against Hangzhou. However, that run was bookended by disappointing home losses to both Guangzhou teams, R&F and top-placed Evergrande.
Match Committee: There are no injury problems for the Mariners or Tianjin, although you'd have to wonder about Central Coast's mental preparation given their last result and all the talk of coach Graham Arnold being nailed-on favourite to take over as coach of Sydney FC. The Chinese side jetted into Australia after their last domestic match on Friday, and they should be right to go for this one.
Danger men: Daniel McBreen - Fresh off penning a new deal with the Mariners that will tie him to the club until the end of next season, the burly forward will be keen to show just how important he is to Central Coast in the final third.
With Mustafa Amini moving to Dortmund at the end of the season and John Sutton only on loan from Hearts, spots will open up for McBreen over the break and a good performance here will leave him fresh in the mind for whoever ends up coaching the club next year.
Milan Susak - The former Adelaide and Brisbane defender put in a full 90-minute shift in Tianjin's last game against the cashed-up Guangzhou Evergrande, and will almost certainly figure in this match given his local links. His knowledge of how Australian teams operate will be an incredible advantage for the Chinese side, and coach Josip Kuze should be squeezing out as much as he can from Susak as Tianjin prepare to end Central Coast's ACL run.
At the end of the day… The Mariners will need a miracle to get out of the jam they're in and advance to the knockout stages of the ACL. They must not only defeat Tianjin Teda on Tuesday, but they have to hope that Nagoya Grampus don't lose to Seongnam in the other match in Group G.
Central Coast chairman Peter Turnbull has been forced to bat away fresh rumours that the club is in financial strife and their 5-0 loss to Seongnam was a bitter psychological blow for a side that, just a few weeks ago, was on top of Australian football. Clearly, the odds are stacked against them.
Fortunately, Tianjin are nearly going as bad as they are right now - at least in Asia. After four ACL games, they've only scored one goal - one less than Central Coast - and they too have their backs against the wall. It's make or break for both teams, but we can't see the Mariners recovering well enough for this one.