A fresh Mariners outfit deserve to go into this encounter as favourites and rightly so, particularly after belting Victory 6-2 in their previous meeting.
Date: Sunday, April 14 2013 Kick-off: 5pm AEST Venue: Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford
Head-to-head: Played: 24, Wins: Mariners 8, Victory 9, Draws: 7
Form: Past five matches: Mariners: LWWWW Victory: WWLDD
The Game: Central Coast will play their fourth match in 16 days when Melbourne Victory visit Gosford for a do-or-die semi-final on Sunday. The Mariners' busy run of fixtures continues in arguably their biggest game of the season, but they should be at full strength and fresh after taking a young side to China for their 2-1 loss to Guizhou Renhe in the AFC Champions League.
Patrick Zwaanswijk, Pedj Bojic, Josh Rose, Michael McGlinchey, Nick Montgomery and Daniel McBreen were all left in Australia with an eye on the semi-final.
The Mariners and Victory have played out three entertaining encounters this season, two ending in draws and the most recent won 6-2 by Central Coast at Bluetongue Stadium. With many of their key players having enjoyed a rest, the Mariners are likely to be fresher than Victory, who needed extra-time to overcome Perth 2-1 in their elimination final.
Expect Victory coach Ange Postecoglou to stick with largely the same side, but Marcos Flores is likely to start with Leigh Broxham potentially moving to right-back. Victory have kept just one clean sheet in their past 11 matches and Nick Ansell would be a welcome addition, but Postecoglou said last week the defender would only be a chance if his side made the grand final.
The big issue: Mariners - It may only affect what is likely to be four of their starting side, but a 24-hour long trip from China after leaving early on Wednesday will have an impact. Mat Ryan, Trent Sainsbury, John Hutchinson and Bernie Ibini all played a part against Guizhou and just how they respond to the difficulties of travelling will be interesting. Graham Arnold will try his best to ensure they are ready and has the depth to cover if he needs it.
Victory - Keeping clean sheets has become a regular problem for Victory due to constant changes in defence. Postecoglou seemed unfazed by his side's leaky defence heading into the finals and as long as Victory's attack is clicking, they avoid problems. But taking on a compact Mariners defence is tougher than getting past Perth's and if they concede, it will be much tougher getting back into the game against Central Coast.
The game breaker: Michael McGlinchey - The New Zealand midfielder has arguably been the best player in the A-League this season. Often underrated, McGlinchey has stepped up even further after the departure of Tom Rogic to Celtic. He scored a hat-trick when the teams last met and adding goalscoring to his creativity makes him a danger man, one who could be decisive if he produces his best against Victory.
Prediction: Mariners 3-2 Victory A fresh Mariners outfit deserve to go into this encounter as favourites and rightly so, particularly after belting Victory 6-2 in their previous meeting. If Postecoglou's side were dependable in defence, they would have gone close to winning the premiers' plate this season.
They have the attack to trouble Central Coast with Marco Rojas, Archie Thompson, Flores and Connor Pain, and if they can hit their top form, anything can happen in a semi-final. But with the Mariners having taken their opportunity to rest key players and Victory pushed to extra-time by Glory, Arnold's men should be too good and book their place in the grand final.