Talking points: How did Stajcic turn the Mariners’ fortunes around?
A week – as the saying goes – is a long time in football but even that period of time wasn’t truly considered enough for interim boss Alen Stajcic to fix the issues at Central Coast Mariners.
The former Westfield Matildas boss was installed as the Mariners head coach last Tuesday, less than 72 hours after the Gosford club was thrashed 8-2 by Wellington Phoenix that saw Mike Mulvey sacked.
Stajcic was given six games to try and salvage something from what’s been a horror campaign and lift the gloomy mood around the Central Coast outfit.
But a handful of training sessions - and one epic 100 minutes of action later - Stajcic masterminded one of the biggest wins in the club’s history.
Not many people outside of the four walls of the club gave the Mariners a hope in Saturday night’s F3 Derby against the Newcastle Jets but they came away with a morale-boosting 3-2 win in the Hunter.
Considering the side had conceded 13 goals in their last two games, Stajcic’s main focus heading into the Jets clash centered around defensive structure and tactical shape.
There’s no doubt the Mariners looked a far steelier outfit on Saturday night, while they also grew in belief as the match wore on, although understandingly, some mental fatigue did set in in the last 15 minutes.
But the fact they were able to hold on for the win under the weight of relentless Jets pressure – thanks to keeper Ben Kennedy’s heroics – is certainly a good sign for the future.
“I’ve been here for five minutes so just to see the spirit and the effort and the way the lads went about their work, you could see they were really fighting and scrapping for every moment,” Stajcic said.
“I’m really pleased for them, I know it’ll be a big relief for them mentally to overcome the dark places they probably felt they were in during the week.”
Jem of a celebration by Mariners skipper
One of Stajcic’s best decisions of his short tenure was to throw the skipper’s armband to former Reading and Bolton midfielder Jem Karacan.
Playing a deeper role in front of the back four, the 30-year-old bossed the game at McDonald Jones Stadium, shielding his defence brilliantly and controlling the tempo of the match.
He capped a man-of-the-match performance with a maiden goal as well before producing one of the most eye-catching celebrations seen in the Hyundai A-League in many years.
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Karacan dragged himself along the ground in a move he revealed to Goal Australia was called the ‘creeper’ and was first born on his wedding night.
"I don’t know why I just seemed to pull it out on the dance floor and ever since then I’ve said that I’d do it,” Karacan explained to Goal.
"Randomly, I think I may have fallen over and rather than just get back up on my feet I was just crawling around the floor and my friends decided to call it the creeper.
"I pulled it out the other day at training too and the boys were a bit shocked."
What’s happened to Sydney FC’s attack?
Sydney FC may not be on course for a historic third straight Premiership this season but one thing you could always bank on with the Sky Blues was their ability to find the back of the net.
In fact, prior to Sunday’s tame 2-0 loss to Melbourne City, Sydney FC hadn’t failed to score in the Hyundai A-League in their previous 33 matches.
While you can excuse Steve Corica’s men an off day in front of goal, if you include their first two matches in the AFC Champions League the Sky Blues have now gone 270 minutes without troubling the scorers.
Of most concern for Corica and his coaching staff is they failed to get a single shot on target against a well-drilled City at Leichhardt Oval.
In a team with attacking stars like Adam Le Fondre, Milos Ninkovic, Reza Ghoochannejhad and skipper Alex Brosque – as well as marauding fullbacks Rhyan Grant and Michael Zullo – they simply should be doing better.
The arrival of Iranian star Ghoochannejhad was supposed to add another string to the Sky Blues attacking arsenal but it hasn’t quite clicked yet.
That’s not to say the club’s newest recruit is to blame but there isn’t the same creative flair, speed of passing and movement that we’ve come to expect of Sydney over the last few seasons.
While they should still be right in the hunt come the business end of the 2018/19 campaign, it’s hard to see the Sky Blues lifting the Championship trophy unless they find their groove in front of goal quickly.
Are the Reds in freefall?
Just a few weeks ago it was Adelaide United who appeared the team in the box seat to snare a crucial top-four berth.
But Marco Kurz's men are in a rut, without a win in their last five matches, dating back to their incredible 4-3 triumph over Brisbane Roar back at the start of February.
They've also failed to score in their last three matches and have now dropped to sixth spot, five points ahead of the seventh-placed Jets with five games to go.
The Reds have gone from seemingly assured of a Finals Series berth to now looking over their shoulder and needing to turn things around or risk watching the playoffs from their lounge rooms.
With speculation surrounding the future of Kurz also swirling around, are the FFA Cup champions at risk of imploding at the wrong time of the year?
Their next match after the international break is a trip to Gosford to play Central Coast Mariners will tell us a lot more about their prospects.