Friday, July 21, 2006
A-League Anticipation, Part 2
Central Coast Mariners
Perhaps the best news for the Gosford club is that Lawrie McKinna has been retained. The fans showed impressive generosity and understanding when McKinna was involved in talks with Sydney FC, but the truth is that the Mariners would have sorely missed him. He managed to steer the club into the top four of the competition despite a seemingly endless run of injuries, and deservedly took his charges to the final. They surely would have won it with an established finisher (such as Nick Mrdja?) on the park.
Poor Mrdja is still sidelined, and will probably not be able to take part until the season is already a few weeks old. But the Kwasnik-Petrie partnership has been impressively prolific during the warmup matches, and in the first pre-season game against Perth, they looked a menacing combination. Sadly, there isn't much in the way of backup, just yet; John Hutchison, such a surprising marksman last season, is also out until at least August. Tom Pondeljak, too, is stuggling with a groin strain.
As always in Gosford, the treatment table is constantly in demand.
The Mariners' major off-season losses have, of course, been in defence. Michael Beauchamp, the outstanding defender of the first A-League season, has joined 1.FC Nürnberg, along with the rampaging left-back Dean Heffernan. Vuko Tomasevic has arrived from Marconi as a direct replacement for "Heff"; he offers pace, tenacity and elegance on the ball, but his positioning might be cause for concern at times, if the opening pre-season fixture is anything to go by.
Against Perth last Saturday, McKinna's answer to the absence of Beauchamp was to move Alex Wilkinson into the centre of defence along with Andrew Clark, using young Brad Porter at right-back. A qualified success, one might say, since Porter set up the first Central Coast goal, but did look somewhat raw at times. Wayne O'Sullivan is perhaps too aggressive a player to be an ideal right-back in a back four; will McKinna be forced to use Porter as a regular starter?
Wilkinson may eventually move back to the right, but this would mean that one of the other centre-back slots would belong to either the injury-prone Paul O'Grady or young Nigel Boogaard. A potentially worrying situation.
The news is better in midfield, but there is a potential lack of depth out wide. Noel Spencer, Andre Gumprecht, new signing Jamie McMaster and Tom Pondeljak are all more comfortable in the middle, and although Matthew Osman is capable of operating out wide, he was used in a central role by McKinna against Perth. With O'Sullivan currently struggling with injury, the options on the wing are not wide (if you'll pardon the pun) at present.
You can't help but wish the Mariners the best. Their supporters are passionate, likeable and knowledgeable, their manager is affable and shrewd, and their players can never be faulted for effort. If McKinna has a little more luck with injuries than he did last term, a top four finish is surely likely.
Interesting that McKinna used Gumps wide on the right against Perth. Probably had more to do with a lack of players on the day than any ideas he might be tinkering with. He's no doubt better suited to his usual high- energy central role but the truth is he could play anywhere across the middle if needed, except for the left. And - with everyone fit - Pondeljak, McMaster, Spencer, Osmand and Hutch provide a fair degree of central options. We have a fair degree of concentrated talent in central midfield attacking roles.
One thing I like about this squad, and I'm sure it helped considerably in last year's success (in light of some ordinary injury woes) is the team's general versatility and cover all over the park.
Heff and Beauchamp's departure is set to test this I feel.
Gumprecht on the right would only be a temporary measure, surely; he was so effective in the centre last season. Couldn't find any information about how long O'Sullivan's likely to be out for...anyone know?
- Subby again