Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mariners keen to revive the verve for Version 1

MANAGED to make the short trip to ‘The Gabbie’ - otherwise known as Fairfax Community Stadium, the home of the Blacktown City Demons - on Saturday evening to see how the Central Coast Mariners are fairing ahead the pre-season cup which kicks-off this weekend with a home clash against the ‘new’ Wellington Phoenix.

Not too bad a cappuccino out there, especially on such a nippy night, and I’m pleased to report the football was just as good.

Watching it with The Football Tragic and a couple of his mates from the Coast, it was a decent tune-up for the Mariners against the NSW Premier League minor premiers, who were themselves using the game to maintain the momentum ahead of this weeks finals series, which sees them pitted against Bankstown City in the major semi at Jensen Park on Sunday.

No doubt manager Aytec Genc had last season’s 4-0 drubbing in the grand final in the back of his mind when he agreed to this game. No week off for his boys this time around.

It turned out to be a valuable exercise for both clubs, the Mariners holding on for win 2-1 after taking a two goal lead into the break.

To lend a well-worn-out cliché, it truly was a game of two halves, with the Mariners dominating and controlling the opening period before Genc’s Blacktown came back into it in a big way in the second.

Missing Nick Mrdja, Greg Owens, Adam Kwasnik and Tony Vidmar, and with Paul O’Grady on the bench, Lawrie McKinna would have been best pleased with a first half display that featured incisive performances from midfield stars Tom Pondeljak and Andre Gumprecht.

Pondeljak, in particular, was buzzing, driving diagonally from right side of midfield, getting on the end of a Sasho Petrovski flick-on for the first, before being involved in the build-up to John Hutinchson’s second.

The performance of Pondeljak, one of Australian football’s best attacking midfielders of the past decade, was a reminder of just how much the Mariners were affected by his injury-interrupted campaign last season. Ditto with Gumprecht, who was full of energy early, despite the odd heavy touch.

If the Mariners hope to get back to the eye-catching brand of pass-and-move football that so defined their first season, then the health and happiness of these two veterans will be paramount.

Here, Gumprecht played centrally, ahead of the outstanding ball-winner Mile Jedinak, freshly signed to a full contract. Pondeljak was on the outside, but always willing to drift infield, supposedly to open the space for Matt Osman to press-on from right back, but Osman went down early and was replaced by Brad Porter.

Another reason for Coastie fans to get excited was the return from Germany of first season star left back Dean Heffernan. On the evidence of this display, fans of the Mariners and the Socceroos should be pleased to see him back. His combination with Damien Brown (tucked infield on the left of a midfield diamond to allow The Heff to forage forward) was good.

Timing is everything and had the Asian Cup come a year earlier and the circumstances been the same, there is every likelihood that Heffernan would have been a part of things given our problems on the left side of defence.

While the trademark marauding runs were limited, it was clear that his touch and awareness have improved after a year of professional German tutelage. Game-time he might not have received, but an education in the football ways he no doubt did. Expect to see a better, if slightly less spectacular, footballer.

The other impresser at the back was 20 year old Nigel Boogaard, who has been on the Mariners books for the past two seasons but seen only one minute of action 17 months ago. He started centrally alongside Alex Wilkinson and looked comfortable and composed, perhaps one to keep an eye out for.

Later, in the second period, when Blacktown was pressing, O’Grady came on, forcing Boogaard to right back and Porter into right midfield. Truth be told, the Mariners looked better with Boogaard and Wilkinson in tandem. With O’Grady and Wilkinson together they were often caught out by the long ball, a characteristic of their partnership last season.

Up front there was an opportunity to see one of the Sydney recruits, Petrovksi (didn’t spot Peter Turnbull anywhere), and he was presentable without being brilliant. Perhaps his most topical (some might say typical) contribution was a second half, late, over-the-ball challenge on Blacktown left back Brendan Renaud, which didn’t best please the man who doubles up as Sydney FC's Community Football Officer.

Having watched him at least 100 times in the NSL, it’s fair to say I’ve never seen Renaud, the most gentle of men, so fired up. Perhaps there were some unresolved issues from their time together at FC, but the verbals and finger-pointing were still going-on as Renaud departed the pitch.

Petrovski has always been the type to divide opinion, and Mariners fans will be hoping their impression of him is mainly positive and that he can forge a lethal partnership with Mrdja, if the latter can stay on the pitch. It’s a mouth-watering prospect on paper.

As for the Demons, after barely being able to get out of their own half in the first period, they showed typical character to get themselves back in the contest after the break, even with influential talisman Tolgay Ozbey resting in the grandstand. Once again, it was an even contribution from all involved.

Interesting times lie ahead for both teams, Blacktown hoping to exorcise the Demons of last season’s final day, the Mariners keen to revive the verve of Version 1.

Stay tuned.


Blogger john said...

I agree that the Mariners are likely to be top 4 this year - particularly as they now have solid backing.

Viability of some clubs will come to the fore this season particularly those that have failed to achieve a top 4 finish.

Thu. Jul. 12, 10:42:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous wayne said...

Thanks for the lowdown Tony, it sounded like a good match up between the two. I think the left side pairing of Heff and Brown is particularly strong, and Im glad to hear Tommy P and Monsieur Gumprecht are back in it. That said, for this Saturday there are a list of injured players again, as though they chose to start playing on the road again a week before the PSC...tactical perhaps, most teams seem to have four or five out for the first game back. For once, Mariners seem to have a bench, what a luxury in the A-league! Your writing is as always a pleasure to read. See ya up here some time this year.

Thu. Jul. 12, 11:29:00 pm AEST  

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