Analysis: Mariners 1-0 Gold Coast – Substitutions key

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A goal to Adam Kwasnik 15 minutes from time secured the Mariners place in the 2010/11 A-League Grand Final and the 2012 AFC Champions League.

The home side were unsurprising in their approach, a 4-4-2 diamond with the only change being Trent Sainsbury’s inclusion over an unavailable Pedj Bojic. It was a formation that has delivered many a result – especially at home – and Graham Arnold didn’t feel the need to mix things up.

Perhaps a more shocking factor in the way the two sides lined up was Miron Bleiberg opting to name an unchanged team. United lined up in a 4-4-2 of sorts, though Bas van den Brink dropped deep and Zenon Caravella potentially moved around the right-hand side at will and potentially played an attacking midfielder role at times.

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Stubborn managers result in a walking-speed start

The first half was an affair of slow-paced football and two stubborn managers unwilling to shake things up early in the encounter. Both sides, like they have all season, kept their structured and disciplined approach and waited for the other team to come at them. It was an affair of two counter-attacking teams almost staring at each other with the ball sitting in the middle of the pitch, both waiting for the other to make a move. But of course, with the game evenly balanced and still a lot of football to be played, neither was too fussed. And this is perhaps where Arnold went wrong early.

With both the Mariners and United essentially just tapping the ball around at the back the match fell into a very slow pace. This allowed both teams to easily man-mark and press the opposition. Gold Coast were particularly insistent in this area and pressed really well. But this is the area I feel Arnold missed a trick.

Gold Coast were really only attacking with their forward pair of Shane Smeltz and Bruce Djite. The Mariners didn’t change from their rigid shape to push forward and were easily marked as Gold Coast sat deep. Because of the tight man-marking Central Coast attackers usually had no space and also limited options to pass.

Neither sides changed from their rigid and usual style of football which meant they were equally easily marked. This also meant they were both forced to pass the ball around at the back and the match was thus played at near walking speed for a lot of the time late in the first half

Second half subsititions

The substitutions ended up being key in the second half.

For the Mariners the inclusion of Mustafa Amini gave them new life. Patrico Perez was forced off through a groin injury after plowing through a hard shift, but Amini was able to come on at a time when the Mariners felt more inclined to pour men forward. He had Rose and Bozanic constantly running off him while he dictated the play and left defenders in two minds at all times.

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This forced them to sit deeper and be weary of the runs in behind as Amini was deadly in his through balls.

In the end this played a large role in the goal. The deeper United sat the more space they left. The more Amini pushed on, the deeper he forced United. When Michael McGlinchey took the original shot that deflected for Kwasnik to score he had enjoyed running across goal in this space. The other reason for the space left there that he exploited was a Gold Coast United substitution.

Credit to Bleiberg; he tried to be positive. The inclusion of Joel Porter for Van den Brink when the scores were locked at 0-0 indicated United intentions. But it was possible Bleigberg underestimated the importance Van den Brink had on his midfield. The removal of Peter Perchtold perhaps would of been more sensible. When Van den Brink left the field the away side struggled to hold the Mariners. It was another reason Amini was given so much space. None of the United midfield were willing to drop deeper and play the role Van den Brink had successfully played all night and thus allowed McGlinchey the space to shoot in the lead up to the goal.

Conclusion

The Mariners, while not great, may have just had the perfect preparation for their Grand Final match against Brisbane. Gold Coast and the Roar take on very different approaches but United were perhaps the perfect preparation.

Tight marking and a rigid system is how the Mariners have troubled Brisbane in the past to achieve draws. They will look to do that once more next week.

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