Have a read of The Hyundai A-League table this morning. The Central Coast Mariners have a share of top spot if not for goal difference.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
And this weekend the Mariners get the chance to make top spot all their own when they head to Suncorp Stadium to take on the Brisbane Roar, who has stumbled, losing their last two matches.
Game of the season anyone?
In the brief history of the Hyundai A-League fine teams have come and gone. Brief displays of majestic football have soon been mired in mediocrity. Empires promised have barely laid their foundations before being overrun.
And then there is the Central Coast Mariners.
The team from Gosford have, for the most part, provided a level of consistent performance over the seven seasons of the Hyundai A-League yet the ultimate success has eluded them on grand final day. Three times the Mariners have been to the big dance only to be cruelly and dramatically denied.
Last season’s epic Grand Final encounter should have been enough to break the spirit of a club on the verge of finally achieving the ultimate. Yet they’ve dusted themselves down and set out again in search of that elusive title.
Unbeaten in seven games coming into the F3 Derby against their local rivals Newcastle Jets, Graham Arnold’s team had been methodically picking up points, compiling results and keeping Brisbane Roar in their sights at the top of the table.
Then came the 4-nil demolition of Adelaide United at Hindmarsh Stadium a week back and the Mariners indicated they were ready to move into another gear altogether.
The 2-nil win over the Jets continued that rich vein of form, built on the foundations of a few in form veterans and a couple of young tyros who have fans all across the league talking.
The goals came from Rostyn Griffiths and Matt Simon on Saturday. Striker Simon is a great story - a local bloke who only got his shot with the Mariners back in 2006 as a replacement for an injured Nik Mrdja, he’s since played his 110th A-League game for the Mariners on Saturday, and scored his sixth F3 derby goal to help ground the Jets.
Simon finds himself in an attacking formation alongside two players who have set the league alight in recent weeks, Mustafa Amini and Bernie Ibini.
Amini was once again the architect of this Mariners win, the creative fulcrum in behind the front pairing of Ibini and Simon. Where others are struggling to carry the burden of potential and deliver results on the pitch, the kid who used to sport the kinky afro seems to be having no such trouble.
“( Amini) has come on in leaps and bounds. We've added pace to him and the small things we can work on. But he was fantastic, as was Bernie Ibini.
"The kids add enthusiasm - and it is a pleasure to coach them”, Mariners boss Graham Arnold told the press conference after the win against the Jets.
And the coach deserves some credit as well. Arnold has taken a few on the chin over the years. His time in charge of the national team after the Guus Hiddink era was troubled and the boo-boys made Arnie public enemy No.1.
Unperturbed, he went about re-building his credentials as a coach and went within a heartbeat of claiming the title for the Mariners last season.
This week he heads back to the scene of the heartbreak to take on the Roar again. Having won in Sydney and Adelaide in recent times, road trips hold no fear for Arnie’s men.
And defying expectations is a Mariners trademark. It’s one not to be missed.