Mariners presented with chance they’d ‘have snapped somebody’s hand off’ for in pre-season: Best of the Press is the place to be for the best of the pre-weekend media activity ahead of a blockbuster Round 22 in the Isuzu UTE A-League.

ROUND 22 PREVIEW: Wanderers out for revenge while deadly duo come face-to-face
INS & OUTS: City regain star duo as Western receive big injury boost

‘Proud’ moment for Mariners as fan favourite returns from international duty

Central Coast boss Mark Jackson says it was a proud moment for everyone connected with the club after Josh Nisbet made his Socceroos debut in midweek.

After initially missing out on a place in the squad, injury to defender Lewis Miller saw Nisbet called up by Socceroos boss Graham Arnold, who then subsequently handed the Mariners midfielder his debut in midweek as came on in the 67th minute of the 5-0 win over Lebanon in Canberra.

“Yeah I was proud, really proud,” said Jackson about Nisbet making his national team debut. “I think all the staff said the same. We were watching the game hoping he would come on.

“It’s an achievement for him to get that recognition, to get the call up, but for him to get some game time as well in such an important game as a qualifier, we’re really, really pleased for him.

“But like I’ve just told him now in the office, it’s back to business now and back to his real work!”

An ever-present in the Mariners side this season having started all 21 of their matches, Nisbet will again be crucial to their hopes of getting a good result over Sydney FC this weekend, where a win will send them back to the top of the Isuzu UTE A-League ladder.

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Furthermore, Saturday’s clash with the Sky Blues marks the start of an intense run home for the Mariners which sees them play games against Sydney (A), Melbourne City (H) and then a top of the table clash at home with Wellington Phoenix all within the space of a week.

“It’s a big, big stage of the season,” said Jackson when discussing the club’s fixture congestion which, coupled with their AFC Inter-Zonal final, means they have eight matches to play before the end of the season.

“Looking back at the start of the season, if we thought we could be in this position now we’d have snapped somebody’s hand off for that!

He continued: “We’ve got to be proud of what we’ve achieved so far but we have to be ready to go and take it to the next level.

“That’s a challenge for us as a group of staff and players is to go and finish that job, finish as high as we can and be as successful as we can this season.”

City welcome back Socceroos ace ahead of crucial run of games

They may not have a fully fit head coach for this weekend but Melbourne City will have Socceroos forward Mathew Leckie fit and available for their clash against Newcastle Jets.

With head coach Aurelio Vidmar feeling under the weather and listed as a doubt for the game at AAMI Park, assistant Raffaele Napoli took on media duties in his boss’ absence and revealed some good news about a couple of returning players.

“Leckie and Curtis (Good) are both available and back from illness,” said Napoli. “The other one is Tils (Marco Tilio) – he’s still out but we’re looking at having him available, hopefully for the Victory game.

He added: “Scotty Galloway has had a little bit of a set-back and he’ll probably miss a couple more weeks with a knee (injury) now. So unfortunate for Scotty, he can’t get a clean run of it but really positive with Lecks and Goody available and Tilio is progressing really, really well.”

Despite playing a crucial role in the side which won last season’s Premier’s Plate and reached the Grand Final, Leckie has struggled for fitness and subsequently form this season, featuring in just six league matches and for that reason alone, Napoli says it’s important not to overload a key member of the squad.

“We won’t be able to get greedy with him, even though we’d love to!

“Looking at our next three games and trying to manage his load appropriately, his game time and get some continuity into him because we know how important he is for the group.”

City currently find themselves sat seventh on the ladder and two points behind the Wanderers in sixth position with six matches left to play.

However, a win over the jets this weekend coupled with a Wanderers loss would see them sit inside the top six come the end of the round, thus boosting their chances of playing finals football.

“We’re confident enough that if we bring our best it’s good enough to beat most opposition but the challenge for us has been consistency.

“For us it’s continuing to find that and replicate our best. The last two weeks have been pleasing but even before that our form had been trending upwards for a while but as a staff we don’t really look at that or discuss that, it’s unnecessary.

“We focus on the process and our preparation and mostly, nine times out of ten your results look after themselves if you get that right.”

Lolley out to end goal drought as Sky Blues face ‘season-defining’ week

Sydney FC star Joe Lolley believes his side has the chance to lay down a marker for the rest of the season, starting with this Saturday’s clash at Allianz Stadium.

In the what is the first of three games in eight days, Lolley and Co face high-flying Central Coast Mariners at home this weekend before back-to-back away games against Perth Glory and Newcastle Jets.

“It reminds me a little bit of England to be honest,” said the former Premier League midfielder. “Especially being in the EFL Championship where you can be somewhere (on the ladder) and then suddenly within a week it’s sort of transformed.

“Obviously if we have a great week then the table will start to look very interesting and a lot more positive for where we want to be.

He continued: “I think all players, we relish more games , we just want to get out there and play. I think this will be a pretty enjoyable for us and hopefully in about ten days times we’ll all have a smile on our face!”

With eight goals and six assists to his name so far this season the Englishman has proven to be a key part of the team Ufuk Talay is constructing in the Harbour City.

However, speaking before Lolley’s media conference, head coach Talay admitted he ‘wanted more goals from Joe’ – and that’s a statement the man himself agrees with, despite playing a slightly different role for the team of late.

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“Yeah it’s been a little bit frustrating in that regard the last few weeks,” said Lolley, who has now gone eight games without a goal.

“Obviously the team have, in general, been winning and I feel like I’ve been contributing so (I’m) never too down but yeah, it’d be nice to get a few more goals and assists before the end of the season.

He added: “But hopefully along with that comes wins and anything I can do to help the team win is the main thing.”

Lolley and his Sky Blues teammates will be out to do the double over the reigning Isuzu UTE A-League champions on Saturday having beaten them 3-1 in Gosford back in early February, a result which brought an end to the Mariners’ 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

Wanderers out to regain ‘competitive edge’ ahead of Derby clash

Western Sydney head coach Marko Rudan admits something needed to change at the club, believing his side had lost their competitive edge.

The Wanderers brought an end to three successive losses with a crucial away win against Perth before the international break and Rudan says he and his team have used the last two 10 days to reignite the fire in their bellies.

“It’s something that I had a look at over the last couple of months,” revealed Rudan when asked what they’ve been working on during the break. “I’ve changed up a bit of the programme. We need to get that competitiveness back that wasn’t there.

“The duels, our pressing moments and just the overall competitive nature of the sport which is important. That’s what we’ve been working on.”

Rudan’s team face an Easter Monday trip to local rivals Macarthur FC and will be out for revenge given they suffered a heart-breaking 4-3 loss back in February thanks to a controversial late winner from Bulls forward Valere Germain.

“They’re a good side, third on the table, so they’ve had a strong season,” said Rudan when discussing Macarthur. “They’re a strong outfit, a lot of experience in that team so we know the dangers they propose but we’re going in there with the mentality to go all out.

“We’ve got nothing to lose, there’s no pressure on us in that game. So we’re going to go out there with freedom, with no fear and give it our best shot.”