IT’S a tale of two cities…but for both of them, it is the worst of times – with no best of times on the horizon.
The only thing to smile about this season for Central Coast Mariners is that, so far, Adelaide United are doing even worse on the A-League ladder – and if you’ve seen the Mariners play recently, that’s hard to believe.
The Mariners are still spending only the absolute minimum on salary and fielding a team that would struggle in the youth league. Supplemented by only a thin spine of seniors, quality and experience are lacking and it shows.
Yesterday’s narrow defeat against Sydney flattered them, despite the scoreline (and the winner being offside).
With a few exceptions, their 90 minutes were spent passing to the opposition, being out of position and lacking any ideas.
Even the implementation of a basic long ball over the top of midfield was flawed when team-mates failed to follow up and compete for the second ball.
Partnerships were non-existent, technical ability was dismal and there was no attacking vision or defensive steel. I’m not sure there actually was a Mariners midfield.
Coach Paul Okon spent the first hour sat impassively on the bench while rival Graham Arnold stalked the touchline, barking out orders to his players and berating officials.
When his side finally scored, Okon literally did not react. Nothing. Nada. It was like he knew there was no point getting excited as it would just turn out to be a false dawn. (It was.)
In the 63rd minute, a dodgy tackle got him out of his seat and angry – but when the Mariners won their penalty, he turned his back on the action and spared himself the sight of Fabio Ferreira skying it towards Perth.
For the last 15 minutes – as Sydney made a contest of it by threatening to implode spectacularly – Okon was as passionate as anyone… but ultimately without reward.
The Mariners have been a great wee club with the perfect stadium and the FFA’s ideal of a largely family-orientated fanbase, but they have always been run on the whiff of an oily rag. Lawrie McKinna used to call them his Rag-Arse Rovers…but they still found quality and success.
It can be done on a budget. Lawrie got a Premiership and Arnie the Championship without big name marquees and little more than the salary minimum.
It must be tough to be Okon right now. Owner Mike Charlesworth clearly has one business model in place at the moment – and it’s not based on success on the pitch.
It would seem clear that he purely wants Okon – former national youth coach with an overview of all the best young talent in Australia – to bring in potential stars, showcase them in the A-League and then sell them on as soon as possible.
The problem with that though is being on a losing side almost every week is no way to develop youth or showcase their talents…
Meanwhile Adelaide United, the Mariners’ biggest rivals for the wooden spoon, revealed this weekend that they had spent their entire salary cap… yet were still bottom of the league.
In a statement issued after their latest loss, in a cute retro resurrection of Aurelio Vidmar’s classic Pissant Town outburst, the club’s management somehow found a way to blame fans for being upset about this.
To be honest though, it was worse than the fans feared - they at least thought the club had been losing on the cheap instead of squandering all their cash on defeat after defeat.
Despite the position on the ladder, there is still more hope for Reds fans than those who sing for yellow.
Adelaide have considerably more talent and experience in their squad (probably even just on their bench?) than the Mariners, and a coach who took them on an unbeaten 19-match run to the Premiership and Championship last season.
While luck may have played some part in that winning run last season, bad luck is also playing its part in their current plight.
There are gaps in the squad and recruitment hasn't matched the quality of players they have lost since last season…but the nub of a good team still remains.
For all Adelaide’s shortcomings, they are a long way off having the worst squad in the competition and better luck in front of goal could have seen them at least in the top six instead of propping up the ladder.
If they can reshuffle their squad with new blood and some exits this month, perhaps they can find a way back to being competitive.
It’s hard to see any similar solution for the Mariners though until next year’s cull as contracts end and new faces arrive.
Meanwhile though Wellington Phoenix can breathe a sigh of relief that Adelaide and Mariners exist…