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May 14, 2022   |  4:21PM AET

Merrick’s tactical view: Central Coast firepower could be decisive

Merrick’s tactical view: Central Coast firepower could be decisive

‘Atmosphere will be electric but the Mariners have goalscorers…’ Title-winning coach Ernie Merrick’s guide to the elimination final

It takes a brave coach to put his trust in youngsters, knowing that they can be inconsistent and make mistakes born of naivety. But Carl Veart and Nick Montgomery have done exactly that and been rewarded with some sensational form going into the finals.

Home advantage will mean a lot to Adelaide United. Coopers Stadium is a proper football venue, with a parochial home support. An early goal for the home side would lift the roof off, if there actually was one, and I think Carl Veart will be aware of the need to get on the front foot.

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To that end, it will be fascinating to see what midfield structure Carl adopts in either of his favoured 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 set-ups. For most of the season he has played two highly experienced players in at the base of midfield in Isiais and Juande; both have started the majority of games.

But between them they’ve been taken off nine times, usually a sign of chasing a game, and Adelaide have rescued more points at the death than any other team this year.

So does Veart play safe so as not to lose the game early on, or deploy his exciting, pacy and direct youngsters from the off? I suspect it will be the former simply because of the occasion; aim to control the game, to supply gamechangers like Craig Goodwin, and then gradually introduce the blistering pace he has on the bench.

Adelaide United strengths

  • strong momentum leading into finals – won last five
  • range of goal scorers
  • concede few goals – third best in league
  • home advantage – good win ratio at Hindmarsh
Craig Goodwin has been outstanding for Adelaide United all season.

We shouldn’t forget that coaches can also suffer from a lack of experience on nights like these, and Nick Montgomery is in uncharted territory as a senior head coach. He has done remarkably well in his first season in charge of Central Coast, building on the rebuilding started by Alen Stajcic last year.

To his credit, Monty has evolved his team within a campaign. For much of the first half of it, Oliver Bozanic was the rock his team played around; but after the 0-0 draw with Perth, we’ve seen more of Max Balard paired with Josh Nisbet, still in the 4-4-2 system Monty prefers. The result? In the first 15 games of the season the Mariners scored 20 goals and conceded 22; in the subsequent 11 games, they’ve scored 29 goals and conceded only 13.

The signing of Jason Cummings has also been crucial to that; through his goals, of course, his energy, his movement, and the fact he becomes the focus of attention for the opposition defences. From that, players like Beni N’Kololo get more room to play in.

But the biggest influence on the team for me has been Mark Birighitti in goal, an actual match winner in gloves. The confidence he gives off permeates the young players in front of him.

The Mariners will play out from the back, but also be prepared to go long on occasion to seek the pace of N’Kololo or the movement of Cummings and Marco Urena, and it’s those guys who I see as key to the result.

Adelaide play well at home but I think the difference will be the quality of the strikers and the Mariners have that edge; their experience is in an area of the pitch where they can do most damage.

Central Coast strengths

  • good mix of young and quality experienced players
  • very attacking team with great scoring ability
  • good momentum going into finals
  • consistent goal-scorers

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