The statistics available for this grand final barely give either side the edge, that’s just how close they are when it comes to their form.
The 2013 Hyundai A-League grand final pits first on the regular season ladder against second, and all the stats are pointing to a closely-fought battle on Sunday.
Head-to-head, both the Wanderers and the Mariners scored a win apiece throughout 2012/13, with the remaining match drawn.
The result of the first Wanderers-Mariners match, a nil-all stalemate in Gosford in round six, provided an early sign of how close the two teams would be this season. In the next two confrontations, the teams split wins: a 2-0 victory by Central Coast at Parramatta Stadium in round 15, and a 1-0 win to Western Sydney at the Mariners’ home ground in round 23.
Player experience is often the key to who takes out the big matches. But when we analyse the numbers for the available squads for this year’s grand final, it’s again hard to separate Western Sydney from the Central Coast.
In terms of Australian national league veterans, both available squads contain the same number of players with more than 100 Australian national league appearances (seven). Western Sydney’s experienced Australian contingent is Michael Beauchamp, Mark Bridge, Shannon Cole, Ante Covic, Tarek Elrich, Labinot Haliti and Nikolai Topor-Stanley; while the Mariners’ Pedj Bojic, John Hutchinson, Daniel McBreen, Michael McGlinchey, Adriano Pellegrino, Joshua Rose and Mile Sterjovski have also each played at least 100 national league games in Australia.
Of the remaining squad members, both teams can call upon two very experienced imports with over 200 national league appearances in overseas leagues: Dino Kresinger and Shinji Ono for the Wanderers, and Nick Montgomery and Patrick Zwaanswijk for the Mariners.
The ultimate indication of experience is age. However in each of their 28 matches so far this season, the starting line-ups for both the Wanderers and the Mariners have averaged the same age (28).
If head-to-head record or relative player experience can’t give us a guide to who will take out Sunday’s decider, perhaps it will come down to which squad has the familiarity and edge in previous grand finals.
And in terms of grand final experience, the stats show differing stories for the Wanderers and Mariners. The question is which story will guide us to picking the 2013 winners.
The Wanderers can only call on seven players with grand final experience, while the Mariners have eleven of their squad who have played grand finals before.
And of the Wanderers’ previous grand finalists, only four (Beauchamp, Bridge, Covic and Elrich) can lay claim to starting in a grand final before, while the Mariners have twice as many previous grand final starters (Bojic, Bozanic, Hutchinson, McGlinchey, Rose, Ryan, Sterjovski and Zwaanswijk).
However only one of those Mariners has played in a winning grand final, which simply tells us the Wanderers players know how to win one.
The small number of Western Sydney players with grand final experience have a combined tally of seven grand final wins to their names. But only one of the Mariners squad has been on a winning grand final team before – and he was a sub at the time.
The Wanderers have Mark Bridge, who has won (and scored in) previous grand finals with the Newcastle Jets (2008) and Sydney FC (2010). The west Sydney squad also includes Ante Covic and Tarek Elrich, who each played the full 90 minutes of Newcastle’s 2008 grand final victory (a 1-0 win over the Mariners), as well as Shannon Cole, Joey Gibbs and Rocky Visconte, who have all tasted grand final success before, albeit as substitutes.
And so while the Mariners have plenty more players who have been there on grand final day before, including nine from the club’s heart-breaking 2011 loss on penalties to Brisbane Roar, only one current Mariner can say he has been part of a winning grand final team before – Nick Fitzgerald, who came on as a sub for the Roar in the 2012 decider.
The edge at this stage is clearly with the Wanderers.