Season Preview: Will the Mariners finally ruffle a few feathers?
With the new A-League season right around the corner, Front Page Football will be breaking down each club's chances and what we can expect from them in 2020-21.
Next up is the Central Coast Mariners.
How did they fare last season?
To keep it brief, not very well.
Believe it or not, Alen Stajcic's side started relatively well and sat in the finals spots after seven rounds.
However, a dismal second half of the season condemned them to a third straight wooden spoon.
A run of eleven straight defeats either side of the lockdown period underlined another woeful campaign.
Once again Mariners fans had to endure embarrassing performance after embarrassing performance.
At the end of each season, they are flabbergasted about what exactly needs to change.
The last time they saw finals football in Gosford was back in 2014.
What is expected of them this season?
It is easier said than done, but essentially Stajcic has to instil belief into the players, fans and everyone else involved with the football club.
Whether that is by surprising everyone and making the six, or even missing out by a few points and finishing 8th or 9th, it does not matter.
That expectation will be even harder to meet with an uninspiring group of players, the Mariners yet to bring in any experienced players of note.
They have held on to Mark Birighitti and brought back fan favourite Oliver Bozanic, but there are still gaping holes.
They also rely heavily on their youth system, and while that is great for development, there has to be a balance with results, something they have not got right in recent years.
Four visa spots are still available.
They should be filling those spots with quality foreigners, prepared to put in the significant effort required, not coming down under for a holiday.
It is not necessarily about getting results; it is mainly about instilling genuine belief again.
Players to watch?
All eyes will be on Daniel De Silva to see if he can finally become the main man for Stajcic.
A disappointing stint at Sydney FC last season underlined how the 23-year-old has still not reached the heights expected of him when he first left Australian shores.
The Mariners will undoubtedly be more competitive if he can tap into his much-discussed potential, and put a string of good performances together.
Expect Birighitti to have another good season in goal.
The 29-year-old's performances prevented the situation from being much worse in 2019-20 for the men from Gosford.
It will also be interesting to see if Bozanic can slot straight back into the side, beginning his third stint at the club.
Any youngsters coming through?
Along with Adelaide United, the Mariners are well-known for trusting youth and expect one or two new faces to break out in 2020-21.
Dylan Ruiz-Diaz was linked with a move away from the club, but he should feature in the attacking areas more regularly this season if he stays.
The 19-year-old only played a handful of games last season.
Still, he showed off his finishing ability with a stunning brace against the Melbourne Victory back in August.
Alou Kuol - who became famous for his unfiltered post-match interview in March - could also add some attacking flair.
The Sudanese-born forward was prolific at NPL level with the Goulburn Valley Suns.
Along with Ruiz-Diaz, the Mariners have a very promising and young attacking duo emerging.
And how's the manager?
No one can dispute if Alen Stajcic is the right man to get the club out of their finals rut.
Stajcic successfully established the Matildas as a dominant force on the international stage during his five-year tenure.
He was also able to bring an air of pragmatism to a young and naive Mariners side at the start of last season, but unfortunately, that faded.
It remains to be seen whether he will favour a similar approach this time around, but one thing he will need is his players' support.
The more experienced heads must be on board and help guide the larger group of youngsters.
Whatever Stajcic does, he needs to develop a team the fans can get behind and be ruthless when required, because this club has been underperforming for far too long now.