A-League Season Review: Central Coast Mariners

Central Coast Mariners in celebration. (Picture: @CCMariners/Twitter)

Finishing Position: 3rd (42 points, 12 wins, six draws, eight losses)

The highs

Is it cheating to say the whole season?

They may have ended their campaign on a disappointing note, but this was a club that finished bottom of the table in the last two seasons.

Central Coast might have long boasted the best looking stadium in the A-League, but gave fans very little to cheer about until recently.

Alen Stajcic was not the most obvious choice when he was appointed in 2019, but has turned the club from easy-beats into one of the most dynamic and entertaining squads in the competition.

The rejuvenation of Matt Simon has coincided with that of his club. The 35 year old has delivered one his career best seasons. 10 goals in 26 appearances is impressive but his link up play and experience have been vital.

Ruon Tongyik at his fifth A-League club was given game time and support. His consistency at centre back was enough to earn him a Socceroos call up.

The return to the club of Daniel De Sillva and Oliver Bozanic added creativity and drive in the midfield. Opposition coaches would have to plan around either one on their own, together they formed an unpredictable pair.

For the first time in years, the Yellow Army had reason to look forward to game day with optimism.

The lows

The defeat in the final against Macarthur has to be the low point in a season of highs.

Central Coast did not really hit any period of prolonged bad form but it might be disappointed that it struggled against Melbourne Victory. The bottom placed side managed to hold the Mariners to a pair of 1-1 draws in surprise results.

Although they were missing Bozanic and Tongyik for the final against Macarthur, this was a game they were in a position to win.

Despite being a man up after James Meredith was sent off in the 75th minute, the Mariners were unable to take advantage.

The competition newcomers scored twice in extra time to end Central Coast’s 2021 revival on a disappointing note.

They registered a solitary shot on target and the game will have to be considered an opportunity lost.

It was a lowest point in a high flying season.

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MVP

Forwards get all the glory, but Matt Simon was superb for Central Coast this season.

The tall striker and former yellow-card magnet has transformed himself into a mentor to the younger players around him and has hit career best form individually.

His 10 goals was his best return for a decade and just one shy of his most prolific season in 2011.

But it was his leadership that stood out. Simon undertook a course to study emotional intelligence in leadership with a deliberate eye on improving his ability as a mentor at the club.

On field, his hold up play and ability to menace defenses remained. As the most senior player at the club, Matt Simon got the best out of himself and others around him in 2020/21.

Breakout Player

It has to be Alou Kuol.

Other players had  more consistent seasons, but Kuol was an electrifying presence.

Blessed with pace and control, the free-wheeling striker also has a prodigious leap and powerful heading ability. Kuol poses multiple problems for defenders and Stajcic has allowed him to express his best instincts with spectacular results.

Seven goals does not tell the entire story. Kuol can produce moments of magic and revels on the big stage.

His form and potential was enough to warrant interest from Europe. Midway through the season he was signed to VfB Stuttgart on a three year deal and an Olyroos call remains a possibility.

Final word

Even in a competition with equalization measures, Central Coast’s run to the top three is remarkable.

One of the most important and unidentifiable things that a club needs to provide to its supporters is hope. In the last few years things were looking grim for the Mariners, but under the stewardship of Alen Stajcic they have attracted both local fans and neutral football lovers.

The Mariners were not always consistent in 2021. They conceded almost as many goals as they scored, but the improvement, when compared to previous years, is clear and should be celebrated.

For the last three years, the Mariners have looked like a sinking ship. In 2021, they rose from the deep.

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