Mariners have their work cut out to upset Victory

Melbourne Victory striker Besart Berisha will move to the top of the A-League's goalscoring list if he can find the back of the net against the Central Coast Mariners at AAMI Park tonight.
Melbourne Victory striker Besart Berisha will move to the top of the A-League's goalscoring list if he can find the back of the net against the Central Coast Mariners at AAMI Park tonight. JULIAN SMITH

CENTRAL Coast Mariners coach Paul Okon says he and his team have done their homework as they look to bring the high-flying Melbourne Victory back to earth at AAMI Park tonight.

The Victory has won four out of its past five A-League games, including last week's 2-1 derby success over Melbourne City, and drawn the other.

It can move up to second spot and close the gap to runaway leader Sydney FC to eight points with a win.

Okon knows it will be tough but said his team could capitalise as long as it gets its own game plan right.

"We've looked at their last few games,” he said.

"Melbourne Victory's been a top A-League team for a number of years. We're aware of their strengths.

"We feel their playing style suits us when we have the ball, so it's a question of whether or not we can execute that, and being mindful of the fact that they're a team that can transition very quickly with (Marco) Rojas, James Troisi and Besart Berisha, who are top-class players.”

As well as being unbeaten in its last five games, the Victory hasn't lost to the Mariners in Melbourne since 2009.

With just one clean sheet this season, on current form it would be a huge upset if Okon's men could come away with the three points.

Bersisha has scored five goals in his last five games and needs one more to take his tally to 91 and lead the A-League goalscoring charts ahead of Archie Thompson (90) and Shane Smeltz (89).

Victory coach Kevin Muscat is quite rightly confident of stretching the unbeaten run to six games tonight.

"Paul (Okon)'s done an exceptional job since he's taken over (at Central Coast),” Muscat said.

"They've adapted and changed a little bit to when he first got there.

"It's no disrespect, it's like every other game. We go in and expect to win.

"I maintain our performances have been good and some have been exceptional. The confidence is where it has been for 10 weeks.”

While scoring goals hasn't been a problem for the Victory, Central Coast has struggled to hit the back of the net, scoring just 11 to Victory's 22.

The number of goalscorers has also been a problem for the Mariners, with Roy O'Donovan scoring five times - almost half of his team's goals this season.

For the Victory, Mitch Austin has been named in an extended squad after returning from an ankle injury but Muscat said he might have to settle for a place on the bench tonight.

"Mitch (Austin) is back now, he's training fully,” Muscat said.

"He's missed just short of three weeks' training, so he's not anywhere near as sharp as he was before his injury.

"Unfortunately when these things happen, someone else gets an opportunity to play and therefore keep their place. That's what's happened.

"There's some good competition for places and that's where we want to be at this time of year.”

Topics:  a league besart berisha central coast mariners kevin muscat melbourne victory paul okon

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