Central Coast Mariners may be preparing to face one of the biggest clubs in Asia but there is a sense of relief throughout the team given the respite the challenge has provided from their A-League woes.
After four straight defeats in domestic football, including a 4-1 thumping at home to Wellington Phoenix, the Mariners have welcomed the chance to divert their focus to the continental competition, even if it’s by playing last year’s Asian Champions League runners-up. Central Coast will play FC Seoul in the South Korean capital on Tuesday night in near-freezing conditions but Mariners coach Phil Moss is eagerly anticipating an environment that is a stark contrast to the difficult one his squad left behind.
”It’s a breath of fresh air,” Moss said. ”It’s come at a good time because we get away from the fishbowl that’s the A-League. We can focus on something completely new, and being able to analyse a team that you don’t come up against three times a year has been nice and refreshing for the staff as well. I just feel that this game tomorrow night, despite what the result will be, I think this week is going to be a very good thing for all of us.”’
The A-League champions boasted the tightest defence in all domestic games last season but their back line has crumbled in recent weeks, conceding 11 goals, seven of them at home. Given their unenviable recent record, it’s little surprise Moss has spent the past week addressing individual errors that have proved costly against A-League opponents.
”It’s about going back to basics and making sure we do all the little things that make us a very good side,” Moss said. ”They’re the main things we’ve been working on but the players are in a fantastic place. Everyone’s making a big deal of these results but internally we know we’re heading in the right direction.”
Moss will make several changes to the starting 11 that will play Seoul as left back Josh Rose returns from suspension, while Nick Fitzgerald will start on the wing. Striker Matt Simon will lead the attack after serving a one-match ban and he is said to be eager to perform in the country his career stalled in.
”One player with huge motivation for tomorrow night is Matty Simon. He came here to Korea but was injured and only played a handful of games, and I know he’s determined to show the Korean public what they missed out on seeing last year,” Moss said.
Meanwhile, the Mariners’ newest recruit, Kim Seung-yong, was the star attraction for the local media at the pre-match news conference. The attacking midfielder also received reserved praise from FC Seoul coach Choi Yong-soo, who privately told Moss that he was shocked the Mariners were able to lure him to Australia.
”Their coach had a chat to me about him and said what a wonderful player and professional he is. He actually said ‘I don’t know how you got him away from Korea, but he’s a good signing.”’ Moss said.
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