Last season was a momentous one for the Central Coast Mariners as they struck well over their weight to finish third in the men’s A-League competition.
The club have struggled for almost a decade now, but coach Alen Stajcic has found a way to get them playing again.
Stajcic’s surprise departure, however, is just one hurdle the Mariners must overcome if they are to ensure their resurgence continues this season and do not return to losing streak.
Sports news concludes the burning questions surrounding the club ahead of the 2021-22 season …
Can the Mariners fairy tale continue or is a free fall looming?
Gosford pumped again last season as Stajcic’s side showed an impressive struggle to secure a place in the final.
As they would lose to Macarthur in a playoff final, the club deserved huge credit for a successful campaign.
But just when the club seemed on track for the seasons to come, Stajcic announced his decision to leave with rookie coach Nick Montgomery to be thrown in the deep end this season.
Along with Stajcic, the Mariners also lost talented youngsters Alou Kuol, Gianni Stensness and Daniel De Silva.
They did, however, manage to keep key defender Ruon Tongyik, as well as the experienced duo of Matt Simon and Mark Birighitti.
In terms of new signings, former Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder Nicolai Muller has moved to Gosford and is eager to show the A-League Men why he has made more than 100 Bundesliga appearances.
Foreign duo Cy Goddard and Beni Nkololo are both only 24 years old and remain relatively unknown prospects, which the Mariners hope they can step up and announce soon.
On paper, Montgomery’s side appear to be one of the weakest in the competition, but that was arguably the case last season as well.
With the Mariners enjoying the biggest percentage increase in fan numbers of any club last season, they’ll have a reliable 12th man in their corner and a lot could come down to Montgomery replicating Stajcic’s ability to shoot the best use of the cards he dealt. .
If he struggles, the club’s fairy tale from last season could quickly turn into a nightmare this campaign.
What kind of coach will Nick Montgomery be?
Born in England, Montgomery made a name for himself as a defensive midfielder, who has played more than 300 games for Sheffield United.
The 40-year-old ended his playing career in Australia with the Mariners and Wollongong Wolves.
Montgomery will never really leave the Central Coast as he aims for a coaching career within their organization.
From head of football and assistant coach to head coach of the NYL and coach of the A-League Men, he quickly gained a lot of experience and knows the club better than anyone.
In the preseason so far, the Mariners beat Macarthur 3-1, were beaten by both Western Sydney Wanderers and Wellington Phoenix before taking a surprise 3-0 victory over Sydney FC.
Considering the squad he has put together, Montgomery will likely favor a defensive setup with the club’s midfielder strengths allowing them to effectively pounce on the counter.
Will the next Kuol stand?
Alou Kuol stormed the A-League Men last season and won a move to German giants Stuttgart – where he wasted no time in impressing.
Although he has some chunky shoes left to fill, the Mariners count his younger brother Garang among their youngsters, the teenager showing the first signs that he could be as good as his brother.
Much like his brother last year, Garang will no doubt be eager to step up when and if given the opportunity this season and it’s a name to watch.
Fast facts on the Central Coast Mariners 2021-22
New signatures: Nicolai Muller, Noah Smith, Cy Goddard, Beni Nkololo, Storm Roux, Yaren Sozer, Matheus Rodrigues
Last season: 3rd
Arrival expected this season: 10th
Key player: Olivier Bozanic