Wanderers coach not ruling Mariners out
Central Coast coach Graham Arnold has ruled his side out of Premiers' Plate contention but don't expect Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic to believe him.
The Mariners went down 2-0 to a gusty Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on Saturday with Arnold throwing the gauntlet down to Western Sydney to win on Sunday and extend their lead.
Win they did - 2-1 over bottom-placed Wellington - to widen the gap atop the ladder to five points over the Mariners with three games remaining.
A victory, Arnold declared, would rule the Mariners out of the minor premiership hunt.
"The Premiers' Plate is nearly gone. The Western Sydney Wanderers have got two hands on it now, especially if they win tomorrow," he said after losing to the Sky Blues and suffering his first back-to-back defeats this season.
While it wasn't the emphatic victory most were expecting, the Wanderers secured a top-two finish and a home semi-final with third-placed Melbourne sitting 10 points behind Mariners.
But that's as far as Popovic is prepared to look, with the coach all too aware of the mind-games Arnold plays.
"Today is not a day for me to worry about what Arnie says about his team - today is about our performance and our win," he said.'
"While it's mathematically possible of course they're still in contention.
"If they weren't we'd be celebrating right now.
"There's three games to go and we're only five in front so we've still got a job to do and that group of players definitely knows that."
But with the Wanderers only left to face Melbourne Heart, Sydney FC and Newcastle they're unlikely to surrender their lead from here.
The Mariners, on the other hand, have to juggle the Asian Champions League with their run to the finals.
They travel to Japan for an ACL game on Wednesday before taking on Brisbane next week, Adelaide, then Heart.
Asked if he was getting nervous with the Premiers' Place now truly within reach Popovic said: "No, I'm not. Nervous about what?
"We're close to winning things anyway. If you make the top six you can win things here."
Meanwhile the Sky Blues (Sydney FC) lifted themselves into fifth place and into finals contention with their win on Saturday.
Newcastle's hopes suffered a blow however, as a late goal from Michael Thwaite gave Perth a 2-1 win at Hunter Stadium on Friday.
Brisbane drew 1-1 with Victory on Saturday leaving the Roar precariously placed a point outside the top six.
Melbourne Heart meanwhile can lift themselves into fifth spot with victory over fourth-placed Adelaide at AAMI Park on Monday.