Mariners look to youngsters for ACL clash
If the Central Coast Mariners are going to get something out of their Asian Champions League trip to south-west China, they are going to have to do it the hard way.
A 16-hour trip followed by a single training session hardly represents ideal preparation for Tuesday's match against Guizhou Renhe.
And the prospect of an A-League preliminary final against Melbourne Victory on Sunday prompted coach Graham Arnold to leave a clutch of senior players to train at home, suggesting that the domestic competition remains the club's priority despite an eagerness to get past the ACL group stage for the first time.
"We've got maybe one eye on the upcoming game at home in the semi-final against the Melbourne Victory but the boys are focused and they're here to do a job," said defender Trent Sainsbury, whose first goal for the Mariners clinched a 2-1 home win against Guizhou last week.
"We're losing some of the older boys' ability but if we lose their leadership, the young boys have got to step up and fill their boots.
"It's a great opportunity for them to show what they've got and I know some boys are fighting for contracts here."
More than 20,000 fans are expected to roar on the home side at the Guiyang Olympic Sports Centre.
While Guizhou bussed in about 700 Chinese students from Sydney to watch last week's match in Gosford, the Mariners say 16 die-hard supporters have travelled to China on a club tour led by director of football Lawrie McKinna.
"If we can get an early goal and silence the crowd, keep the ball and keep possession, it'll work for us," Sainsbury said.
"I've been told to expect a 20,000-plus crowd so if we can get that the boys will be pumping with adrenaline and we'll use it to our advantage."
Only four of last week's starters made the gruelling trip, with midfielder Michael McGlinchey, leading A-League marksman Danny McBreen and last week's other scorer Pedj Bojic among those rested.
Nick Montgomery's omission denies the midfielder another reunion with former Sheffield United teammate Sun Jihai.
The Guizhou captain was at the northern English club for the 2008-09 season and started five games alongside Montgomery.
A draw would leave the Mariners well-placed to advance with two Group H matches remaining.
Last week's three points - only the club's second maximum haul from 15 competition games - hoisted the Gosford outfit to second in the standings behind runaway leaders Kashiwa Reysol.