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Apr 20, 2013

Mariners hope football gods smile on them

Central Coast skipper John Hutchinson has experienced all three of the Mariners' devastating A-League grand final losses and hopes the football gods will finally be smiling on his side when they face Western Sydney in Sunday's championship decider.

The minor premiership-winning Wanderers will battle the second-placed Mariners in front of more than 40,000 fans at a sold-out Allianz Stadium - a match FFA chief executive David Gallop described as "the most anticipated grand final in A-League history".

It will be a fairytale finish regardless of the result.

The Wanderers will be hoping to cap their already history-making debut season with another astonishing achievement.

"We've won the Premiers' Plate but we want more silverware," coach Tony Popovic said.

The Mariners, meanwhile - playing in their fourth decider in eight seasons after having survived the club's recent financial crisis - will want nothing more than to finally lift the trophy.

"Our fairytale is that we're still here," Mariners coach Graham Arnold told AAP on Saturday.

"We've had a fantastic year considering the struggles.

"Getting here four times, yeah I do think we are the most deserving team, but you don't get anything on a platter.

"You've got to earn it and we'll certainly have to earn it tomorrow."

Hutchinson knows more than most the heartbreak of defeat.

The Mariners lost the final to Sydney FC in 2006 and then again to Newcastle two years later.

They travelled to Brisbane in 2011 hoping it would be third time lucky only to end up conceding a 2-0 lead to go on to lose the match in a penalty shootout.

"We're not shying away from the fact that we lost three," Hutchinson said.

"I called the Brisbane one the 'unloseable' one. It hurt a lot of players and a lot of people.

"Arnie picked us up off the canvas and took us on the next season to win the league (Premiers' Plate) and we've got a chance tomorrow to do something that no Mariners team has done.

"Hopefully the football gods are smiling on us."

Not much separates the two sides.

They're both supremely fit, incredibly organised and built around their impenetrable defensive structures.

So should it come to a penalty shootout, Arnold joked: "We never practise penalties, haven't you been watching us? We've only missed five," he said eluding to his side's penalty-taking struggles in which they missed five in a row in the later stages of the season.

The Wanderers were sweating on the availability of a few injured players in key midfielder Aaron Mooy (knee) and defenders Adam D'Apuzzo (foot) and Jerome Polenz (quad).

Popovic said he had made the call on which of them he had included in Sunday's squad and that he'd also decided on who would replace suspended midfielder Youssouf Hersi.

He wasn't giving anything way however, saying simply: "Yes, I have decided. You'll find out tomorrow."

Hersi's absence is likely to open the door for talented youngster Kwabena Appiah-Kubi, while teen Yianni Perkatis could also be in line to play in the showpiece should Mooy not recover.

If defenders D'Apuzzo and Polenz are ruled out, Tarek Elrich would come in at right-back with Shannon Cole replacing D'Apuzzo at left-back.

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