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Feb 22, 2008

Bench spot at best for Pondeljak

Central Coast remain confident Tom Pondeljak can have an impact in Sunday's A-League grand final despite the key midfielder being rated next to no chance of starting against Newcastle.

Pondeljak, who has been sidelined with an inflamed knee for the best part of two weeks, will have to pass a final fitness test on Sunday morning to take part in the decider.

But coach Lawrie McKinna said the 32-year-old was virtually no chance of starting, with the Mariners not wanting to take a punt on having a gingerly Pondeljak break down early.

"It would be too risky for Tommy," McKinna said after training in Gosford.

"Tommy's a fit boy, but if he goes out and pulls something bad, we can't afford to have what happened the last time we played (in the major semi against Newcastle) when we had two boys go off injured after 30 minutes.

"Tommy trained again today and did everything, but we didn't do too much, so we're going to give him another run tomorrow.

"He's got a chance to go on the bench, but it's very doubtful he would start.

"He's not trained for a week and a half so we'll see how he pulls up tomorrow."

McKinna said he had yet to decide whether to start Andre Gumprecht or Greg Owens in Pondeljak's place.

The coach, though, was confident that even if Pondeljak was reduced to a bench role, the five-time grand finalist would still play a significant role at the Sydney Football Stadium.

"If we're chasing a game and Tommy comes on, that would be fantastic," McKinna said.

"And likewise if we were trying to hold the game, Tommy going up front and using his pace would be a bonus, so it would be great for us if he was able to come off the bench."

The Jets, meanwhile, completed their preparations with a light run in Newcastle in front of more than 300 supporters.

Young attacker James Holland came through the session unscathed after struggling with a quad muscle injury during the week, and appears set to start the grand final.

Both teams go into camp in Sydney tonight, with thousands of supporters to farewell the players in both Gosford and Newcastle.

Keen to keep their young side focussed, the Jets have slapped a media ban on their players since Thursday, with coach Gary van Egmond also scaling back his commitments significantly in recent days.

Central Coast will take a significant advantage in terms of grand final experience into the match with up to 11 Mariners - including former Sydney FC championship winners Sasho Petrovski and Alvin Ceccoli - available to play in their second A-League decider.

The Mariners will also have eight survivors in their squad from the club's 1-0 loss to Sydney in the inaugural grand final.

And while Pondeljak will be bidding to play in his sixth Australian club grand final, Petrovski and Ceccoli will be lining up for their fifth, and Gumprecht his fourth.

Jets skipper Jade North, with three NSL grand finals, meanwhile, leads a youth-laden Newcastle outfit, which is the youngest in the competition.

Former Socceroo Tony Vidmar will play his final game after announcing his retirement last week, with the Mariners keen to send the 37-year-old defender out with a championship.

"He's been a great ambassador for Australian sport and the Central Coast Mariners, and I think it would be a fitting reward for him to go out on top," said Central Coast skipper Alex Wilkinson.

"All the boys are pumped up to send him out on a good note."

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