Arnold delighted with Mariners' progress
Central Coast Mariners coach Graham Arnold believes his high-flying side have exceeded his pre-season expectations, but is adamant they deserve to be in second spot on the A-League ladder.
Goals in either half from Matt Simon and John Hutchinson sealed a 2-0 win over local rivals Newcastle at EnergyAustralia Stadium on Sunday and saw the Mariners leapfrog Adelaide United.
Arnold said his side were still improving.
"I didn't think at the start of the year we would be in the top-two, our goal was top-six, and it is still top-four, but we are going to give the top-two a shake," Arnold said.
"We assembled a squad to play the way I want us to play and I thought it would take more time, to be honest, to get to where we are at.
"There is a lot of improvement still to come and what we showed last week against Brisbane is what we can do, but we need to be more consistent.
"But we have some very good footballers here and having seen the injury to David Carney for the Socceroos in Qatar the other night, I think we have a ready-made replacement in Josh Rose who has had a fantastic year."
The Mariners face a mammoth road trip to Perth on Wednesday and Arnold said he may have to rest players due to the high number of games his squad has been forced to play in recent weeks.
"I don't think we are going to be able to take everyone who played today over to Perth because of fatigue and risk an injury, because if a player gets injured now with a soft tissue injury he is out for the season," Arnold said.
The Mariners took advantage of Adelaide's game against runaway leaders Brisbane being postponed due to the flooding in Queensland to move into second, and Gold Coast United consolidated their place in the top four with a resounding 4-0 win over cellar-dwelling North Queensland on Friday.
Bruce Djite finally found his scoring boots after a lean campaign in front of goal, with the former Socceroos hitman finding the net twice.
Shane Smeltz also netted on his return to the club after a disappointing spell in Turkey with Genclebirligi.
Sydney FC's slim hopes of making the finals were kept alive by Juho Makela's injury-time strike to earn his side a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory in a repeat of last year's grand final at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday.
Danny Allsop's 51st-minute goal had looked to be enough to give the Victory three points, before the Finnish striker slotted home Nick Carle's through ball in the 92nd minute.
The defending champions, who are six points adrift of sixth spot, need to win their last five games to have any realistic chance of making the finals, but captain Terry McFlynn admitted his side face an uphill battle.
"The finals have probably slipped away from us now but the fans are back right behind us," said McFlynn.
"I don't like to look back, I think what happened has happened, you can't change it."
In Perth, Melbourne Heart came from behind to clinch a point at Perth Glory when Alex Terra equalised Todd Howarth's first-half strike.
The result keeps the A-League's newest franchise in seventh spot, just behind an injury-depleted Newcastle side and in with a shout of a finals push.