Alen Stajcic believes the outcome of Sunday’s derby between Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets will say a lot about which of the struggling rivals are ready to turn over a new page and challenge for the Hyundai A-League’s top honours.
Tenth-placed Mariners and last-placed Jets have endured similar frustrations this season, particularly in their failure to capitalise on chances created in the final third.
Both sides have scored the fewest amount of goals and boast the poorest conversion rates in the competition, with Newcastle’s struggles on show in last weekend’s stalemate against Western United – a game in which the Jets were entirely dominant but spurned every opportunity to find the net.
But Stajcic says the upcoming F3 derby is an opportunity to draw a line in the sand.
“I think it’s irrelevant where teams are on the ladder,” he said.
“We’re playing for the pride of this region. It all goes on the line this week to show that we are the team on the up and to show that we are the team that is going to be challenging for honours both this year and in the coming years as well.
“This derby has been going on for 15 years now and is probably actually more important than the league table.”
Although the F3 derby fixture has always been a day for fans of the Mariners and Jets to proudly declare their differences, Stajcic is aware that this season, the two fan bases are united in their frustration.
“They are not dissimilar to us,” he said.
“They are in a little bit of a rut like us. The execution and quality in the final third has been lacking just like us.”
However, the Mariners boss expects those departments to improve following the return of Irish striker and ex-Mariner Roy O’Donovan, who signed for the Jets last week after ending a short stint with Robbie Fowler’s Brisbane Roar.
“They have a lot to prove but they have Roy O’Donovan coming in this week which is a big boost for them and you just know with the quality of the players they have up front, people like [Dimitri] Petratos, [Jason]Hoffman and [Abdiel] Arroyo… and for me [Steven] Ugarkovic has had a great season.
“So we’re certainly not going to underestimate them.”
Stajcic also replenished his attacking arsenal by signing former Perth Glory flyer Chris Harold.
Harold had his first session with the Mariners on Monday and although Stajcic admits fans will have to be patient, he sees big things ahead for the 27-year-old who spent eight years in WA.
“He’s still young but he’s had a lot of experience. He’s been with them during their ups and downs,” he said.
“He’s hungry he’s determined, he’s very mature when you talk to him and he knows what he wants. That’s the kind of player we’re looking for.
“We have really high hopes for him but it’s going to take time. Certainly I’ve got high expectations for him.”
Newcastle Jets v Central Coast Mariners
Sunday, 9 February
McDonald Jones Stadium
Kick off: 4.00pm AEDT