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Mariners aiming for finals football

Central Coast Mariners have had enough of being the laughing stock of the A-League and intend to do something about it this season.It’s a task easier said than done considering the Mariners have collected an unwanted hat-trick of wooden spoons and four in the past five years.But Mariners coach Alen Stajcic won’t accept anything less…

Central Coast Mariners have had enough of being the laughing stock of the A-League and intend to do something about it this season.

It’s a task easier said than done considering the Mariners have collected an unwanted hat-trick of wooden spoons and four in the past five years.

But Mariners coach Alen Stajcic won’t accept anything less than finals football this season.

“We’ve put together a good squad,” Stajcic said.

“We built a good foundation last year and showed some signs of progression.

By progression, Stajcic meant eight wins overall, including three in the FFA Cup, and the blooding of a host of younger players.

“When we arrived the year before, the team had one win under their belt. Last year we picked up … the most wins that this club’s had since 2013-14,” he said.

“It’s starting from the bottom, and building from the bottom, and it’s always tough, it’s always the heavy lifting but now a lot of our young players, this’ll be their second year and they’ve got a little bit of A-League experience under their belt.

“We do have a lot of youth and it’s something that the club’s going to pride itself on moving forward in having a good youth program and giving young kids an opportunity.

“We want to strengthen our team as well and be a solid team in the A-League, which we haven’t been, but they’re all part of the building blocks that you really need to start from scratch and that’s what happened last year.

“This is just year two into the process.”

Perhaps a more realistic aim for the Mariners would be to get off the bottom of the ladder and maybe finish above the bottom four, which would ensure they would avoid FFA Cup qualifying playoffs.

But Stajcic – whose squad also has experience and pedigree with the likes of veteran Matt Simon, former Socceroos midfielder Oliver Bozanic, goalkeeper Mark Birighitti and new imports Stefan Jankovic, Marcos Urena and Michal Janota – preferred “positive” targets.

“We want to finish as high up the ladder as we can, not for the reason of that negative reinforcement (but) rather the positive of the club really needs to show it can get back up on its feet, and be a real force within the league and show that regional presence is important in the A-League,” he said.

Serbian midfielder Jankovic, Costa Rican attacker Urena and Polish winger Janota are all still in quarantine and will miss the Mariners’ first match of the season against the Newcastle Jets on Thursday night at Central Coast Stadium.

Stajcic is cautious about the Jets, who have had a disrupted off-season following the departure of coach Carl Robinson, and key players including Dimitri Petratos and Bernie Ibini, as well as the failure to find new owners.

“I’m always wary of the wounded bull. They’ve taken a few hits to their pride but …

I think they’ll be wanting to prove a point,” he said.

“It’s probably more to the advantage of the squad in uniting the squad and bringing them all together, the fact they had to overcome so much adversity in their pre-season.”

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