Coach Phil Moss has likened his travel-weary Central Coast Mariners to bullfighters in their steely focus on defeating Western Sydney in Saturday’s A-League semi-final showdown.
Arriving back in Sydney on Friday morning, the Mariners have scant time to regroup for the Parramatta Stadium clash following their Asian Champions League (ACL) loss in Japan on Wednesday night.
And while the Wanderers took confidence and more recovery time after booking their spot in the ACL second round by thrashing China’s Guizhou Renhe 5-0 in Sydney on Tuesday night, the Mariners’ 1-0 loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima ended their ACL campaign.
Far from deflating them, Moss said the defeat has only made his side more determined to win on Saturday and they were putting aside all concerns about the effects of their harsh schedule.
“The loss will affect us but in a positive way,” he said.
“There was no disappointment in the dressing room, that was left out on the pitch in Hiroshima.
“As soon as the whistle blew on Tuesday you could see the focus turned to Saturday and I saw that steely resolve in their eyes.
“We’re kind of like the bull fighter, we don’t take our eye off the bull.
“Once you look at the circus going on around you that’s when you lose focus and we just don’t allow ourselves to do that.”
Moss had previously been vocal about his displeasure at the Mariners’ tough program this week.
Wanderers coach Tony Popovic however wasn’t buying it, insisting the Mariners have been in similar situations in the past and it hasn’t deterred them.
“The Central Coast have done a good job at taking pressure off themselves,” Popovic said on Friday.
“But they’re a club that has done this many times before.
“They played a grand final against us last year and, two days later, played a game in Korea and won that.
“So I don’t think the travel is a problem for them.
“If it is, then the Central Coast players should not be playing the game.
“It’s a one off semi-final – I’m sure they’re all looking forward to it like we are.”
Moss hit back, insisting the Wanderers’ favourable preparation puts the pressure squarely on Popovic and his men, who’ll be hungry to avenge last season’s grand final loss.
“It’s not mind games at all. It’s the facts,” Moss said.
“I’ve been quite amused to read some of the circus that’s gone on back here.
“Obliviously Popa’s not going to buy that, that’s his job.
“But anyone who knows anything about football knows that the home team carries the favourites tag.
“They haven’t had the travel, they had a positive result Wednesday night so everything is leaning in that direction.”