Best of the rest: Arnold has talent in the bank for semi

Central Coast remain positive as they prepare for their semi-final clash against the Victory on Sunday, despite the despair of letting three valuable points slip from their grasp midweek and the fatigue of a 26-hour return flight home from China.

The Mariners conceded two late goals to lose to Guizhou Renhe in the Asian Champions League on Tuesday night, and their woes were compounded by a gruelling return trip. But the players say the difficult schedule and result have not affected their focus.

Coach Graham Arnold rested seven senior players from the squad that travelled to China.

”Obviously it’s a long trip but we’ve got plenty of days to recover. There are seven boys at home who are nice and fresh so we’ll have a nice relaxing day today and get back into training tomorrow, and look forward to a big game on Sunday,” Mariners defender Zach Anderson said. ”We’ve done it for a few weeks now, and Arnie’s been strategic in the way he has rested a few players … It affects different players in different ways.”

The likes of Patrick Zwaanswijk, Mike McGlinchey, Nick Montgomery, Mile Sterjovski and Daniel McBreen remained in Gosford to rest, but striker Mitchell Duke believes those who did travel will still be fit to play on Sunday. Arnold named a preliminary match squad on Thursday evening, and included all players who played against Guizhou Renhe.

”All the boys are looking forward to getting back home and resting in our own bed,” he said.

”It will be a nice recovery day before [going] back to business tomorrow. We’ll be fine, we like to not have any excuses.”

Duke scored the Mariners’ only goal of the game against Guizhou with a first-half penalty that ended the club’s woes from the spot. The Mariners missed four straight penalties in the latter stages of the season but Duke’s spot-kick followed a successful Daniel McBreen penalty in their final A-League game of the season.

The 22-year-old is hopeful that his goal has relieved his teammates of pressure because the prospect of a penalty shoot-out could define their season.

”[McBreen] scored one a few weeks ago against Melbourne Heart so it was good to add on top of that, and basically keep it going and not putting any pressure on the team, especially when coming into the possibility of games going to penalty shoot-outs,” Duke said.

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