Mariners, Wanderers eye A-League battle
The scene is perfectly set for what's shaping as the A-League clash of the season.
Foundation club Central Coast will meet the competition's new juggernaut Western Sydney in Gosford on Saturday night, with top spot, a slice of history and pride on the line.
The verbal baiting has already begun, with Mariners coach Graham Arnold delivering a cheeky gibe about the Wanderers' right to replace his men at the head of the ladder.
But words aren't needed to enhance a clash both clubs will enter in enticing form.
The Mariners destroyed Melbourne Victory 6-2 on Saturday night.
That demoted the Victory to fourth spot, with Ange Postecoglou's men having lost to the three sides above them in succession.
The Mariners now have nine wins and a draw from 10 home games this season.
But the Wanderers' lead-in form is equally impressive.
Saturday's 1-0 victory over Perth was their seventh straight win.
If they down the Mariners they will have claimed every opposition scalp in their extraordinary debut season and will equal the league-record winning streak of eight, set by Melbourne Victory over two seasons in 2006.
Arnold gave a teasing nod to the Wanderers when noting they spent two hours on top of the table on Saturday.
"Were they on top? Well that's probably where they belong," he said with a smile.
But he warned they would need something special to claim that position on Saturday night.
"Our home record is fantastic, so Western Sydney get ready," Arnold said.
The Wanderers aren't daunted.
"The players have earned the right to play in a big game and they are looking forward to it," coach Tony Popovic said.
"We all are. Everyone at the club is - it's fantastic."
The only detracting factor is that the Mariners will have just three days to recover after an Asian Champions League match on Wednesday night.
On Sunday, Melbourne Heart spoiled Lucas Neill's A-League debut after the Socceroos skipper chose to snub them and sign with Sydney FC instead.
The Heart won 3-1 to replace the Sky Blues in the top six.
A 10-man Adelaide United replaced the Victory in third spot after holding on for a 2-2 away draw with bottom-placed Wellington.
Newcastle and Brisbane drew 0-0 on Friday night, with the Jets staying sixth, above Sydney on goal difference.