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Sydney can't clock off to Mariners' Fergie Time threat

3 minute read

Sydney FC ought to be wary of a Central Coast side who have made a habit of scoring late, says Mariners midfielder Max Balard.

As they look to build an A-League Men dynasty of their own, the Central Coast Mariners are drawing on the champion qualities that made Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United sides so great.

With the AFC Cup and the ALM premiership already in the trophy cabinet, this season Mark Jackson's Mariners are just two games away from a second-straight grand final and a shot at a historic treble.

Sydney FC are all that stands in the Mariners' way, with the two sides meeting in the first of a double-legged semi-final at Allianz Stadium on Friday.

The Mariners have lost just two of their past 23 games - both defeats against Sydney - and have made a habit of snatching a result at the death.

No ALM side has scored more goals in the final 15 minutes of games, with 35 per cent of the Mariners' goals coming between the 76th minute and the fulltime whistle.

The never-say-die trait was a hallmark of Ferguson's trophy-laden reign, to the extent that goals United scored in the dying stages of games were dubbed "Fergie Time".

"I think it comes down to the amount of games we've played, we've been able to get the game fitness that we need," said midfielder Max Balard.

"Towards the back end of games we're putting the pressure on teams and scoring goals, which is very important.

"If you look at some great sides in the past, like Manchester United back under Alex Ferguson, they used to score a lot of late goals and they were a pretty good team.

"I think it's a good testament to the team we have."

Jackson has earned plaudits for the use of his bench to swing games in the Mariners' favour, with substitute Alou Kuol edging the AFC Cup final with an 84th-minute winner.

"A big part of our game plan is built on possession, and if you do that well you're always in a game," Jackson said.

"We play right until the end, and in this day and age (with added time) sometimes it's about playing until 100 minutes."

The Mariners have had just two full training sessions to prepare themselves for the away leg against Sydney, but showed no signs of rust in their final pre-game hit-out in Gosford.

The club's hectic schedule and the Sky Blues' strong home form means the Mariners will start as outsiders for Friday's clash, a tag Balard embraces.

"A lot of people have Sydney FC written down as the winner of this two-legged tie," Balard said.

"You shouldn't put us as the underdog."

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