Grounded: Patrick Gerhardt after the loss. Photo: Brendan Esposito
A DEJECTED Melbourne Heart coach John Aloisi blamed himself for playing exhausted returning Socceroos Richard Garcia, Michael Marrone and Aziz Behich in Friday night's loss to Central Coast.
After a flat 2-0 loss to the Mariners at Bluetongue Stadium - with Pedj Bojic scoring a double amid some sloppy keeping by Heart's Clint Bolton - Aloisi defended playing his internationals immediately after their return from the East Asian Cup qualifiers, despite believing they had struggled in the pre-game warm-up.
''We just looked flat from the very beginning tonight,'' he said. ''And that was probably my fault because the boys that came back from the national team weren't right, they shouldn't have played.
''When you've got two or three boys looking flat and not looking with it, it rubs off on the rest of the boys. But tonight we were clearly outplayed.
''Sometimes you don't feel so good in the warm-up but you start the game and you feel OK. Sometimes you come back [from international duty] and you feel good and sometimes you don't. The players probably inside wanted to feel good and when they got out there they realised they probably weren't [ready].''
Central Coast has gone eight games unbeaten - one of the best starts to an A-League season - but Mariners coach Graham Arnold said his side has achieved nothing yet.
The victory put the Mariners four points clear of Adelaide at the top of the ladder and proved beyond doubt they were the form team of the competition. The Mariners have 26 points from eight wins, two draws and a loss - the second-best start of any club to an A-League season.
Only Melbourne Victory in season two had a better opening 11 games, racking up 28 points from nine wins, a draw and a loss. The Victory went on to lift the championship trophy that year.
But Arnold won't let himself think for a second the Mariners may be destined for the same fate.
''No, not at all,'' he said. ''It's 11 games in. As I've said to to boys, we've achieved nothing.
''We've put ourselves in a great position to have a successful season but we've achieved nothing.
''They don't hand trophies out in December, they hand them out in April.''
Arnold said his squad's depth is a major factor in the Mariners' ability to remain consistent.
They boast players like rookie Socceroo playmaker Tomas Rogic, the league's current top goal scorer Daniel McBreen, and impressive defenders Bojic and Joshua Rose. So strong are they that the likes of Oliver Bozanic, Mile Sterjovski and Troy Hearfield can't crack the game-day side.
''The players have set their own standards for their performance. They know exactly what I want and I won't let up on them,'' Arnold said.
''So there'll be no complacency that will sneak into the dressing room.
''And that's built by the fact that we've got two players for every position and they keep pushing each other.
''So they know if they have one or two off games there's a good chance they won't be playing next week.''