Stability the key to success

Want to know the secret to the Mariners’ consistency? In their Round 7 battling draw against Victory, Graham Arnold used the same starting line-up for the fifth game in a row.

Want to know the secret to Central Coast Mariners- consistency? In their Round 7 backs-to-the-wall effort against the Melbourne Victory, Graham Arnold used the same starting line-up for the fifth match in a row.

Acclaimed as one of the Hyundai A-League’s finest games to date, the Mariners and the Victory were at two goals apiece at half time, before the sending-off of Patrick Zwaanswijk meant the visitors were under siege by the rampaging Victory for most of the second half.

But Arnold’s men held on stoically to draw the match, and continue their claim as this season’s favourites to retain their premiership.

The Mariners’ run of five fixtures with the same starting XI has coincided with a great run of results, including the 7-2 shellacking of Sydney FC, and gritty away wins over the Heart and Wellington Phoenix.

The one and only other time an A-League team started five straight matches with the same line-up was by Sydney FC, during the 2009/10 season.

And that team eventually went on to take out the 2009/10 championship. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Sydney FC used just 19 different players in their starting line-up throughout the entire 2009/10 season, the lowest of any team that season.

It was a similar story in seasons 2006/07 (Melbourne Victory, 20 players), 2008/09 (Melbourne Victory, 17 players) and 2010/11 (Brisbane Roar, 18 players), in that the team who used the least number of different players in their starting line-ups over the season went on to become champions.

At the other end of the scale, the poor old New Zealand Knights squad of 2006/07 blew out to a record 29 different starting players throughout the season.

The Knights class of 2006/07, which included journeymen Hamza Mohammed, Frank Van Eijs and Li Yan (remember them? Didn’t think you would) finished their last year of existence at the bottom of the ladder.

But that-s not to say that trying out a few players throughout a season is necessarily a bad thing.

In season 2007/08, Newcastle Jets tried out 25 different starting line-ups in their 25-match season; the Jets took out the championship that season.

In their three-year existence, Gold Coast United never used less that 30 players in a season, as coach Miron Bleiberg gave plenty of youngsters some first team opportunities throughout 2009 to 2012.

And today we see that plenty of these former Gold Coast youngsters have bloomed, with regular first-team A-League action for the likes of Daniel Bowles (Adelaide United), Ben Halloran (Brisbane Roar) and Adama Traore (Melbourne Victory).

Going further back, we can find more extreme squad numbers back in the old National Soccer League (NSL) days.

Incredibly, the South Melbourne team of 1983 used just 14 different players throughout the 30-match season, to end the year just a win behind eventual champions St George.

And led by the goalscoring exploits of Eddie Krncevic and Mark Jankovics, Marconi’s first NSL championship in 1979 was achieved with only 14 different players.

In 1980, Heidelberg used the same starting line-up for a remarkable 17 matches straight on their way to finishing just one point from championship glory.

But it was a different story for the Morwell Falcons in 2000/01, who used a hefty 37 players throughout the season. Financial woes and player strife, which even led to the youth team taking the field for one NSL match, were factors at play for a tumultuous year for the Falcons at the time.

Fortunately, the days of financial and player volatility seem to be a distant memory, with A-League coaches now able to choose between experience and youth more at their own discretion.

Which raises a dilemma: to settle on an experienced team each week to get that winning edge, or mix in some young blood?

The stats indicate that choosing a stable, experienced team week in, week out is almost a guaranteed recipe for success. But if you’re not blooding in plenty of youngsters, will you have that success in the long run?

Follow Andrew Howe-s Aussie football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto