English Premier League recruit Aiden O’Neill produced an impressive performance in his first match in a Central Coast Mariners shirt.
O’Neill, who has made a handful of appearances for the English top-flight club Burnley, played a key role in the Mariners 6-0 win over Adamstown Rosebuds on Tuesday night.
The match was played on a chilly night at Pluim Park. O’Neill must have felt like he was back in the north-west of England.
The 20-year-old central-defensive midfielder did something the Mariners have struggled to do for a long time. He kept the ball. He didn’t give it away once.
His positional play was close to perfect.
O’Neill’s first performance for the Mariners needs to be qualified. This was a trial against Adamstown Rosebuds, who are third from bottom in the Northern NSW Premier League.
But his short and accurate passing caught the eye. It set the tempo of the match.
O’Neill’s positional play and rhythmic passing in the pivot-role freed up Michael McGlinchey and Tom Hiariej in attacking midfield roles in a 3-5-2 formation.
The Mariners looked comfortable in this formation, with Jake McGing, Jack Clisby and Kye Rowles starting at the back.
Clisby looks at home in the role. His dynamism and quality on the ball should be an asset for the Mariners.
Fans will be pleased to know that Antony Golec returned from the serious injury he suffered last season. He replaced McGing at half-time.
Hiariej was also back from injury. He had a groin operation in the off-season. The Dutchman looked sharp, scoring an early goal and linking well with McGlinchey.
Mariners fans might be asking themselves whether McGlinchey, at age 31, can reproduce the same magic he showed in his previous five-year spell at the club.
The clever New Zealander helped the Mariners to a grand final win in 2013 and a league championship in 2012.
Against Adamstown at least, McGlinchey showed he’d lost none of his nimble-footed artistry. His class and lightness of touch was evident, as he jinked past defenders, threaded passes and found space in between the lines.
Mariners fans should feel a level of hope at the style of play that new coach Mike Mulvey attempted. This was a high-tempo, possession-based, pressing game.
Matt Simon and Connor Pain played in the two striking roles, pressing high when required.
In attack, Simon was the target man, with Pain looking to exploit the spaces in and around the Adamstown defence.
Simon slotted home a penalty and Pain also found the net from a slick move.
New signing Josh Macdonald bagged a double from the left wing-back role, while trialist Matt Millar – playing at right wing-back – also scored.
But it was O’Neill’s ball retention and metronome qualities that most impressed here.
The Australian Under-23 international has been in Burnley for four years now.
It’s been reported that he’ll be loaned to the Mariners for this season, but that’s yet to be officially announced.
Mariners fans should hope that an announcement comes soon.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.