Struggling Mariners quash McDonald link

Daniel Gilhooly
The Mariners deny they are interested in signing Western United veteran Scott McDonald

Coach Alen Stajcic has rubbished reports Central Coast are chasing Scott McDonald, declaring himself happy with the promise shown by his clutch of youngsters in the A-League.

The Mariners' recent struggles continued with a 2-1 loss to the Phoenix in Wellington on Saturday where their faulty finishing again proved costly.

McDonald may have the quality to boost the competition's worst attack and such a prospect was raised in midweek media reports after it was revealed the former Socceroo had requested a release from Western United.

While McDonald has also been linked with Brisbane, Stajcic vehemently denied there had been any contact between his club and the 36-year-old, describing reports as "100 per cent fake news".

"Someone's conjured that up. None of his representatives talked to us and never did we talk to him, so it's fiction," he said.

"I'm really happy with the squad. We're not winning but we're progressing. This is definitely a rebuilding process but I've seen a lot of encouraging signs that I'm really happy with."

The 10th-placed Mariners unleashed one of their better outings against the in-form Phoenix and could count themselves unlucky not to come away with more after hitting the woodwork twice and squandering two quality late chances to equalise.

The four-day turnaround from their 3-0 loss to Perth prompted Stajcic to leave attacking midfielder Milan Djuric at home, giving his team a distinctly youthful feel.

Kim Eunsun was shifted from midfield to the centre of a back three to give the defence more authority while Socceroo Tommy Oar offered some bright moments following the shift from wing back to a forward role.

However, it was 19-year-old right fullback Lewis Miller attracting the most plaudits from Stajcic, who believed the rookie outplayed highly-rated Phoenix fullback Liberato Cacace in a riveting battle of two of Australasia's most promising teenage defenders.

"I thought Lewis really dominated that contest today and for a kid who has only played three or four A-League games, I thought he had a great game," Stajcic said.

"So we've got three or four youngsters there (also Samuel Silvera and Gianni Stensness) who are in their first year of the A-League essentially, playing regular game time.

"They're improving every week and the longer the season goes on, they're going to get better and better."