THE Central Coast Mariners are still paying for the shambolic Tony Walmsley regime - and it could hurt the club for years.
When Paul Okon was appointed on the eve of the A-League season, the squad was filled with players who would struggle to get a minimum-wage contract at other clubs.
The 4-1 scoreline at Melbourne Victory midweek looked worse than it was, and there were plenty of positives to take from it for the youthful Mariners as Okon desperately tried to inject minutes into the kids.
The silver lining is that almost the entire squad (17 players) come off contract at the end of the season, though there could be more pain between now and then, starting with tonight's clash with fourth-placed Melbourne City at Central Coast Stadium.
"The last couple of weeks our average age has been 21, so that's a real positive for the club,” Okon said. "Maybe people don't consider that and think it's irrelevant. The future for the club is bright and hopefully it eventually results in more games won and more joy for the fans.”
Midfielder Liam Rose and striker Trent Buhagiar, who scored against the Victory, exemplify the Mariners' pitiful recent past and their potentially exciting future.
Rose carelessly lost the ball in midfield that led to a Victory goal as the coaching staff tried to coach the poor habits out of his game.
"I don't know how you can work on giving the ball away under no pressure at training,” Okon said.
"He (Rose) was better than last week, so it's far from a criticism of a 19-year-old boy.
"Trent's an exciting young player, plenty of speed and took his finish magnificently. He's a player the club is expecting big things in the future.”
The Mariners have two wins and nine points, and soon will pass last season's tally of three wins and 13 points.
Throw in Mickael Tavares and Storm Roux and it's a far better-looking team, while the likes of Connor Pain and Scott Galloway will only improve.
The Mariners hope to do some January wheeling and dealing, but they're hamstrung as they need to offload players and the back-end are NPL quality.
"It will be good (to sign players in January), we need one or two more bodies, but I'm not sure,” Okon said.
It's anyone's guess which Mariners turn up against Melbourne City tonight.
City, meanwhile, has not won any of its four matches this month, collecting just three points from the 12 on offer.
Coach John van't Schip will be without fiery Argentinean Fernando Brandan after his red card in the midweek 3-3 epic against Perth.