Mark Jackson’s maiden season as Central Coast Mariners manager stands not only a chance of emulating last season’s Championship under Nick Montgomery, but of going a couple better, with a rare Australian club treble on the table.

Few in Australian football saw Jackson as the high-profile appointment required to follow the remarkable work done by predecessors Alen Stajcic, and then Montgomery, to turn the club around; his task then appeared even tougher as Grand Final heroes Jason Cummings, Sam Silvera and Nectar Triantis moved abroad in the off-season.

But those at the Mariners saw something in the Englishman, an acquaintance of Montgomery who’s only previous senior role saw him unable to keep MK Dons from relegation to League Two. While battling Wellington for top spot domestically they’ve also reached the last four of the AFC Cup, last week travelling to India to sew up a 4-0 aggregate result over Odisha.

‘It was a really difficult tie, all in all. I know people might look at the first leg and say we were up 4-0 but Odisha were formidable opposition. At the time of the first leg they were top of the Indian Super League, so to get the home result and then go to India and… put in the performance that we did, was a tremendous effort from the players and staff’, Jackson told Box2Box.

‘As a manager I’m loving the experience we’re getting. Everyone keeps saying ‘ah, you have to cope with this travel, that travel, going here and there’, but it’s just positivity for me. The good thing is the players are embracing it – as much as we’ve got a group with a fantastic attitude to training, players want to play, so the more games the better.’

Their next Asian assignment is next month’s two-legged Inter Zonal play-off final against Kyrgyz league leaders Abdysh Ata-Kant, uncharted territory for an Australian club side, where progression would mean a place in the final on May 5 against either Oman’s Al-Nahda or Al Ahed of Lebanon.

‘We know we’ve got a long way to go and it’s going to be a really tough leg when we travel away again, but we’ve dealt with it before. We’ll ensure we’re fully focussed and go out there with everything in place and hopefully we can progress again.

‘We’ve got staff who help players recover, and those that plan the travel to make things as smooth as possible, and when you’ve got all those pieces of the jigsaw working in unison you’ve got a recipe for success, and that’s what we feel we have at the minute.’

Jackson will have this weekend’s international break to prepare for their next League meeting against the rejuvenated Sydney FC, who are climbing the ladder apace under Ufuk Talay and put three past the Mariners inside twenty minutes when they last met. That result stands as a true outlier for the Mariners, their only loss in their past 23 in all competitions.

‘They came out of the blocks and put the game to bed within twenty minutes, we did not deal with that well, and we’ve learned a lot from it. A lot of people are talking about their ‘Red Bull’ style press, I’ve been privileged to work alongside Jesse Marsch who worked in that system so I know a lot about it.

‘When they get it right they can be very dangerous – if you wobble, you can get punished and that’s what happened to us in that home game. But, it’s about what we bring as a team, so I’m looking forward to a really tough game, hopefully we can perform and get the three points we need.’

In between his preparation there is no doubt Jackson will find time to watch the Socceroos, after star-pupil Josh Nisbet received his maiden call-up for their two World Cup qualifiers against Lebanon. It’s the latest marker in a rise that has seen the pint-sized midfielder named A-League player of the month in January and February.

‘He’s a really hungry young man who wants to better himself, learn and play well. It’s all down to him and his attitude and willingness to learn things, for him to get the callup is testament to his hard work and dedication over his time at the Mariners.

‘We’re really pleased for him, delighted as a club.’