Saturday, February 18, 2006

A proud night on the Coast

Central Coast Mariners 1 v Newcastle Jets 1 (2-1 on aggregate)

A wonderful evening at Gosford last night, and while the football didn’t always live up to the high standards we’ve grown to expect from the Mariners, the record crowd of 17,429 got the result they were craving thanks to another telling late goal to left fullback Dean Heffernan, his eighth of the season.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Mariners, as the Newcastle Jets played a telling role both on and off the field, with a spirited and much improved performance on the park matched by its biggest contingent of traveling supporters to date, helping create a tense but ultimately rewarding evening for the locals.

Indeed, it was the Jets who had the better of the opening period, with striker Vaughan Coveny proving a constant menace to the Mariners central defencive pair of Andrew Clark and Michael Beauchamp. With Ante Milicic dragging Beauchamp into midfield, it isolated Coveny on Clark on numerous occasions, the Jets playing early long balls up to the Kiwi to try and take advantage of this.

But the Mariners are quick at the back, and while they were at times opened up and pulled apart, their ability to scramble in defence, a feature of their defending all season, was again evident.

One particularly brilliant piece of scrambling defence came late in the first half, when Coveny appeared to be through in on goal after getting the better of the central defencive pair on half-way, but Heffernan showed wonderful speed, strength and timing in his challenge to make a telling block on the 18 yard box, sprinting about 40 metres to make the challenge, to a huge roar from the near capacity crowd.

The effort from Heffernan summed up the Central Coast’s never say die spirit and on its own was worth traveling up from Sydney to see. It also added to the growing reputation of Heffernan, who after a quite evening in the first leg last week, was back to his swashbuckling best on this night.

Just before that, Matt Thompson’s wonder strike appeared to stun both the home fans and Mariners players, who appeared nervous and a little tentative in front of its biggest gallery of the season.

Newcastle, for its part, seemed to enjoy being away from Energy Australia Stadium, where it had had a poor run over the past five weeks. Indeed its form on the road this season has far exceeded its home form, losing only twice on the road, and here they put on another performance in keeping with this away record.

Primarily, it was a more accomplished defensive display by Jets than we’ve seen over the past month or so. They never allowed the home side to settle into their usual rhythmic passing game.

Central defenders Ned Zelic and Allan Picken and right back Jade North were excellent and well supported by a midfield that was clearly intent on stifling the influence of Andre Gumprecht, to which Paul Kohler played a key role, the player of German heritage shadowing the German everywhere he went.

Richard Johnston and Thompson also played influential defencive role, narrowing the space between defence and midfield, not giving the Mariners strikers Tom Pondeljak and Stewart Petrie any space to drop off and work in. It was solid defencive work all round.

Unfortunately though for the Jets, two key men in attack, Milicic and Nick Carle, failed to have any major influence, as has been the case for much of the last third of their campaign.

For whatever reason, perhaps he is still carrying that groin injury that troubled him earlier in the season, Milicic failed to have one clear cut opportunity and was largely ineffective, while Carle was a peripheral figure on the left.

In any case it was a match being dominated by the defences of both teams, until some tactical tinkering by Lawrie McKinna in the second half, which saw left sided substitute midfielder Damien Brown shifted to the right. The Mariners started to create a couple of half chances.

While in the first leg they attacked Newcastle’s left side, here they appeared to be targeting the right, with a quick switch of play designed to isolate Jets left back Mateo Corbo. The two times that Brown did get in behind Corbo, the touch on his right foot let him down.

The equaliser came from one such move down the Mariners left, which involved a lovely interchange of almost 10 passes, before the ball was played in. As it was cleared, it fell to Brown, who measured a delightful cross, with his wrong foot, towards the late run of Heffernan. Brown’s right foot had worked at the third attempt.

While the Jets had largely been prepared to play on the counter attack for most of the second half, suddenly they were forced to press forward, and they knew that any late goal would give them the tie on the away goals rule.

How close they came in stoppage time as first Coveny placed a free header from a Tarek Elrich cross directly at goalkeeper Danny Vukovic and then a goal was disallowed when substitute Franco Parisi was correctly ruled offside.

A thrilling finish to a tense minor semi final, and while it finished even on the night, it was a fairytale victory for the Central Coast both on the field and in the stands.

The Mariners have worked extremely hard at engaging the community, and on a night like this, they enjoyed the rewards. If the preliminary final next weekend is to be against Sydney, one can only imagine the number of busloads of Marinators traveling down the F3.


Anonymous Pierre said...

Such a pity a player like Milicic, goes through a form slump at the wrong time of the year.
The midfield battle between CC and Adelaide this week should be fantastic

Mon. Feb. 20, 10:13:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger Hamish said...

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Wed. Oct. 11, 12:38:00 pm AEST  

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