Monday, February 11, 2008

Mariners muscle-up in a night "better than sex"

Major semi final 2nd leg, CCM 3 v NJ 0 after extra time (3-2 on aggregate)

Tony Tannous @ Bluetongue Stadium

BRUTE force met the subtle craftsman at the Bluetongue last night and it was the Central Coast Mariners who came out on top, powering into the grand final in an edge-of-the-seat thriller, played out in front of one of the most electric and divided A-League crowds yet.

Demonstrating their physical strength in all the key areas, the Mariners proved far too strong for the Jets, not only reeling in a two goal deficit from the first leg, but going past them with an extra time classic from man of the match Sasho Petrovski.

Heading into this one, the idea that the Mariners could over-turn the two goals from the first leg looked very slim, especially when you considered that the Jets had scored so rampantly in the past two months; 13 goals in their past six games.

Indeed, it had been over two months (December 7) since the Jets hadn’t scored in a game, and an away goal here would have meant the Mariners needed four. Surely a task too big.

But football often has a knack of surprising, as this match so demonstrated.

While Gary van Egmond had pulled the first surprise pre-game by throwing in his new signing, South Korean Jin-hyung Song, the starting formations threw up a couple more.

First, for the Jets, Song was deployed on the right, as part of van Egmond’s three-man forward line, this despite word he was a central midfielder. Perhaps the manager wanted to keep him out of the heat in the early going, but even then he couldn’t escape the attentions of Alvin Ceccoli, who got him a couple of times.

Soon Song had his revenge, biting in with a studs-up challenge that had Ceccoli limping off. But the Korean was struggling with his wide posting, seemingly preferring to drop in and lend a hand in the middle, where the Jets were really struggling.

That’s because Lawrie McKinna had pulled a surprise of his own in the mixer by pairing Mile Jedinak with the equally combative John Hutchinson instead of the more subtle and skilful Tom Pondeljak, who was deployed on the right.

It was a central midfield built to destroy, and that’s exactly what they did, muscling up and strangling the life out of James Holland and the Jets’s two holders, Noel Spencer and Adam Griffiths.

All three had a miserable first half, and Spencer in particular struggled to dictate the play, turning over the ball far too often with sloppy distribution.

With Mark Bridge also having one of his worst A-League nights on left, the Jets had little outlet on the flanks, such a key part of their game, and with Spencer spraying his work all over the shop, it was the Mariners who bossed the game.

Clearly they were intent on stretching the Jets as wide as possible, and while Adam Kwasnik was hammering away at Tarek Elrich down one side, Pondeljak was chipping away at Matt Thompson down the other. All the while, the two front men, John Aloisi and Petrovski, were present, putting themselves about and causing headaches for Jade North and Andrew Durante.

The pressure was everywhere, and while the first half had few genuine goal-scoring moments and was generally very scrappy, it’s hard to argue the Mariners didn’t deserve their lead, as fortunate as it eventuated.

An hour in and van Egmond restored some hope for the Jets, bringing on Stuart Musalik for Spencer. The Jets were soon back into it and started gaining and controlling a bit more of the ball.

Ultimately they fell down because they had very little in the front third. While Joel Griffiths tried and tried, on this night he had very little support as Bridge and Holland were effectively shut-down, and Song struggled with the physicality.

Alex Wilkinson and Tony Vidmar had their best games in some time at the heart of the defence, the latter looking cool and calm when the pressure was on, just like his former Socceroos mate Craig Moore on Friday night.

That calm and desperation at the back and through the middle allowed the Mariners to power on upfield, where Alosi’s physical presence and Petrovski’s changes of angle pegged the Jets back.

The Jets defenders looked spent, the pressure eventually told, and by the time Petrovski levelled the tie it wasn’t a surprise.

Soon, early in extra time, they were ahead, breaking forward rapidly after the Jets had again given the ball away in their final third. Petrovski, exposing the space left by Elrich, ducked inside Durante, who couldn’t get close enough and thumped it in emphatically.

The momentum was with the hosts, but just one goal would be enough for their F3 rivals. Belatedly, Troy Hearfield was introduced and immediately was in behind, only to be denied the go-ahead by Vukovic’s head.

If the luck had deserted the Mariners in the first leg, then here it was with them, and deservedly so. Gary van Egmond now has a massive job of picking up his men for next week’s prelim against the Roar, while the Mariners, having finally shaken off the Jets bogey, can rest and wait.

It will be a wonderful couple of weeks for the Central Coast community.

The scenes outside the stadium and the leagues club afterwards were of disbelief and cheer joy. Walking out of the stadium, one local was overheard telling her husband and kids about a txt message she’d just received from a friend, assumingly also at the game; “That was better than sex”, her friend had written.

The ever-quick husband replied, “tell her that’s because you’re not doing it with my husband”.

A couple of years ago, in the corresponding clash in the minor semi final, there were 17,000 odd fans at Bluetongue, but many you sensed were there more for the theatre, the occasion, with attention divided between the game and the social opportunity.

Last night, the sea of yellow were there for the football, immersed in the drama, knowingly cheering on their beloved team, proud they represent the region.

This community has come a long way in a short space of time, and after last night, you suspect it might multiple in about nine months time.


Anonymous James said...

Fukin brilliant (pun intended) - both the game and the wrap

Mon. Feb. 11, 06:17:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous wayne said...

Glad you had a good time tony- great wrap as always. The crowd were great, and we've come a long way up here, the team have planted themselves firmly in the hearts of the loclas up here, and with efforts like last night's it's little wonder. Did you see Danny turn around and get the bays roaring - love that kid! Or Lawrie getting bays 6 and 7 to cahnt "get off! get off!" when North went down injured in extra time. Go and have a looka t the photos on four Four Two - they say it all, those few minutes after the final whistle were absolute magic, I remember andre just clenching his fists and roaring at the crowd - a real "I Spartacas" moment. When my giddiness subsides, Ill be getting onto my own post, but dont know where to start... ya going to the final? Would love a quick howdoyado at half time if you are.
Better than sex - says it all.

Mon. Feb. 11, 07:18:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Mike said...

Well what can I say that you haven't already? Being a Jets fan (sigh) I could not believe the sheer ineptitude of our usually strong central midfield. I really think that GVE made a mistake in pairing Adam Griffiths with Noel Spencer there as from what i have seen this year Spencer is on the downhill and Griffiths is not a ball player. We really needed the distribution of Musialik or D'Apuzzo in there.

I must also say I was impressed with Song. Given that it was his debut in what some might say is one of the biggest nights in the A-League V3, he put in a pretty good effort and showed why GVE was so keen to sign him and give him a debut. He showed some good initial signs of his ability to move the ball around which is encouraging.

In saying all that, full credit to the Mariners. They played one of their best games against us and fully deserved the win on the night.

Hoping to see them again in 2 weeks time :-)

Tue. Feb. 12, 08:50:00 am AEDT  
Blogger pippinu said...

It really was an incredible result, and most of that 2nd half was quite tense and evenly balanced (until Sash broke through for his first, it too being slightly fortunate).

No one has mentioned this but I wonder whether the two week break and NT training camps affected the Jets more than CCM because:
1. it broke up the Jets' momentum from the previous 5 weeks; and
2. they had at least 8 players in the squad.

I didn't think Aloisi was as sharp as normal; Holland was mostly unsighted; and Durante was struggling to keep up with Sash - which is saying something!

Song showed good signs and might yet make an impact during the finals.

The fascinating aspect of the next two weeks for me is that the Roar and Jets are evenly matched (both blessed with talented young players and rock solid defences). I can't help thinking that if the Roar can get past the Jets - they are well equipped to cope with CCM's big front duo, and have the patience and discipline to hold them out for as long as necessary, with the ability to nail one on the counter.

Tue. Feb. 12, 10:44:00 am AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

thanks all for your comments..

James, I'm sure there was a bit of that going on on the coast on Sunday night...happy days indeed..

Wayne, congratulations buddy...the sheer fact you and thousands others were so ecstatic after the final whistle shows just how much this team has touched the community, and visa versa...I was blow away by how everyone has mariners merchandise, kids, parents and grandparents alike...

Indeed, I thought the support from both clubs was absolutely brilliant...the number of travelling jets fans (arguably 6 or 7 thousand), all decked out their gold gear, and the organised work of the squadron blew me away....indeed, early on they were easily out-doing the marinators, i thought...

I haven't seen the 442 photos yet but will check them out and gotta admit i didnt see lawrie from my second half vantage point...eyes were firmly fixed on jade north...

Re the gf, sad to report that unfortunately it clashes with the wedding of my sister in-law, so i've been guttered since i had confirmation a few months ago both would be on feb 24....of course, approaching the semis i knew the chances of it being in nsw/syd were good given the positions of the mariners, jets and fc...then, in the final reg season game, my fate was sealed with the roar's loss - i'd be missing the gf...

mike, thanks for the comment and good luck on sunday...i cerntainly agree re the centre of midfield...the jets really fell down there, and thats usually their strength...gve often gets it right, but i agree he didnt on this occasion...

Song looks like he's got a bit of potential, but i gotta say, i was expecting a little more, especially after being thrust in for such a vital game...a few times it seemed the communication and understanding with his teammates was lacking, but i guess tghats expected...the problem is NJ cant afford that hesitation in such crucial games cause it decreases their effectiveness in the final third, something gve always talks about.

....No one has mentioned this but I wonder whether the two week break and NT training camps affected the Jets more than CCM because:
1. it broke up the Jets' momentum from the previous 5 weeks; and
2. they had at least 8 players in the squad.....

Good point pippinu.

....The fascinating aspect of the next two weeks for me is that the Roar and Jets are evenly matched (both blessed with talented young players and rock solid defences). I can't help thinking that if the Roar can get past the Jets - they are well equipped to cope with CCM's big front duo, and have the patience and discipline to hold them out for as long as necessary, with the ability to nail one on the counter....

It really is a fascinating match-up...the jets will need to do far better in the middle than they did on sunday and i can see at least one change (musalik for spencer)..who will tiatto come in for? or should he? I wouldnt be changing the midfield shape if i were farina (leave the triangle of two buzzers with marchino in front), and the two kids on the flanks have been doing maybe the only option is mccloughan, who would be unlucky...

GVE has to decide not only what he does in central mid, but who he plays on the flanks...Hearfield, i thought, made a strong case off the bench...

the other intriguing aspect is the fact the game is at EAS...the jets have been very strong at home this season, but there's a strong history of the away team winning this clash, up until this season where the two EAS clashes have been 1-1 draws...

Tue. Feb. 12, 08:43:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous George said...


I don't know whats going on in your personal life but from my perspective.... I agree with your article but disagree with your heading!

Fri. Feb. 15, 10:45:00 am AEDT  

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