On a Wednesday night at CommBank Stadium, the Central Coast Mariners showed incredible resilience against Western Sydney Wanderers in the Isuzu UTE A-League Men’s.
After going behind to an unfortunate double deflection and finding themselves on the wrong end of a controversial red card to Lewis Miller, the Mariners fought back from 2 goals down with ten men to snatch a point at the death thanks to goals from Béni Nkololo and Dan Hall in the second half.
As the rain tumbled down in patches on Wednesday night, the Mariners came into this game off the back of a tough loss at home to Sydney FC and looked to have a change of fortunes with an attacking line-up that saw the return of Nicolai Müller and Harry Steele to the Starting XI as Kye Rowles played his 100th Isuzu UTE A-League Men’s appearance.
The game opened with a chance for either side as Mark Birighitti had to palm away an attempted Kye Rowles clearance and then at the other end, Marco Ureña flashed a shot wide of the far post.
After the opening moments of action, the game settled into a pattern of Mariners attack that was eventually blocked out by the Wanderers defence. In a game of chess where each team awaited the next move, the visitors continued to probe as Jason Cummings had a few attempts squeezed out and then the ball wouldn’t fall kindly to German Nicolai Müller as the ball bobbled around the box following a Josh Nisbet header.
As it looked likely for both teams to enter the sheds level at the break, a huge slice of luck would befall the hosts as an attempted cross cannoned off Jacob Farrell and spun into the path of A-League centurion Kye Rowles who was mid swing from the initial cross and was forced to get a touch on the ball with an attacker behind him, and invertedly turned the ball into his own net.
It was an unfortunate way to end a dominant half of football but Head Coach Nick Montgomery spoke words of encouragement to his side at the interval and came out in the second half hungry for all three points.
Moments into the second half, Lewis Miller had the ball in the corner and turned to use his body to shield the ball and in the process, stepped on the leg of Adama Traore as he planted his foot. The referee blew for a free-kick, then awarded Miller a yellow card. Miller was perplexed at the yellow and then was left in disbelief as VAR was consulted and referee Ben Abrahams upgraded the offence and sent the right back for an early shower.
From here, the task to get something out of the match seemed an uphill battle and that hill became steeper as Wanderers found a second through Dimi Petratos who found space in the box with the extra man and tucked it home in front of the RBB.
Montgomery immediately went to his bench and brought on Storm Roux and Moresche who were instrumental in the remaining 30 minutes of football in Parramatta. Moresche looked dangerous every time that he had the ball in the attacking third and was involved in the awarding of the Mariners’ penalty as Cummings picked the ball up wide, set up Moresche who then set the ball into the path of Farrell. Farrell’s clipped ball into the Brazilian was blocked by Steven Ugarkovic’s hand and the Mariners had a way back into the contest.
The impressive Frenchman Béni Nkololo stepped up for penalty duties and after a slow and delayed run-up, stroked the ball home and gave the Yellow and Navy a life-line.
What happened next was unexpected, as the Mariners looked the most likely to score again despite being a man light and Dan Hall found himself at the back post of a Cy Goddard free-kick but after substitute Garang Kuol’s touch, wasn’t able to adjust in time and the ball floated over the bar.
Garang Kuol impressed off the bench against Wellington Phoenix and in his second Isuzu UTE A-League appearance was involved throughout his spell on the pitch as he picked the ball up out wide and delivered a wonderful ball into Moresche who was closed down by the Wanderers keeper and was unable to poke his effort on target.
As it seemed like it would be a step too far for the equaliser as the clock ticked into stoppage time, it would eventually come from the unlikely source of Dan Hall.
The centre-back found himself in the box and after some great work from Garang Kuol who found space and dinked the ball to the back post for Cy Goddard to lash across the face and Dan Hall to bundle the ball into the net.
It was a collective team celebration as everyone at the club knows the magnitude of that point and the determination and courage that went into fighting back from two goals down and a man down away from home.
As soon as Wanderers took kick off, the full time whistle went which was a big point gained for the Mariners away from home at a venue that they have never won at.
For the Yellow and Navy, they will be the first team to play Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand as they play their Easter afternoon match in Wellington on Sunday.