Child’s Play for Mariners as second spot is sewn up

With four teenagers, and an average age of just 24, the baby Central Coast Mariners have secured second spot in the Hyundai A-League 2010/11 season, with a clinical 3-1 victory over Gold Coast United in their deferred Week 19 clash at Skilled Park.

With four teenagers, and an average age of just 24, the baby Central Coast Mariners have secured second spot in the Hyundai A-League 2010/11 season, with a clinical 3-1 victory over Gold Coast United in their deferred Week 19 clash at Skilled Park.

With injury and illness ruling Matt Simon, Adam Kwasnik, Pedj Bojic and Patricio Perez out of the encounter, Graham Arnold, as he has done all season, put his faith in a group of kids that repaid him with the ultimate reward.

Mustafa Amini became the youngest ever player to score for the club, while 18 and 20-year-old National Youth League strike pairing of Bernie Ibini-Isei and Mitchell Duke chipped in either side of the kid with the red-afro, to secure the vital second spot, and a double chance at a third Grand Final in six seasons, despite the club being written off by many at the season-s beginning.

“I-m blown away to be honest,” said Mariners Head Coach Graham Arnold.

“I knew what the kids had, Musti has had 18 games this season but Bernie is the leading goalscorer in the Youth League and Mitchell Duke – Perez had some stiffness in his back this morning so we decided to not to take any risks and Dukey got a flight at 5o-clock, got a cab straight from the airport to the stadium and scored a goal, so he-s had a great day. Matty Ryan, what a reaction by him after last week, which shows the character he has and Trent Sainsbury was excellent tonight against Traore.

“You can-t forget the contribution of the senior players when you have kids involved. Patrick, Wilkinson, Hutchinson and McBreen, I use those four as the older ones because Bozanic and McGlinchey are still only 21 and 24 so the four senior boys, the way they led the team around the park and led the young boys and coached them, I have to say they were fantastic.

“We have 21 players, 16 senior boys and five kids. We work the kids hard and they have developed enormously. At the start of the year I couldn-t have done what I did tonight, but now people are saying what a strong squad we have. At the start of the season you wouldn-t have said that,” said Arnold.

The hosts knew nothing less than a win would be good enough to keep their hopes of a top two finish alive and Adama Traore fired the first salvo two minutes in, but his low drive was easy pickings for Mathew Ryan.

Ryan had to be sharp soon after to clear after Shane Smeltz beat the offside trap to bear down on goal, while his opposite number Glen Moss was called upon six minutes in to snuff out a free kick at the back post after starting debutante Bernie Ibini Isei was brought down by Traore in the right channel.

Dino Djulbic was forced into a defensive clearance ten minutes in after a quick free kick by John Hutchinson allowed Josh Rose to play a neat one two with Mustafa Amini and deliver a dangerous ball into the area, and two minutes later, the early pressure would tell.

Rose was heavily involved once again as he made space down the left and capitalized on a defensive lapse to feed Ibini, who clinically blasted home his volley from close range for his maiden Hyundai A-League goal.

Amini was almost put through one on one but couldn-t quite control and McBreen released Ibini down the right but his cross was snuffed out, as the Mariners continued to press.

Chris Harold blasted over from close range for Gold Coast and Amini did likewise from just outside the area almost immediately after at the other end.

Traore and Anderson were causing plenty of problems down the left and the Mariners strong defensive line had to be on its game to keep them under wraps, at one stage even Ryan ventured outside his box to execute a successful tackle on Traore.

McBreen had a shot desperately blocked at the death after being fed by Bozanic, on 39 minutes, and just seconds later, the Mariners would double their advantage.

In his 18th senior appearance, Amini had threatened many times previously, but he would not be denied this time, as he blasted a low drive into the bottom corner from 20 yards after a Rose cross was only half cleared.

Thwaite saw a first time effort curl just wide of the top corner as the clock wound down, but the Mariners thoroughly deserved to maintain their two goal buffer at the break.

McBreen shot at Moss to start the second half as the Mariners looked to kill the game off, and went within millimetres of doing so on 49 minutes, as Trent Sainsbury worked his way to the edge of the box and fired past Moss only to see his effort cannon off the bottom of the post.

Bozanic had a couple of chances as the Yellow and Navy continued to press, and Gold Coast finally cleared a mad scramble in the box after Bozanic, Rose and McBreen all tried desperately to get shots away.

Mitchell Duke was introduced on 58 minutes as he became the 65th player to represent the Mariners in the Hyundai A-League, but the hosts could consider themselves lucky not to have farewelled a man, as Andrew Barisic escaped with only a Yellow Card for a studs-up challenge on Wilkinson.

Smeltz flashed a header wide in one of few chances for the home side, but Duke would cap a debut to remember with 22 minutes left on the clock, as he latched on to a Bozanic through-ball to incredibly calmly send Moss the wrong way and slot home the third goal.

With the clock winding down the Gold Coast would get a consolation, as Wilkinson was left to deal with the dual attack of Barisic and Smeltz, the pair playing a one-two allowing the Kiwi marksman to slot past Ryan, meaning the teenager will have to wait until Sunday, as he aims to finish the season with 12 clean sheets, ahead of the 11 he currently shares with Moss and Brisbane custodian Michael Theoklitos.

But it was nowhere near enough to stop the Mariners celebrating securing second spot and setting up a blockbuster two-legged non-elimination Grand Final qualifier with Brisbane Roar, as the Yellow and Navy aim to qualify for their third Hyundai A-League Grand Final in six seasons.

“It-s an F3 derby so we-re going to win. Everyone tells me that Newcastle have won quite often at Bluetongue, that can-t happen on Sunday, we want to go into the finals series in good form and maintaining the momentum and good form we-re in,” said Arnold.

The Central Coast Mariners final match of the Hyundai A-League 2010/11 regular season will be against Newcastle Jets this Sunday, 13 February at Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford. Kick-off is at 5:00pm AEDT and tickets are available by CLICKING HERE or by phoning 132 849.

Match Details

Gold Coast United 1 (Smeltz 83-)
Central Coast Mariners 3 (Ibini-Isei 13-, Amini 40-, Duke 68-)

Gold Coast United: 1 Glen MOSS (gk), 2. Steve PANTELIDIS, 3. Michael THWAITE (c), 6. Dino DJULBIC, 8. ANDERSON, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 16. Kristian REES, 22. Adama TRAORE, 27. Chris HAROLD (19. Andrew BARISIC 36-), 31. Joshua BRILLIANTE (15. Tahj MINNIECON 53-), 33. Peter PERCHTOLD (23. Steve FITZSIMMONS 88-).

Subs not Used: 20. Scott HIGGINS (gk).

Yellow Cards: Barisic 60-
Red Cards: Nil

Central Coast Mariners: 20. Mathew RYAN (gk), 2. Daniel McBREEN (17. Chris DOIG 90+3-), 3. Joshua ROSE, 6. Patrick ZWAANSWIJK, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 11. Oliver BOZANIC, 14. Michael McGLINCHEY, 16. Trent SAINSBURY, 18. Alex WILKINSON (c), 22. Mustafa AMINI (12. Matthew LEWIS 77-), 24. Bernie IBINI-ISEI (25. Mitchell DUKE 58-).

Subs not Used: 30. Paul HENDERSON (gk).

Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil

Referee: Strebre DELOVSKI
Crowd: 2,037 @ Skilled Park, Robina.