A sizzling second half strike from Adam Kwasnik was enough for the Central Coast Mariners to seal a thrilling 1-nil victory over Gold Coast United in tonight’s Preliminary Final, and qualify for their third Hyundai A-League Grand Final in six seasons.
A sizzling second half strike from Adam Kwasnik was enough for the Central Coast Mariners to seal a thrilling 1-nil victory over Gold Coast United in tonight-s Preliminary Final, and qualify for their third Hyundai A-League Grand Final in six seasons.
The result not only means that the Mariners will travel to Brisbane for next Sunday-s decider, but will also compete in the next edition of the AFC Asian Champions League. It was the perfect way to farewell Bluetongue Stadium for the 2010/11 campaign.
Head coach Graham Arnold was thrilled with the win, but concedes his side could have played better, particularly in the first half.
“I-m blown away,” said Arnold.
“I have to say that over the ninety minutes we deserved to win tonight. We were a bit sloppy at times, and tried to go through the middle too much and we tried to correct that at halftime.”
Throughout the campaign Arnold has showed tremendous faith in youth. Tonight the youth, in the form of Mathew Ryan, Trent Sainsbury and Mustafa Amini repaid the faith with interest.
“Our senior players did a great job tonight, but we had two 18 year olds, and a 17 year old out on the pitch, and they stood up and did everything asked of them. Nothing fazes them. I-m very happy with the way we played.
“The belief amongst this group of players is unbelievable. The atmosphere at training on Tuesday was fantastic. We-ve had this belief, and I-ve had the belief from the start of the season when people tipped us to come in 9th that we had the ability to do something special this year,” said Arnold.
Captain Alex Wilkinson turned in another composed performance tonight, and was happy to reflect on the enormity of the achievement. As happy as he is, the skipper is experienced enough to know that a job is still ahead.
“It was a great effort by the boys tonight. This is what we-ve been working towards for 10 months now. From the start of the season the belief was always there that we had a good side. To qualify for the Grand Final and for Asia is absolutely massive for the club.
“It could-ve easily been one of those nights where it wasn-t going to drop in for us, but full credit to Kwas, it was a great finish. Even though we were sloppy, and passes were going astray we still had the belief that we could win games, and that-s a credit to the spirit in the squad.
“We-re really looking forward to next week,” said Wilkinson.
With a spot in the Hyundai A-League Grand Final, and a place in the Asian Champions League at stake for the victor, both teams were understandably keen to stamp their authority on the match early. Showing no signs of fatigue from a grueling tie against the Brisbane Roar, it was the home side that had the best of the early running.
A gem of a pass from Oliver Bozanic released Adam Kwasnik in just the third minute of play. Kwasnik showed a clean pair of heels to outflank the converging Gold Coast defence. His strike partner Daniel McBreen tried desperately to provide an option for Kwasnik, but slipped at the vital moment, and the chance went begging.
Gold Coast were intent on playing a compact defensive structure, and the wide players, Michael McGlinchey and Bozanic, were relishing the time and space they were being given. Their efforts went unrewarded, as despite getting in and behind the Gold Coast defenders on several occasions the Mariners were unable to manufacture any real chances.
The next chance fell to the visitors. Only a reflex save from Mat Ryan on a Bruce Djite shot denied the Gold Coast the opener. With both sides having fired their opening salvos of the evening, it seemed the nerves had settled. However Gold Coast was content to put plenty of players behind the ball, frustrating the Mariners fluent attacks.
With both sides forced to take long-range opportunistic shots from distance, it was time for the defenders to take centre stage. Patrick Zwaanswijk demonstrated again just how valuable he is to the Mariners cause with a brilliantly executed tackle on Zenon Caravella.
Desperate to take a confidence boosting lead into the break, the Mariners fashioned two strong chances within a minute leading into halftime. First Patricio Perez dragged a shot wide after a strong pass from Rose. Young defender Trent Sainsbury was also the beneficiary of some outstanding attack by the Mariners left fullback, but couldn-t quite get his body into position.
Despite the nil-all score-line, with the home side running towards their preferred end in the second half, there was a sense of optimism around the camp. A boisterous crowd was more than happy to cheer their team home as they went in search of a match-defining goal.
Scripts don-t always go to plan, and Gold Coast fired off the opening shot just minutes into the second term that forced Ryan into a full stretch. The Mariners took heed of the warning, and counterattacked immediately forcing Glen Moss into a smart save at the other end of the field.
Avoca junior Oliver Bozanic opened his account with a stunning strike in last week-s 2-all draw with Brisbane, and the dynamic midfielder looked to repeat the dose tonight with an identical strike in the 54th minute. Aware of the danger, Moss threw himself at the ball and was able to pull off a fine save.
Not to be outdone by his experienced positional counterpart, Mat Ryan caused Mariners fans a heart-in-the mouth moment when he dived at the feet of Bruce Djite. Fortunately he didn-t connect with the Gold Coast flyer, and ultimately collected the ball with ease.
With Matt Simon having survived a strenuous fitness test on his injured foot, Graham Arnold was keen to get his leading marksman into the fray. Those plans were temporarily put on hold when Perez crashed to the ground clutching at his hamstring. The diminutive Argentine bravely tried to battle on but was ultimately unable to. Fortunately Arnold had the emerging cult-figure of Mustafa Amini at his disposal.
Such is the Mariners depth this campaign that even in the midst of the formation changes they were able to seamlessly attack. Zwaanswijk thought he had done enough to give his side the lead when he sailed above his marker from a Bozanic corner.
The powerfully struck header cannoned into the crossbar, much to the defender-s chagrin. Bozanic himself headed wide only moments later after a strong Sainsbury cross. Amini created the Mariners third chance in as many minutes when he showed maturity beyond his years to calmly tee up Rose who pushed his shot wide.
Just as it appeared that finishing was going to let them down Adam Kwasnik stepped up in dramatic fashion. Michael McGlinchey who has been a thorn in the side of many opposing teams this season drove a volley that was blocked in a mass of bodies in the Gold Coast box. Matt Simon played his part to perfection causing the surrounding defenders to hesitate as they stared down the tall striker. The one thousandth of a second was all Kwasnik needed driving the rebounding shot home with fifteen minutes of regular time remaining. It was his 10th goal of the campaign, the 28th of career in the yellow and navy, and arguably the most important he has scored in his 112 Hyundai A-League matches.
Gold Coast is a side that can never be written off, and Miron Bleiberg-s men weren-t going to go down without a fight. Joel Porter and Adama Traore had the chance to level the score in the 78th minute, but a brilliant double save, the second virtually from the ground by Ryan frustrated the Gold Coast attackers.
Defending a 1-nil lead was always going to give the home side a few nervous moments. To their credit though they continued to press forward in search of the defining blow. It didn-t come, but committed defense ensured that didn-t matter. Alex Wilkinson has one of the calmest heads in the competition, and he was constantly encouraging his younger teammates to do their jobs.
Deep into stoppage time Gold Coast received a free kick in a promising position. With just seconds on the clock, every player rushed forward. The delivery soared high into the Bluetongue Stadium sky.
As high as the ball sailed, Mat Ryan soared even higher, comfortably claiming the catch, and ensuring the Mariners would be heading to their third grand final in six seasons.
The Central Coast Mariners next match of the Hyundai A-League 2011 Finals Series will be against Brisbane Roar in the 2011 Grand Final next Sunday, 13 March at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. Kick off is at 4:00pm QST (5:00pm AEDT) and tickets go on sale to Mariners Members at 9:00am AEDT this Monday, 7 March, before General Sale recommences at 9:00am AEDT on Tuesday, 8 March.
Tickets are available online at www.ticketek.com.au or by phoning 132 849.
Central Coast Mariners 1 (Kwasnik 75-)
Gold Coast United 0
Central Coast Mariners: 20. Mathew RYAN (gk), 2. Daniel McBREEN (19. Matt SIMON 69-), 3. Joshua ROSE, 6. Patrick ZWAANSWIJK, 8. Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 10. Patricio PEREZ (22. Mustafa AMINI 66-),11. Oliver BOZANIC, 14. Michael McGLINCHEY, 16. Trent SAINSBURY, 18. Alex WILKINSON (c), 23. Adam KWASNIK (7. John HUTCHINSON 86-).
Subs not Used: 30. Paul HENDERSON (gk), 24. Bernie IBINI-ISEI.
Yellow Cards: Hutchinson 88-
Red Cards: None
Gold Coast United: 1. Glen MOSS (gk), 2. Steve PANTELIDIS (24. John CURTIS 79), 3. Michael THAWAITE (c), 6. Dino DJULBIC, 7. Zenon CARAVELLA, 8. ANDERSON Alves Da Silva, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 11. Bruce DJITE, 13. Sebastiaan VAN DEN BRINK (14. Joel PORTER 69-),15. Tahj MINNIECON (22. Adama TRAORE 78-), 33. Peter PERCHTOLD.
Subs not Used: 20. Scott HIGGINS (gk), 16. Kristian REES.
Yellow Cards: None
Red Cards: None
Referee: Strebre DELOVSKI
Crowd: 7,539 at Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford.