Football felt alive at AAMI Park on Saturday night when the spectacle of the FFA Cup Final befell Melbourne as the Melbourne Victory took on Central Coast Mariners.
The opening half of the contest was very tight and tense with very few chances for either side. In the second 45’, with their fans behind them, Victory piled on the pressure and found the opener from a Jason Davidson free-kick.
The Mariners continued to press for a winner and very nearly did, however they got caught on the counterattack with a late sucker-punch goal from Chris Ikonomidis proving the difference with Oliver Bozanic’s volley at the death being no more than a dramatic consolation.
In the end, Melbourne Victory were victorious and lifted the trophy for the second time.
Leading into this contest, the Mariners were labelled as the under-dogs and Melbourne Victory the favourites after it appeared the odds were stacked against them with the match played in Melbourne, and the Mariners’ appeal for Jason Cummings to play rejected.
On the field however, after the fireworks of pre-game and the niceties observed, the focus fell upon the pitch. From the infancy, the contest was tight and tense and very little openings occurred for either side.
Nicolai Müller started his first game for the club and had the first shot in anger from the edge of the box which took a deflection on its way to goal after Victory defenders found themselves slipping over on the greasy surface.
Both teams cancelled each other out during the first half and the match was very even with a huge midfield battle ensuing with Oliver Bozanic and Harry Steele in the thick of it.
Jacob Farrell playing just his 11th game of professional football continued his impressive rise to fame with another super performance and frequently came out on top against Marco Rojas in 50/50s when it often looked in the Victory man’s favour.
As the second half began, Melbourne Victory piled the pressure on the Mariners goal but failed to muster a shot on target despite the ball rarely finding its way out of the half.
The final sparked to life when a scramble from a Victory corner fell to Moresche off a Victory head and his attempted clearance resulted in contact with Nick D’Agostino who went down in the box and a penalty was given. Upon consultation with his linesman, referee Shawn Evans overturned his decision and play resumed as normal.
Two men who led their team from the back were Dan Hall and Kye Rowles. Impressive and strong in the heat of the AAMI Park battle, they diffused many Victory attacks and added more to their ever-expanding CV at the age of 22 and 23 respectively. Kye Rowles was awarded the Mark Viduka for his efforts across the 90 minutes.
The breakthrough for Victory would come from a dead-ball situation with D’Agostino upended on the edge and following that, Jason Davidson sending the free-kick into the top corner in front of the North End.
After this, the Mariners rallied in the face of adversity and continued to push for an equaliser.
Béni Nkololo had one of the best chances of the half when his fellow substitute Cy Goddard placed a cut-back into his stride, however he failed to sort out his feet and the chance went begging.
Garang Kuol’s late introduction posed a threat to the tiring Victory defence and almost had an assist to his name after he swung in some dangerous deliveries.
With the Mariners pushing for an equaliser, they were caught on the counter attack.
A switch ball found the chest of Chris Ikonimidis who let the ball drop, and his volley found the back of the net to send the Victory fans into raptures, who began jumping the hoardings to celebrate with their players.
When the match restarted, the Mariners would finally get the goal that their hard work and determination deserved when Kuol and Bozanic combined on the edge of the box and received a kind deflection. Kind deflection or not, Ollie Bozanic took advantage and looped a delicious volley off the bouncing ball, in off the far post, giving the Mariners fans something to cheer about.
With the clock almost at zero, the Mariners did not have enough time for a second goal to complete the turnaround and Victory were crowned winners of the FFA Cup for a second time.
These 90 minutes while hurtful, will be of great value to the Mariners who can learn from these experiences and come back bigger and stronger.
The Mariners now focus on their league efforts with a home match against Macarthur FC ahead on Thursday night at Central Coast Stadium.
*On the sleeves of the jerseys worn tonight were the junior clubs of all the boys and they are as follows:
Lawrence Caruso – Whittelsea Rangers
Ricardo Rizzo – AC United FC
Harry McCarthy – Wakehurst FC
James Bayliss – Mindil Aces
Moresche – Vasco de Gama
Garang Kuol – Shepparton SC
Cy Goddard – Tottenham Hotspur
Béni Nkololo – Stade Rennais FC
Marco Ureña – Liga Deportiva Alajuelense
Nicolai Müller – Eintracht Frankfurt
Max Balard – North Sydney United
Harry Steele – Terrigal United
Mark Birighitti – Perth Soccer Club
Lewis Miller – Pittwater FC
Josh Nisbet – St Marys Saints
Noah Smith – Cumberland United FC
Oliver Bozanic – Avoca Sharks
Kye Rowles – Palm Beach Sharks FC
Storm Roux – Sorrento FC
Damian Tsekenis – Padstow United
Jacob Farrell – Wyoming FC
Matt Simon – East Gosford FC
Ruon Tongyik – West Adelaide Hellas
Dan Hall – Lions FC
Yaren Sozer – Keilor Park SC
Matt Hatch – Woy Woy Roosters
Jason Cummings – Hutchinson Vale
Nick Montgomery – Whitkirk Wanderers