Mariners full of Heart in season opener

The Central Coast Mariners have repeated the heroics of an opening day triumph in the sporting capital of Australia for the second year running, but 12 months after Melbourne Victory felt the wrath of the Yellow and Navy, it was competition newcomer Melbourne Heart which was at the end of a 1-nil defeat at the hands of the Mariners at AAMI Park.

The Central Coast Mariners have repeated the heroics of an opening day triumph in the sporting capital of Australia for the second year running, but 12 months after Melbourne Victory felt the wrath of the Yellow and Navy, it was competition newcomer Melbourne Heart which was at the end of a 1-nil defeat at the hands of the Mariners at AAMI Park.

A first half goal to captain Alex Wilkinson, just his second in 112 matches, proved the difference between the two sides.

“I was very, very proud of the boys,” said Mariners Head Coach Graham Arnold.

“I gave them 9 out of 10 for their defensive work but only 6 out of 10 when we had the ball.

“In the first half we did very well, played good football, but didn-t continue it in the second half and gave away the ball a bit too cheaply at times. Even though we looked dangerous on the break at times, I want better with the ball. They can do it, I-ve seen them at training do it, in the trial games we-ve played they-ve done it, and they know it as well, but it was a very positive start.”

A new head coach, four new players in the starting eleven and against a new club at a new stadium, the Mariners could have been forgiven for being somewhat edgy in the opening stages, as Pedj Bojic took just 24 seconds to find his way into the referees book for a marginally late challenge in the centre of the park.

Just a minute later and the hosts had the chance to open the account, as former Mariner Dean Heffernan whipped in a Free Kick which Gerald Sibon headed on, forcing Jess Vanstrattan to scramble away for a corner.

Diminutive Brazillian Alex Terra found himself in space on the left, but Vanstrattan got low to smother the danger.

After a whirlwind opening both sides started to settle, and it was the Yellow and Navy with the next clear chance, as Matt Simon delivered a dangerous ball in to force a corner.

From the ensuing set piece, Michael McGlinchey delivered a ball in, which Alex Wilkinson headed at Clint Bolton after ghosting in at the back post.

It was a sign of things to come though, as the opening goal of the Hyundai A-League 2010/11 season came from one of the more unlikely sources.

John Hutchinson relieved McGlinchey of his duties at the corner, and his out-swinging delivery found his captain on the edge of the six yard box, who beat Michael Marrone to head home for the first goal of the campaign, and just the second of his career.

The Mariners were making inroads down the right and Brad Porter would be the next to set up an opportunity, as he sent a cross in which only just evaded the charging Daniel McBreen at the near stick.

Adam Kwasnik had a great opportunity to make it two but couldn-t quite get his shot on target, after Matt Thompson had carelessly lost possession in his own third.

Simon and Vanstrattan got tangled in each other as they attempted to clear a corner late in the half but another former Central Coast player Michael Beauchamp could only scoop his rushed effort over the bar.

And the hosts had one final attempt to level proceedings on the stroke of half time, but Terra headed over after a ball in from Heffernan on the left.

Matt Thompson went on a good run down the left early in the second half and sent a low ball in Sibon, who turned expertly before watching his shot sail wide of the upright.

Almost immediately after his introduction on the hour, former Victory NYL player Aziz Behich showed his intent, as he took on Brad Porter and McGlinchey, however no teammate was able to get near his resultant cross.

Daniel McBreen had what appeared to be a goal-bound effort from 20 yards blocked and Michael Marrone took aim from a similar range at the other end, but his shot wasn-t troubling Vanstrattan as it sailed over.

Simon Colosimo headed a free kick over as the locals pushed hard for an equaliser, while McBreen fired at Bolton under heavy pressure from Heffernan after being sent away down the right.

With the clock winding down, McBreen had another chance to make it two after doing well to turn Beauchamp and win the ball from a long Patrick Zwaanswijk free kick, but his shot from a tight angle was just off target.

McBreen showed more good strength soon after as he brought down a ball and laid off for Simon, who could only find the side netting.

Sibon fired a long range free kick over the bar and while there were some anxious moments in the dying stages – Marrone and Thompson both had chances – that angst only compounded by the fourth official-s indication of four minutes of time added on, the Mariners were able to celebrate at the final whistle, their first win, with a band new coach, and new look squad.

Head Coach was full of praise for Matt Simon, who was shifted into more of an attacking midfielder role in the absence of Patricio Perez who succumbed to a minor hamstring strain in the build-up, to ultimately pick up Fox Sports- Man of the Match award.

“Our main objective at the start was to stop Skoko, and Matty Simon I thought was top shelf. Defensively he did a great job on Skokes but with the ball as well, he got carried away at the end, he thought he was a real number ten!

“I had him with the Olympic team and he can play anywhere, if you put him at centre back he-ll play centre back. He has a great character, a great workrate and I like him to face play,” said Arnold.

But Arnold is confident Perez will be on deck for his Bluetongue Stadium bow against Adelaide United in the first home game of the new campaign next Sunday afternoon.

“He probably could have played at a pinch, but Melbourne Heart away, the adrenaline running through the stadium and the players, I wasn-t prepared to risk Patricio tonight, I-d rather keep him for our home supporters at Bluetongue next week,” Arnold said.

Alex Wilkinson christened a new venue for the Hyundai A-League ground for the second time, after his first ever goal came at Canberra Stadium as it hosted its maiden match last season.

“It doesn-t happen too often, I think that-s two in six years now, which isn-t a great strike rate!” laughed Wilkinson.

“We-ve done a lot of work on set pieces both defensively and attacking so it-s great that it paid off, and we defended set pieces against quite well tonight as well. They played some great balls into the box and had some big boys attacking them, so I thought it was great by the boys.”

The Central Coast Mariners are next in action next Sunday, 15 August, in their first home match of the Hyundai A-League 2010/11 season at Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford. Kick-off is at 3:00pm and tickets are available by CLICKING HERE or by phoning 132 849.

Mariners Memberships for the Hyundai A-League 2010/11 season are now available at HERE or by phoning 1300 767 442.

Match Details

Melbourne Heart 0
Central Coast Mariners 1 (Wilkinson 16-)

Melbourne Heart: 1. Clint BOLTON (gk), 2. Michael MARRONE, 4. Simon COLOSIMO, 5. Michael BEAUCHAMP, 6. Matt THOMPSON, 7. Rutger WORM (24. Aziz BEHICH 58-), 9. Gerald SIBON, 11. Alex TERRA, 20. Josip SKOKO (19. Eli BABALJ 68-), 22. Nicholas KALMAR (3. Brendan HAMMILL 73-), 23. Dean HEFFERNAN.

Subs Not Used: 12. Peter ZOIS (gk).

Yellow Cards: Heffernan 72-, Hammil 83-
Red Cards: Nil

Central Coast Mariners: 1. Jess VANSTRATTAN (gk), 2. Daniel McBREEN (9. Nik MRDJA 90+2-), 4. Pedj BOJIC, 5. Brad PORTER, 6. Patrick ZWAANSWIJK, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 11. Oliver BOZANIC, 14. Michael McGLINCHEY, 18. Alex WILKINSON (c), 19. Matt SIMON, 23. Adam KWASNIK (8. Rostyn GRIFFITHS 68-).

Subs Not Used: 20. Mathew RYAN (gk), 12. Matthew LEWIS.

Yellow Cards: Bojic 1-, Hutchinson 36-
Red Cards: Nil

Referee: Chris BEATH
Crowd: 11,050 at AAMI Park, Melbourne