Mariners march into Grand Final after gritty draw

Central Coast Mariners ‘dug deep’ in the words of Football Manager Mark Jackson, as they played out a 0-0 draw with Sydney FC to see them through to their first ever home Grand Final.

Two thrilling contests over the last two weeks saw the Mariners advance on aggregate after winning 2-1 in the first leg. Nobody will have thought that game could be topped in terms of drama but the second leg, despite finishing goalless, still ran it close.

The Mariners prevailed after 90 minutes full of goal-line clearances, VAR drama, red cards and penalty appeals, to book their place in next week’s Grand Final against Melbourne Victory, which will be hosted for the first time ever on the Central Coast at Industree Group Stadium.

Mark Jackson named an unchanged starting eleven from the first leg, with just one change to his squad as Miguel Di Pizio returned to full fitness to make the bench in place of Bailey Brandtman.

Sydney came flying out of the traps as expected, chasing an early goal that would have levelled the tie. Danny Vukovic saved early on at his near post to deny Sydney youngster Hayden Matthews before making a huge save from Fabio Gomes on 12 minutes.

The Mariners had their best first half chance on 16 minutes, fantastic battling from Alou Kuol then Christian Theoharous before the latter weaved his way into the box, but nobody in a yellow shirt could find the finishing touch.

The remainder of the first half would be very stop start as tension and controversy consumed the game. Theoharous and Storm Roux were shown contentious yellow cards, before Jackson was also booked by Alireza Faghani for questioning his failure to stop the game when Mikael Doka was bleeding.

The drama didn’t take long to begin again at the start of the second half as Jackson saw his assistant Danny Schofield sent off by Faghani, for his disputes over a blatant push by Max Burgess on Jacob Farrell, just minutes after the restart.

An incredible minute of action was to come on 63 minutes as both teams came close to scoring, first, Luke Brattan did well to chest the ball down and avoid any contact with his hand on his own goal line, to deny Bradley Tapp his first A-League goal.

Sydney went down the other end and thought they had equalised when Robert Mak’s deflected effort crossed the goal line despite the best efforts of Brian Kaltak to clear, but after a VAR check it was shown that Fabio was offside in the middle of the scramble.

Sydney would feel hard done to again on 76 minutes as they appealed for handball against Max Balard but Faghani waved away their claims.

Despite the majority of possession and pressure through the 90 minutes as they tried to wipe away their first leg deficit, Sydney were unable to breach the Mariners who were able to celebrate making back-to-back Grand Finals for the first time in their history.

More drama followed at the end of the game, as Sydney received their third red card of the tie. Anthony Caceres was shown a red card presumably for letting his frustrations known to Faghani.

Jackson’s team are now just one more game away from A-League immortality, as they would become treble winners by retaining the Championship trophy next Saturday.

Melbourne Victory will visit Industree Group Stadium in a historic match that will see a Grand Final held here on the Central Coast for the very first time, after they edged past Wellington Phoenix in extra time, in another dramatic semi-final second leg on Saturday.

Grand Final tickets: A Members Only sale window opens on Monday morning, before tickets go on General Sale begins at 11am on Tuesday.