The Central Coast Mariners made back to back finals appearances as they travelled to face Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium in the Isuzu UTE A-League Elimination Final.
It was a tight and tense affair and the Mariners played some good football at times but were pegged back against the run of play with a Craig Goodwin goal in the first half.
In the second half, it was more of the same as the visitors dominated the ball but were caught in a controversial moment as they were a man light and Adelaide took full advantage scoring their second.
Storm Roux provided hope for the Mariners after great work from Max Balard, but it wasn’t enough as Adelaide scored a late goal to seal their progression to the next round.
Nick Montgomery was forced into a few changes with Josh Nisbet unable to overcome an ankle knock to start and Cameron Windust maintained his spot at the back alongside Kye Rowles with Dan Hall still out injured with a dislocated knee.
From the off, the Mariners looked to control much of the ball and silence the vocal home crowd but Lachlan Brook would have the first opening of the contest as he nicked in ahead of Jacob Farrell but couldn’t divert his effort on target to trouble Mark Birighitti.
Soon, the Mariners had the ascendancy as they looked dangerous on the right wing with Béni Nkololo continuing where he left off in the regular season, cutting inside on his left foot and creating havoc for the Adelaide United back-line. His attempted cross to Marco Ureña was inches away from the head of the Costa Rican.
Nkololo was again involved as he set up Jason Cummings who dropped out wide right but his curling left foot effort was no trouble for Joe Gauci as he held with ease.
The Frenchman was involved once again as he cut inside onto his left foot and curled in a cross come shot which had to be tipped away from danger by Gauci as the visitors looked to get the opening goal.
With the momentum with the Mariners, Adelaide would find the opener through the reliable Craig Goodwin who latched onto a mis-read ball from Cameron Windust and easily passed the ball past the on-rushing Mark Birighitti to the delight of the home support.
Being pegged back after being the better side was tough but the Mariners almost found a way back into the game with Cy’s delivery from a dead ball and Marco Ureña’s forced header from a tight angle but neither found their way past Gauci.
In the second half, the Mariners again started the better of the two sides with Béni Nkololo testing his luck from a free-kick on the edge of the box but Joe Gauci was behind it once more.
Garang Kuol was introduced at half time for Cy Goddard and he almost had another good impact as he attempted to control on the edge of the area but the ball was adjudged to have hit his hand despite Jacob Farrell being released in behind moments later.
The Mariners would find the ball hit the back of the net as the impressive Max Balard drove forward from midfield and took the ball past a few United defenders, before sliding a ball through to Cummings who dispatched past Gauci. The offside flag was raised immediately and VAR checked to confirm that the decision was correct and the score remained 1-0.
The turning point in the contest would come when Lewis Miller turned two Adelaide defenders with a swift movement before firing his shot high and wide. He dropped to the turf unable to continue and received treatment before heading to the sideline.
The Central Coast Mariners had a substitute in Storm Roux ready to go however referee Daniel Elder restarted the game with the Mariners a man light and Adelaide United took full advantage, playing the ball down the left to the vacant right back spot, crossing in for Kusini Yengi who tapped home un-marked.
The Mariners bench were furious but made the changes and then found a way back into the contest as Max Balard impressed once more. The centre-midfielder made his way into the box and he turned on a dime, finding space in the area and locating a free Storm Roux at the back post who calmly passed the ball into the back of the net giving his side a lifeline in the contest which they thoroughly deserved.
Jacob Farrell almost found himself on the scoresheet as Nkololo made room on the right and cut-back to the 19 year old in the box but he was well blocked to the credit of the Reds defence.
With the visitors pushing for an equaliser into the dying embers, more space was left at the back and Louis D’Arrigo almost sealed the contest but was denied by the in-form Mark Birighitti.
Despite the valiant efforts of the Mariners, they would be dealt a fatal blow as Bernardo came on as a substitute and took advantage of the tiring yellow bodies, dispatching past Birighitti and sending his side into the semi-finals to play Melbourne City.
It was a hard way for the courageous Mariners to fall but they can hold their heads up high after a season that proved many doubters wrong with back to back finals, an FFA Cup Final appearance and surpassing the efforts of last year while scoring 14 more goals.