Draw in Japan could be enough to see Central Coast through to Asia’s last 16.
Central Coast Mariners will head into next Wednesday-s final 2014 AFC Champions League Group F match against Japan-s Sanfrecce Hiroshima with their hopes of qualification for the knockout phase still alive despite going down 1-0 to Korea Republic-s FC Seoul in Gosford last night.
Mariners skipper John Hutchinson inadvertently and unfortunately sent the ball beyond Central Coast custodian Liam Reddy deep into added time on Wednesday, meaning Choi Yong-soo-s side will depart Sydney for Seoul on Thursday morning with three vital Group F points to their credit.
In his post-match press conference Mariners boss Phil Moss admitted his side could – and probably should – have had itself in a winning position following the first 45 at Gosford-s idyllic bayside arena, with several chances to the yellow and navy either spurned or saved in the opening period.
Indeed, numerous times the Mariners opened the men from the Korean capital up, only for chances to the likes of Matt Simon, Josh Rose, Hutchinson, and Brent Griffiths to be missed or stopped by the Seoul rear-guard.
“I felt we dominated the first half and we had to take one of our chances,” Moss said. “If we did that it would have been a very different ball game.”
“The only time they really threatened us was when they went long and direct, and in transition when we tried to force passes through the middle,” he said.
Still, the yellow and navy-s shot-stopper Reddy needed to be at his brilliant best in the first half, and 30 minutes in the former Sydney United 58 man spectacularly denied Brazilian attacker Rafael Costa with a one-handed save.
Reddy – who has been one of Central Coast-s best players this campaign – performed strongly again in the second stanza, producing special saves to deny Seoul-s Sergio Escudero and substitute Go Yo-han.
Moss introduced youngsters Bernie Ibini and Mitchell Duke midway through the second period in a bid to hit the red and blacks with an injection of pace, and while their arrivals into the match caused Seoul some problems, the Mariners struggled to create opportunities of note as the game ticked on.
And, in the second of three minutes of time added on at the end of the second half, legendary Mariners skipper Hutchinson unfortunately scuffed his attempted clearance from Kim Jin-kyu-s centre into the back of his own net.
Moss said Hutchinson-s own-goal would only serve to motivate the Mariners skipper in this Saturday-s Hyundai A-League sudden death semi-final in Gosford against Adelaide United.
“I am very disappointed with the result, obviously, but the first thing we did in there [the change rooms] was put our arm around ‘Hutch- [Hutchinson] and made sure he stayed positive,” Moss explained. “He-s [Hutchinson] a great leader, and the first thing he is talking about is Saturday-s semi-final and getting back on the horse.”
“We-ve got recovery tomorrow [Thursday] morning, we-ll get together, everyone will have a smile on their face and we-ll move forward. We-ve got no time to dwell, no time to feel sorry for ourselves, so it-s about getting up for Saturday-s game which I have no doubt we will.”
Tuesday-s other 2014 AFC Champions League Group F match ended in a 2-2 draw between China-s Beijing Guoan and reigning J.League champions Hiroshima in the Chinese capital.
That result ensures the Mariners are placed second after five of six matchdays in this year-s edition of Asia-s most prestigious club competition, so a draw in Japan next week may be sufficient enough to see Central Coast qualify for the round of 16.
Central Coast Mariners will depart for Japan early on Sunday morning after playing Josep Gombau-s Reds in the Hyundai A-League playoffs in Gosford on Saturday afternoon. Kick-off at Central Coast Stadium is at 4:30pm, with tickets available from www.A-League.com.au/Tickets.