Narrow loss for Mariners Academy on NPL opening day

Central Coast Mariners Academy fell to a narrow 2-1 defeat at home to Sydney United, on opening day in the 2024 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s competition on Saturday.

By Mitchell Roese, Football NSW

An entertaining and competitive game ended up 9 vs 10 after a scuffle on 81 minutes, Mariners saw Harry Menham dismissed for a tackle that started the melee, plus Rocco Smith for his subsequent involvement, whilst Sydney United’s Patrick Antelmi was also shown red.

The Mariners looked the most likely to score first, Luka Smyth narrowly pushing one wide before Matej Busek’s volley cleared the crossbar but it was the visitors who opened the scoring through Carlos De Oliveira who drilled home from inside the box.

The goal boosted Sydney United 58, with former Mariners Academy product Matthew Hatch forcing goalkeeper Jack Warshawsky into a clutch save, before playing a part in two more narrow misses from the visitors.

Mariners regathered though, and were rewarded for their resilience when 17-year-old Donatien Niyonkuru fired into the roof of the net to equalise on 41 minutes, after a flowing Mariners counter.

However, the game wouldn’t be level for long as the visitors were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half time, which was duly converted by experienced forward Antelmi.

The first chance of the second half went the Mariners’ way as Lucas Scicluna tested Oliver Kalac honest close to goal, before Sydney United 58’s Antelmi forced Warshawsky into another save at the other end.

Taye Hedley was one of the Mariners’ top performers on the day, with his composure and creativity on the ball, he went close to levelling with an effort from outside the box that whistled over the bar.

The talking point of the second half came on 81 minutes though, as Menham flew into a challenge which sparked unsavoury scenes at Pluim Park. He would be dismissed by referee Ivica Covic, as would Smith and Antelmi for their involvement in the melee that followed.

Sydney United used their experience to see the game out, managing possession with their numerical advantage in the final stages, to open their 2024 season with the three points on the road.

Despite the tough loss at home, Mariners coach Lucas Vilela believes results like these will help toughen the competitiveness of his young squad.

“That’s why we have them in this competition is to toughen them up and sometimes the results won’t come, but in terms of development of players that’s what we’re looking for here,” said Vilela.

“That’s what we take from today.”

Central Coast Mariners: 30. Jack Warshawsky (GK), 2. Michael Paragalli, 3. Cher Dong, 5. Harry Menham, 7. Matej Busek (35. Agieg Aluk 80’), 8. Lucas Scicluna, 10. Luka Smyth (33. Alexander Gountounas ’79), 11. Donatien Niyonkuru (18. Adil Toska 62’), 16. Jordan Small, 22. Rocco Smith, 27. Taye Hedley (34. Arthur De Lima 83’),

Unused Subs: 13. Yani Nassis, 20. Dylan Peraic-Cullen (GK)