The Central Coast Mariners have fallen to an incredibly narrow defeat against Sydney FC on Sunday afternoon, going down 10-9 on penalties with the scores locked at 3-all after extra time.
It was a valiant effort from the squad, who have only been back in pre-season for the past three weeks, as the team filled with numerous young players and new signings fought hard.
Down 2-0 in the 60th minute, the Central Coast pulled the score back to 2-all with goals to Alou Kuol and Marco Tulio, taking the game to extra time.
A last-minute Sydney FC goal ruled out a remarkable Harry Steele strike in the 100th minute, taking the game to penalties where the home side eventually came out on top.
It cold and wet conditions it was a fierce opening 15 minutes, with both sides pushing hard to win the battle of the midfield. Tulio almost handing the Mariners an early lead in the 10th minute, hitting his chance just wide of the net.
The Central Coast were seemingly denied a clear-cut goal in the 24th minute, with Doka taking a free kick 30 yards out from goal.
The ball finding its way through the line of defence and into the back of the net, as the Mariners wheeled off in celebration. It was soon ruled out for offside, despite no player touching the ball or seemingly effecting Andrew Redmayne from saving the strike.
Sydney FC were able to get their first of the match in the 42nd minute, with Robert Mak making a strong run down the left hand side. The winger finding the bottom right-hand corner to give the home side a 1-0 lead.
That goal was the only one of the half, as Sydney went into the sheds with a one goal advantage.
The Mariners came out firing in the second period, with Jing Reec having a good chance in the 48th minute. Storm Roux firing his rocket just over in the 51st minute, as the Central Coast continued to apply the pressure.
Against the run of play Sydney FC did get their second on the counterattack, with Patrick Wood finding himself on the end of a Mak cutback to double their advantage in the 59th minute.
It only took two minutes for the Mariners to get firmly back into the match, with the returning Alou Kuol finding his way onto the scoresheet.
The striker rising high above the pack to get on the end of a Marco Tulio cross, guiding his header over Andrew Redmayne and into the back of the net in the 61st minute.
That goal firmly keeping the momentum with the Mariners, as the young squad took ascendency of the game.
The Central Coast soon made multiple substitutions as Head Coach Nick Montgomery looked to bring on fresh legs, with Christian Theoharous, Noah Smith, Dylan Wenzel-Halls and Brian Kaltak all being brought on.
The Mariners ultimately were rewarded for their consistent pressure, with Christian Theoharous getting fouled in the penalty area after a brilliant run. The referee pointing to the spot, with Marco Tulio stepping up to take it.
The Brazilian was cool and calm in his approach, sending Redmayne the wrong way as he tucked it into the bottom right corner in the 84th minute. Neither team able to find the net again, with the scores locked at 2-all heading into extra time.
Mariners goalkeeper Jack Warshawsky pulled off a remarkable save in the 95th minute to keep the match level, before some lovely free-flowing football found us our third of the match.
Wenzel-Halls chipping the ball over expertly into space for Smith, who cut it back for Tulio. The Brazilian deflecting the ball skyward, before Steele got his boot on the end of it for a volley.
The strike finding its way through Sydney’s defence and into the back of the net, handing us a 3-2 lead in the 100th minute.
Smith almost found his way onto the scoresheet in the 114th minute, with the youngster getting on the end of a Christian Theoharous cross. The right upright the only thing stopping the Mariners from a fourth goal.
With only moments left to go in the match, Aydan Hammond unfortunately turned the ball over in the middle of the park.
Sydney FC did find the back of the net in the final seconds to take it to penalties, with Jaiden Kucharski’s curling strike tucking into the bottom right corner in the 123rd minute. The match ending 3-all, heading to a penalty shootout.
Both teams missed one penalty in the first five, with Jack Warshawsky pulling out a remarkable save on Adrian Segecic’s fifth penalty to keep the contest alive.
The young keeper unfortunately missing the eleventh penalty kick in what was a mammoth shoot-out, with the 20-year-old needing to hold his head high after a stellar debut for the club.
Sydney ultimately winning the shootout 10-9, with every player on the field taking one penalty kick each.
Despite the result it was a truly valiant performance from the Mariners, who showed serious heart to fight back from 2-0 down mere weeks into pre-season.
The 120 minutes of game time sets the squad up well for the upcoming AFC Cup and A-League competitions, which still have at least over a month until they get underway.
With more visa players to be recruited and the squad still rebuilding, there were countless positives to take from the match.
Congratulations to Jack Warshawsky, Nathan Paull, Aydan Hammond and Mikael Doka who all made their debuts on the night for the Central Coast Mariners first team.