The Central Coast Mariners have finished the season off in serious style, defeating Adelaide United 4-1 at Coopers Stadium on Friday night.
In front of a packed-out South Australia crowd the Central Coast put on a stunning display, scoring twice in both halves to secure the result.
The three points see the Mariners finish the Isuzu UTE A-League Men’s season in second place, with the Mariners now skipping the elimination final to go directly into the Semi Final’s.
The placing also means that the Mariners have qualified for Asian football for the first time since the 2013/14 season, guaranteed a spot in the AFC Cup group stages.
It was a fast-paced start for both teams, with neither side able to find an early go-ahead goal. Marco Tulio going the closest in the 11th minute, beating two players with ease in the middle of the park before firing just over the crossbar.
Little did the home supporters know that this was merely a firing shot from the Brazilian, who soon began to run riot in South Australia.
The Mariners got their first through Tulio, with a beautiful counterattack off an Adelaide corner. Off back-to-back headers from Brian Kaltak, the ball landed at the feet of Sam Silvera.
The winger played a sweeping pass on his second touch over the halfway line to find Jason Cummings, with the Socceroo playing a perfect ball across the field into the path of Tulio.
With Adelaide’s defence pushing across to cover and Joe Gauci in his path to goal, the Brazilian took a few dribbles before perfectly chipping the ball up and over into the back of the net. The goal handing the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.
Both teams continued to push with each side having chances of their own to put one in the back of the net, with both Gauci and Danny Vukovic standing tall. Our captain was required to pull off a smart save in the 31stminute, as Luka Jovanovic was played through.
One on one with him, Vukovic positioned himself perfectly to deny the young striker, keeping the Mariners lead intact. Cummings almost made them pay just minutes later, with Tulio finding his strike partner just outside the penalty area. The Socceroo hitting a driven shot with his left, requiring Gauci to palm the ball over for a corner.
After another few chances, including a Cummings shot from directly in front that was saved, the Mariners did get a deserved second goal. Starting on the right, Storm Roux was able to find Beni Nkololo just outside the box. The Frenchman took a touch before picking out the bottom left corner with pinpoint accuracy, scoring his seventh of the season in the 41st minute.
Neither side were able to create a clear-cut chance in the final five minutes of the half, with the Mariners heading into the break with a 2-0 lead.
Adelaide almost got the second period off to the best possible start, with George Blackwood finding the back of the net 30 seconds in. The goal was immediately ruled out as offside, with VAR replays proving the decision to be correct.
Their fast start continued for the opening five minutes, with Vukovic required to make a few strong saves.
The Mariners soon regained control, going on a run of their own where they dominated the play. Shots from James McGarry and Nkololo were only denied by Gauci before Marco Tulio again produced some magic.
Initially starting with Nkololo who passed it over to Tulio, the Brazilian played the ball onto Silvera who was in space down the left-hand side.
The winger found Tulio again 25 yards out, who took a steadying touch to open his body up before rocketing it into the top left corner. The goal solidifying the Mariners dominance, taking a 3-0 lead in the 57th minute.
He almost had his hattrick just moments later, with Beni Nkololo showing some serious skill on a beautiful driving run. His pass was deemed to have come marginally too late as Tulio collected before chipping Gauci again, with the referee deeming that he was offside.
With Mariners head coach Nick Montgomery making multiple substitutions, with the likes of Christian Theoharous, Jacob Farrell and Harry Steele coming into the game, the Mariners continued to dictate the play.
Theoharous unfortunate not to find the back of the net from close range with his shot blocked, as Adelaide soon began to push everything possible forward in an attempt to get back into the match.
Despite this it was the Mariners who got their fourth and final goal of the match, with midfielder Harry Steele scoring the first A-League goal of his career. Moresche played a pivotal role in getting the ball to the youngster, with the Brazilian collecting a throw into the corner.
The striker was able to stand up two Adelaide players and sprint across the by-line. After drawing in multiple defenders, he cut it back to Steele on the penalty spot, who smacked it goalward first time. His strike deflecting slightly before thundering into the back of the net, giving the Mariners a fourth in the 87th minute.
Adelaide did ultimately get a consolation goal through Ryan Kitto in the 93rd minute, with the defender poking it home from close range after finding some space in the penalty area. This was the final chance of note before the full-time whistle was blown, handing the Mariners a 4-1 win.
The Central Coast will now have the week off after finishing in second place, before coming up against the highest ranked winner of the elimination finals. The first match of this two-game series will be away from home, with Industree Group Stadium hosting the second leg.
Further information will be provided when it becomes available, including ticketing details.