Central Coast Mariners have lost on a penalty shoot-out following an epic 120 minutes of Australia Cup football against Sydney FC.
The Mariners went into the Round of 32 clash with high hopes, having defeated the sky blues in the cup semi-final last season.
Head Coach Nick Montgomery named a youthful line-up which contained four new signings, Paul Ayongo, Michael Ruhs, Thomas Aquilina and Nectarios Triantis. Max Balard was named captain for the first time in his Mariners career.
The yellow and navy got the scoring underway just 14 minutes into the match with Béni Nkololo finding the back of the net after a wonderful run inside the box.
The attacking duo of Ayongo and Ruhs caused Sydney some problems throughout the match, threatening to break away in behind the defence and in on goal.
But the sky blues responded in the 29th minute after Dan Hall was adjudged to have fouled Sydney FC attacker Max Burgess inside the box. Adam Le Fondre calmly slotted the resulting penalty to draw the scores level.
The 42nd minute saw Sydney take the lead with a goal from Anthony Caceres who found the target from close range.
Shortly after the half-time break, Mariners were exposed again after Burgess tapped home a cross from teammate Segecic, bringing the score to 3-1.
But there was a swift response from the away side as Michael Ruhs scored his first goal in Mariners colours. The chance came following a strike from Ayongo which was parried into the path of Ruhs who placed the ball into an open net.
With the score at 3-2, Montgomery called upon the experience of Storm Roux and Jason Cummings to help steer the side to an equaliser. But it was made much more difficult on the 66th minute as defender Dan Hall received a second yellow card.
Down to ten men, Central Coast Mariners had to weather the storm for much of the remainder of the match with Sydney propelling numbers forward. Brad Tapp and Dor Jok were injected into the game to assist Mariners in the battle.
With second half heading into the final minutes of injury time, Mariners scored a dramatic late equaliser courtesy of striker Jason Cummings. The corner was expertly delivered by Nkololo with Cummings flicking his header towards the far post, sending the game to extra time.
This being the first competitive match of the season for both sides, the extra-time period took a toll on both teams, with players struggling to create clear-cut opportunities on goal. As the scores were tied up at 3-3, a penalty shootout was set to decide who would proceed to the Round of 16.
The opening three penalties were missed with Cummings and Farrell for the Mariners and Le Fondre for Sydney all failing to find the net. Grant slotting away his penalty put pressure on captain Balard, who delivered precisely from the spot.
Sydney youngster Kucharski scored a confident penalty before Storm Roux unfortunately sent his strike wide of the mark. Connor O’Toole scored the final penalty for Sydney FC, winning the game for the sky blues and sending Mariners out of the cup in the Round of 32.
Despite the loss, the Mariners showed plenty of heart to fight back against the odds and will take the positives out of the performance as they prepare for the Isuzu UTE A-League season ahead.
It was also a special day for two Mariners Academy products, Brad Tapp and Maksim Kasalovic who both made their senior team debuts.
The Central Coast Mariners get their Isuzu UTE A-League campaign underway on Saturday, October 8th at home to Newcastle Jets.
General public memberships on sale August 1st. https://ccmariners.memberlink.net.au/memberhome