Mariners clinch first A-League title

By Justin Falconer

21 April, 2013

Central Coast has won the 2013 A-League Grand Final with a 2-0 over the Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday evening at Allianz Stadium, handing the Mariners their first Championship on their fourth trip to the season’s decider.

A headed goal from Patrick Zwaanswijk moments before half-time was complemented in the 68th minute, when the A-League’s top goalscorer for the season Daniel McBreen emphatically converted a penalty which was awarded for a handball in the box. McBreen was judged to be best afield.

A divided 42,102 people formed the largest crowd at Allianz Stadium ever, with the Wanderers supporters named the ‘Red and Black Block’ living up to their lofty vocal standards.

But they were left with little to cheer for as their side’s inability to produce quality final passes into their attacking third was punished by the rampant Mariners down both wings.

“We had to learn the hard way how to win a grand final,” Arnold said, speaking of his club’s previous three Grand Final defeats on the ground after the final whistle.

“The boys, I’m just so happy for them. There are a few boys who have been scarred from grand finals and now the scar is gone.”

The players were met with an undulating pitch for the A-League’s showpiece match, with both teams electing to show their displeasure by beginning the match with a lack of precision passing football.

A nervous start from both teams prompted a series of long-balls to be knocked up and down Allianz Stadium.

The first real chance of the match came in such a fashion, as the Mariners’ veteran Mile Sterjovski snuck in behind the Wanderers defence only to see his lobbed shot at goal nick the crossbar on its way over the target.

This was evidently Central Coast’s ‘Plan A’ in the early stages, with neither team threatening to pass and move the ball through the midfield in the opening 20 minutes.

With the absence of Dutch attacker Youssuf Hersi, the Wanderers turned to youngster Appiah-Kubi down the right, with his speed and touch causing the main headaches for Mariners’ coach Graham Arnold in the first half.

A quick cross from Michael Bridge on the counter left Dino Kresinger inches away from an open header attempt on goal, before the Mariners got going in attack through Josh Rose and Daniel McBreen down the left and Pej Bojic, Bernie Ibini and Sterjovski again down the right.

Relentless crossing into the Wanderers goal mouth had the defence scrambling at times but an inability to create an open shot held the Mariners at bay.

But Wanderers’ coach Tony Popovic was scrambling to rewrite his half time speech after the decider’s opening goal came off the head of 38-year old Patrick Zwaanswijk at the near post after an in swinging ball from a corner.

The defender took full advantage of some slow and reactionary defending from Kresinger before burying an unstoppable header to catapult his team into a half-time, 1-0 lead.

It was the Dutchman’s first goal of the season and more incredibly the first occasion on which Western Sydney had conceded from a corner all year.

A rejuvenated Wanderers side emerged for the initial 15 minutes of the second half, with a cross dropping for Shinji Ono at the far post which he failed to put away.

Mile Sterjovski produced a wonderful solo effort at the other end just a minute later, his volley cannoning just off the crossbar, his nemesis for the evening.

Popovic called for a 67th minute substitution, replacing the quiet Dino Kresinger with in-form goal-scorer Labinot Haliti.

However disaster struck almost immediately for the Red and Black Block, as a failed clearance from Jerome Polenz saw him control the ball away from the pressing Daniel McBreen, resulting in Peter Green having no choice but to point to the penalty spot.

McBreen’s thunderous spot-kick broke a penalty hoodoo for the Mariners, after having their season ended by Brisbane and Perth after penalty shootouts in the last two finals campaigns.

Coach Graham Arnold couldn’t bear to watch McBreen’s finish and refused to celebrate after the ball found the back of the net.

Perhaps nightmares of a Grand Final two seasons ago left the coach believing a two goal lead has the potential to disappoint.

Changes were prompted for the match’s final stages with Tarek Alrich and Rocky Visconte replacing Polenz and Appiah-Hubi respectively for the Wanderers, while Arnold introduced Mitchell Duke and Nick Fitzgerald to see out the last portion of the season.

While the Wanderers grew desperate they were unable to prolong the match into extra time or score a winner, as Central Coast sat back in defence to protect their eventually unassailable lead.

On the ground post-match Arnold was quick to praise his players for their heroic efforts:

“I can’t be more proud of the players,” Arnold said.

“We just wanted to make sure we carried out the game plan for 95 minutes and continued to do what we wanted to from the start of the day.”

Unfortunately the Mariners celebrations are to be cut short, as they board a plane early tomorrow morning for Korea to prepare for an Asian Champions League match on Tuesday.

Meanwhile the Wanderers can only reflect on what has been an incredible year and will seek solace in winning a Premiers’ Plate in their first season.

Justin Falconer is a second year Bachelor of Journalism (Sport) student at La Trobe University. Follow him on Twitter @jfalconer6.

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