Grand Final heartbreak for Mariners

The Central Coast Mariners have tasted defeat in the cruellest possible way in tonight’s Hyundai A-League Grand Final against the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium, as Brisbane Roar somehow turned around a 2-goal deficit in the last three minutes of extra time to level at 2-all, before going on to claim victory in a penalty shootout.

The Central Coast Mariners have tasted defeat in the cruellest possible way in tonight-s Hyundai A-League Grand Final against the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium, as Brisbane Roar somehow turned around a 2-goal deficit in the last three minutes of extra time to level at 2-all, before going on to claim victory in a penalty shootout.

It was a case of so near, yet so far for the Mariners, who took a two-goal lead through Adam Kwasnik and Oliver Bozanic in the first period of extra time, before the Henrique and Erik Paartalu cancelled out those efforts in the final minutes of the second period.

Despite the result, Graham Arnold was able to reflect positively on what has been a wonderful season for the Yellow and Navy.

“I have to say I-m extremely proud of the boys. You blokes sitting here tipped us to come ninth or 10th (at the start of the season) and we have just been beaten in a penalty shootout in a Grand Final.

“We claimed (an) Asian Champions League (spot, so it-s been a hell of a good season, we were one kick away from winning the competition. It-s been a very good season, we have developed an outstanding goalkeeper, we had Bernie an 18 year old and another 17 year old on the field, it-s been a good year for us,” said Arnold.

A tumultuous roar rocked the arena as both sides took to the field. Grand Finals after all are an event. With the bulk of the fifty thousand strong crowd dressed in orange, the Mariners made their way to the healthy cluster of yellow shirts that were cheering passionately from the away bay.

It was a nervous start from both sides as they sought to get early touches on the ball to calm the inevitable nerves. A number of passes from both the Roar and the Mariners crossed the sideline as the players attempted to settle into the rhythm of the game.

The match-hardened Mariners settled first. A lovely interchange of passes between Mustafa Amini and Matt Simon saw the normally composed Roar defence make an uncharacteristic error. Brisbane custodian Michael Theoklitos was clearly far from impressed as he screamed at his defenders. The ‘keepers bleak mood was hardly improved when Kwasnik was able to have a free header from the resulting corner.

Amini was involved in everything, and the precocious youngster demonstrated no sign of nerves, displaying some nice touches, and having a shot blocked by Matt Smith in the 8th minute.

The Mariners next foray into Roar territory very nearly resulted in the opener, but for the urgency of Matt McKay. Adam Kwasnik angled his header towards the far post, where the Brisbane skipper lurked desperate to clear the ball.

From the resulting counterattack, McKay almost inflicted maximum damage on the Mariners. Only a last ditch challenge from Patrick Zwaanswijk salvaged the situation.

These two chances very easily could have been put away in what was an end-to-end first term. With the attackers having limited opportunities it was left to the defenders to make their presence felt. Mariners captain Alex Wilkinson played one of his most dominant performances in the Yellow and Navy, and pulled off three outstanding challenges to deny three promising Roar raids. His more experienced partner Zwaanswijk also chimed in pulling off a crucial challenge on Kosta Barbarouses when the flyer looked likely to score.

With the clock counting down to halftime, Oliver Bozanic injected himself into the play and was creating headaches for the Brisbane defence. When the attack inevitably switched to the other side of the pitch, Kiwi international Michael McGlinchey picked up where the left-winger left off. Kwasnik burst into the clear with an intelligent run off a pass from McGlinchey, but unfortunately for the Mariners Matt Simon didn-t get the delivery he needed.

Brisbane had one final chance to take the lead when Mitch Nicholls volleyed into the bar. Ivan Franjic was first to the rebounding ball, but Mat Ryan showed again just how quick he is on his feet and recovered well.

With scores level at halftime and a torrential downpour soaking the Suncorp turf, the second half was always going to a test of will.

Just as he did in the twilight of the first half Ryan was on hand again to deny Carlos Solorzano getting a lone arm behind a sizzling shot from the striker.

A heavy pitch meant that the Mariners were keen to keep the ball on the deck as often as possible. Bozanic tried a long-range effort in an attempt to test Theoklitos, but the ‘keeper had it well covered.

In the 52nd minute a lovely passing movement that defied the conditions from Amini to Simon saw Kwasnik drag his shot across the face of goal.

The Mariners efforts awoke the slumbering Roar, and as they have done throughout the season the Brisbane team consolidated possession and looked to attack. Aware of the threat, the Mariners didn-t panic and focused on defence. Some good challenges from Bozanic and Rose when the Roar were threatening through Erik Paartalu and Henrique meant that the Roar would be forced to end regular time with nothing to show for their efforts.

The culmination of a heavy schedule leading up to and including the finals series saw the Mariners start to fatigue as fulltime approached, but true to character they kept pushing regardless of the obstacles. This persistence nearly got the ultimate reward in the final minute of stoppage time when substitute striker Bernie Ibini-Isei broke away with one defender to beat, only for referee Matthew Breeze to blow fulltime with Ibini about to stroke home what would have been a famous winner.

Ibini-Isei didn-t let that decision faze him. Immediately upon the resumption of play with the benefit of the freshest legs on the field the marksman continued to mercilessly hassle the Brisbane defence. He twice got himself into brilliant positions only to be thwarted by the superb glovework of Theoklitos.

Ibini-Isei-s presence led to Adam Kwasnik-s dramatic goal. Going up for a header from an in-swinging corner the Roar-s attention focused on the young marksman, leaving Kwasnik free to head home past a stranded Theoklitos.

Not content with a one goal advantage the Mariners sensed the Roar were there for the taking, something they haven-t achieved against the Queenslanders in season 2010/11. A collision on halfway saw space open up that the Mariners were able to take full advantage of. First Rose and then Kwasnik got a touch before a simple cross gifted Bozanic the easiest of tap ins.

The parochial Brisbane crowd were stunned, at 2-nil with fifteen minutes of extra time remaining it seemed destiny that the championship would be heading to NSW.

As every other team has learned this season, and the Mariners on several occasions, you can never write off the Brisbane Roar. It was always going to be a nervous second period, but Ryan comfortably held several early chances from Brisbane to protect the lead.

With five minutes on the clock Solorzano sprung the Mariners attempted offside trap before delivering a pass to Henrique who drove the ball home.

Pandemonium erupted in Suncorp as the Brisbane faithful were cheering their team on, while the travelling Mariners army was nervously watching the clock. With twenty seconds to go Brisbane received a corner. Every player committed themselves forward in anticipation of the delivery. In the mass of bodies clad in both yellow and orange jerseys Erik Paartalu evaded everyone heading the ball home for a dramatic equalizer.

The Hyundai A-League showpiece would be decided on penalties for the second straight season.

Veteran John Hutchinson playing in his second Grand Final stepped up to take the first penalty. Under enormous pressure he calmly slotted home.

Brisbane-s Ivan Franjic would take the first penalty for the Roar, and he too managed to score.

Captain Alex Wilkinson was next to head to the spot and with an almost perfect technique he drove the ball home suggesting that his goal scoring exploits over the last two seasons should continue.

Erik Paartalu drove the ball under the outstretched arm of Ryan to lock up the shootout at 2-2.

The responsibility of the all-important third penalty fell to striker Daniel McBreen. With a boisterous crowd at his back Michael Theoklitos was able to get a glove to the ball denying the marksman.

Skipper Matt McKay took it upon himself to consolidate the Roar-s advantage, which he duly did.

Charged with the task of keeping the Mariners in the contest was Pedj Bojic. He didn-t falter under the pressure striking the ball with methodic precision. As good as the strike was though, Theoklitos was able to athletically launch himself and intervene as the ball was headed for the top corner.

That meant that the 2011 Grand Final result would rest on the boot of Henrique. For him the equation was simple. Score and the Roar would take the title, miss and the Mariners would have one more chance.

Henrique scored, a city celebrated, and the Mariners were forced to rue the one that got away.

The silver lining to the dark cloud hovering over Suncorp tonight was the crowning of Mathew Ryan as the Joe Marston medal winner, named after the first Australian to play in an FA Cup final, and now a Central Coast resident and Mariners member, for the Man of the Match in the Grand Final.

Arnold says his side will look back on the match with a focus on education ahead of another shot in 2011/12.

“They-ll hurt, but we have six months before the next game.

“What a fantastic game. What a fantastic spectacle for the A-League. The game has been crying out for something positive this year, and I think that was the most positive thing,- said Arnold.

Match Details

Central Coast Mariners 2 (Kwasnik 96-, Bozanic 102-) Brisbane Roar 2 (Henrique 117-, Paartalu 120-)

Brisbane won 4-2 on penalties

Central Coast Mariners: 20. Mathew RYAN (gk), 3. Joshua ROSE, 4. Pedj BOJIC, 6. Patrick ZWAANSWIJK, 8. Rostyn GRIFFITHS (24. Bernie IBINI-ISEI 89-), 11. Oliver BOZANIC, 14. Michael McGLINCHEY, 18. Alex WILKINSON (c), 19. Matt SIMON (2. Daniel McBREEN 72-), 22. Mustafa AMINI (7. John HUTCHINSON 61-), 23. Adam KWASNIK.

Subs not Used: 30. Paul HENDERSON (gk), 16. Trent SAINSBURY.

Yellow Cards: None None

Brisbane Roar: 1. Michael THEOKLITOS (gk), 2. Matthew SMITH, 4. Shane STEFANUTTO, 5. Ivan FRANJIC, 6. Erik PAARTALU, 7. Kosta BARBAROUSES (10. HENRIQUE 71-), 9. Jean CARLOS SOLORZANO, 15. Matt McKAY (c), 17. Mitchell NICHOLS (8. Massimo MURDOCCA 82-), 22. Thomas BROICH, 23. Milan SUSAK (14. Rocco VISCONTE 102-).

Subs not Used: 20. Andrew REDMAYNE (gk), 12. Matthew MUNDY.

Yellow Cards: None Red Cards: None

Referee: Matthew BREEZE Crowd: 50,168 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane