Mariners fall just short of Grand Final Qualifier glory

Central Coast Mariners have fallen agonisingly short of reaching the 2011/12 Hyundai A-League Grand Final after succumbing 5-3 on penalties to Perth Glory following an enthralling battle at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday night.

Central Coast Mariners have fallen agonisingly short of reaching the 2011/12 Hyundai A-League Grand Final after succumbing 5-3 on penalties to Perth Glory following an enthralling battle at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday night.

With the two sides locked at 1-1 following regulation time and neither side able to break the deadlock following 30 minutes of extra time, the game was decided by penalties.

With the ledger sitting 4-3 in Perth-s favour, Mariners midfielder Michael McGlinchey stepped up to take the pressure kick, only to see the ball sail over the cross bar.

Perth skipper Jacob Burns secured the Mariners fate when he coolly slotted the decisive penalty past Hyundai A-League Goalkeeper of the Year Mathew Ryan.

Both sides had numerous opportunities to end the game in regulation time.

It was McGlinchey who had the first chance of the game. After the Mariners earned a free kick just outside the penalty area, McGlinchey sent a curling shot around the Perth wall and forced a save from Perth custodian Danny Vukovic.

Perth had their first chance of the game on 19 minutes when a Burns free kick found marksmen Billy Mehmet, whose flick on forced Ryan into a fine diving save.

The Mariners then seemed to take control of the game and were unlucky not to hit the lead after 24 minutes following clever link up play between dynamic midfielder Tom Rogic and right back Pedj Bojic, who was playing his 100th Hyundai A-League match. The play resulted in Rogic firing a shot on target that was narrowly deflected wide by the Perth defence.

The Mariners hard work eventually paid off in the 33rd minute when foundation player Adam Kwasnik goaled. After Perth failed to clear a corner, the ball rolled through the legs of Glory midfielder Travis Dodd and found its way to Kwasnik, who was waiting on the far post.

The Mariners crowd was silenced shortly after though as Perth wasted little time getting back on equal terms courtesy of a Shane Smeltz goal in the 34th minute. Billy Mehmet-s run into the penalty area was given the benefit of the doubt by officials, and after drawing out Mat Ryan, Mehmet passed to a supporting Smeltz who simply tapped the ball into the back of the net as both sides went to half-time locked at 1-1. Replays indicated the goal should have been disallowed.

The Mariners came out after the break looking like a team with a point to prove, and it was Rogic who almost gave his team the lead just after the second half resumed. Indeed, the crafty playmaker had a shot blocked by Vukovic and while Josh Rose did well to follow up, he could only manage to strike the side netting.

The game took a dramatic twist soon after with Mehmet having a header correctly ruled out for offside. The Mariners broke swiftly up the other end, and won a penalty after Kwasnik was adjudged to have been fouled in the box. Perth protested and following a long delay, Dutch defender Patrick Zwaanswijk thumped the spot kick into the cross bar to the disappointment of the Mariners faithful.

The Mariners made the majority of the running in the second stanza. Kwasnik especially was proving a handful, and sent a shot millimetres wide in the 68th minute. Ryan showed why he is considered the competition-s best custodian in the 83rd minute, standing tall to block a Shane Smeltz header with the pressure rising.

Nevertheless, neither team could manage to finish the match in normal time, meaning the crowd would be treated to an extra 30 minutes of frenetic, committed, and ultimately tense football.

It took six minutes for the Mariners to craft their first opportunity of extra time and it was substitute Bernie Ibini who had the chance to score. With Daniel McBreen nodding the ball on to the pacey front man, Ibini couldn-t manage to connect cleanly with his effort and as such failed to trouble Vukovic.

And while further chances for the yellow and navy fell to Ibini who struck the side netting, and Rose who forced Vukovic into a stunning one handed save, referee Strebre Delovski was forced to take the match into dreaded penalties.

With Glory converting their first four spot kicks and the Mariners their first three, it was McGlinchey who had the misfortune of firing over. McGlinchey-s miss handed Burns the opportunity to send Perth into their first ever Hyundai A-League Grand Final, and with the Glory captain sending his shot into the back of the net, the purple-whites broke into celebration at the expense of a devastated Mariners outfit.

Fittingly, the Mariners gallery stayed to applaud their heroes despite the defeat.

While understandably disappointed with the result, Central Coast have little to dwell on their 2011/12 Hyundai A-League exit. Indeed, the yellow and navy depart for Korea Republic tomorrow, where they will face Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma on matchday four of the AFC Champions League on Wednesday.

Post match, Central Coast boss Graham Arnold praised his teams A-League season and believed his charges were the better side on the night.

“I-m a traditionalist and while of course we wanted another crack at Brisbane, for me the Premiership is more important because it rewards consistency,” Arnold said.

“Over 27 rounds our players were brilliant - I couldn-t be prouder of their efforts. I-ve said it many times that it-s a joy turning up at work each day.”

“Our season is not over. We play Seongnam in Korea this week and our aim is now to qualify for the round of 16 of the AFC Champions League.”

“We are in with good opportunity to fulfil that target, and can now focus all of our efforts on Asia-s premier club competition.”

Match Details Central Coast Mariners 1 (Kwasnik 33-) Perth Glory 1 (Smeltz 34-) *Perth Glory win 5-3 on penalties after extra time

Central Coast Mariners: 1. Mathew Ryan (Gk), 3. Joshua Rose, 4. Pedj Bojic, 6. Patrick Zwaanswijk, 7. John Hutchinson, 11. Oliver Bozanic, 14. Michael McGlinchey, 17. Tomas Rogic (2. Daniel McBreen 81-), 18. Alex Wilkinson (C), 19. John Sutton (9. Bernie Ibini 61-), 23. Adam Kwasnik (12. Troy Hearfield 101-)

Subs not used: 20. Justin Pasfield (Gk), 16. Trent Sainsbury

Yellow Cards: Rogic

Red Cards: None

Perth Glory: 1. Danny Vukovic (Gk), 3. Bad van den Brink, 4. Billy Mehmet, 5. Steve Pantelidis (2. Josh Mitchell 108-), 7. Jacob Burns (C), 9. Shane Smeltz, 10. Liam Miller, 13. Travis Dodd (12. Scott Neville 80-), 19. Joshua Risdon, 27. Andrezinho (17. Todd Howarth 58-), 35. Dean Heffernan

Subs not used: 20. Neil Young (Gk), 14. Steven McGarry

Yellow Cards: Pantelidis, Mehmet, Neville, Mitchell

Red Cards: None

Referee: Strebre Delovski