Mariners show character in Tianjin draw

The Central Coast Mariners' AFC Champions League campaign continued in a positive fashion in China's east this evening, with the visiting Mariners earning a precious Group H point following their 2-2 draw with Tianjin Teda.

The Central Coast Mariners' AFC Champions League campaign continued in a positive fashion in China's east this evening, with the visiting Mariners earning a precious Group H point following their 2-2 draw with Tianjin Teda.

Each side held a one-goal advantage throughout the course of a throbbing ninety minute spectacle where Adrian Caceres and Matt Simon became the Mariners' historic first ever goal scorers on the continent in reply to headed goals from Eber Luis and Wu Weian.

Dominant in terms of possession and chances, the Mariners were denied all three points by a pair of Tianjin corners that found their targets, but will return to the Central Coast contented with a performance that proved the Mariners' ability to compete on the biggest stage in Asia.

The Mariners have now emerged undefeated from two tough encounters against the elite club sides of the Korea Republic and China, with this result particularly inspiring in light of the amazing day-long journey that the yellow and navy were forced to endure from their hometown to Tianjin.

"Tonight, the game was played in very good spirits by both teams and I-m very proud of how our team performed over the ninety minutes," said Mariners Football Manager Lawrie McKinna after the match.

"I felt as though Tianjin had scored against the run of play in the first half and I felt as through we had weathered the storm and that we had them on the back foot.

"We deserved to go 2-1 up, but it was disappointing for us to concede two goals from two corners."

McKinna kept faith with the starting eleven that were so diligent against Pohang Steelers a week ago - the first time a Mariners starting side had been retained since Round 12 of the Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season.

Tianjin-s starting side underlined their desire for a positive outcome with all four of their permitted foreign players earning starts, including Australian Olympian Mark Bridge and iconic Italian midfield talent Damiano Tommasi.

The quality of the hosts was evident in the fact that only French defender Jean-Philippe Caillet and Brazilian marksman Eber Luis had yet to be capped by their country at senior international level, with all of Tianjin-s local contingent having worn the colours of their country at some stage of their careers.

Up until Tianjin's opener, the Mariners more than matched their more fancied opponents and were perhaps surprised to enjoy such an overwhelming share of possession.

Without creating a plethora of chances, the visitors front pairing of Nik Mrdja and Simon certainly loomed most likely to find the back of the net, with the collective quality of Bridge and Eber Luis largely negated by the Mariners backline.

However, as has become an unfortunate habit of the Mariners' recent history, Tianjin seized upon a rare opportunity from a set piece - Eber Luis powering home a corner from close range to hand the home side the lead shortly after the half hour mark.

The Mariners could so easily have conceded defeat given their recent run of outs, particularly considering the vociferous partisan atmosphere inside the Tianjin Teda Stadium.

In accordance with the Mariners spirit of old, however, the underdogs duly responded with two goals in the opening quarter of the second stanza to take an unlikely but richly deserved lead.

First, substitute Caceres deflected a Shane Huke shot past Tianjin goalkeeper Yang Jun only minutes after replacing Pedj Bojic at the break.

Caceres' strike, his third in Mariners colours but, most significantly, the first ever by a Mariners player in Asia's most prestigious club competition, ignited a Mariners charge that was always a threat merely lay dormant by a lack of confidence in the final third.

Fifteen minutes later, such confidence rose to a new level when Simon slotted his first since January with the calmness and collectiveness Mariners members and supporters have come to expect from their standout season four performer.

Simon, having received a ball from midfield, weaved past the Tianjin defence and confidently struck a low shot that instated the visiting team to a position that they had unquestionably earned

Reinvigorated and recharged, the Mariners immediately set about extending their advantage and showcased some vintage football before again conceding from a corner; this time it was Wu Weian nodding home from the near post on 66 minutes.

Through Simon and substitute Dylan Macallister - fit again after missing last Wednesday's clash due to illness - the Mariners always looked capable of snatching a winner but would settle for a share of the spoils and an ultimately positive result against considerable odds.

With rivals Kawasaki Frontale and Pohang Steelers drawing 1-1 in tonight-s other Group H fixture, the Mariners maintain their second placing ahead of next month-s blockbuster series against the aforementioned J.League heavyweights at home and away.

Lamentably, the Mariners will be without goal scorer Simon and defensive lynchpin Bojic, with both receiving their second yellow cards of the campaign in the first half and subsequently triggering respective one-match suspensions.

Conversely, the confidence gained by the yellow and navy after their best showing in months will mean that the Mariners side that takes on the Group H and perhaps AFC Champions League 2009 favourites will be one that is capable of achieving the optimum result.

"Overall, I said before the game that if we were to get a draw that it would be a good result for us, but our players are very disappointed that we didn-t get three points," said McKinna.

The Mariners- inaugural AFC Champions League campaign will resume at Central Coast Stadium, where they will take on Japan-s Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday, 8 April. Kick off is at 8pm.

Tickets for this match are on sale from Ticketek outlets, from the Ticketek website - www.ticketek.com.au, or via phone on 132 849.

Match Details

Central Coast Mariners 20. Danny Vukovic (gk), 3. Shane Huke, 4. Pedj Bojic (10. Adrian Caceres 46-), 5. Bradley Porter, 7. John Hutchinson, 8. Dean Heffernan, 9. Nik Mrdja (11. Dylan Macallister 65-), 16. Nigel Boogaard, 17. Matthew Osman, 18. Alex Wilkinson, 19. Matt Simon

Unused Subs 13. Paul O-Grady, 15. Andrew Clark, 21. Ahmad Elrich, 23. Adam Kwasnik, 30. Andrew Redmayne (gk)

Yellow Cards Simon 6-, Boogaard 30-, Bojic 40- Red Cards None Goals Caceres 48-, Simon 61-

Tianjin Teda 1. Yang Jun (gk), 5. Wang Xiao, 6. Tan Wangsong, 8. Hao Junmin, 9. Wu Weian, 13. Wang Xinxin (21. Han Yanming 80-), 23. Jean-Philippe Caillet, 24. Mark Bridge (20. Mao Biao 59-), 26. Cao Yang, 28. Eber Luis (10. Zhang Shuo 89-), 30. Damiano Tommasi

Unused Subs 2. He Yang, 3. Bai Yi, 7. Chi Rongliang, 22. Zhao Yanming (gk)

Yellow Cards Tan Wangsong 41-, Cao Yang 84- Red Cards None Goals Eber Luis 37-, Wu Weian 66-

Referee Malik Abdul Bashir (Singapore) Crowd 27,005