THE bitter-sweet nature of Tuesday night’s result against cashed-up Japanese outfit Kashiwa Reysol was about more than just the scoreboard.
IT goes without saying that any 3-0 loss is disappointing!
But the bitter-sweet nature of Tuesday night-s result against cashed-up Japanese outfit Kashiwa Reysol was about more than just the scoreboard.
First and foremost we have qualified for the Asian Champions League Round of 16 for the first time in the club-s history - at the third attempt.
That is absolutely massive for the Mariners, the Central Coast, the A-League and Australia, make no mistake.
Secondly, the first 60 minutes was as good a football performance as I have seen from our team.
The boys turned it on in style and blew a team with two players (Domingues and Cleo) worth more than our entire squad off the park.
Defensively we gave nothing away - to the point where Maty Ryan did not have a single save to make until they scored their first goal - and with the ball they couldn-t get close to us.
It lead to plenty of frustration on their bench and players, who are usually energized when they are in possession, having to do a mountain of work defensively and then being left bereft of ideas in attack.
The difference on the night was that Reysol took their chances and we didn-t.
At international level that makes all the difference!
Nevertheless we can take so many positives out of the performance and the mood in the dressing room after the game was one of re-focus for our home-and-away Round of 16 matches on May 15 and 22.
It had been a mammoth fortnight for the club and to be fair it probably caught up with us a bit in the second half.
The win in Korea seven days earlier - 51 hours after we had hoisted the Grand Final trophy - was ultimately the three points that got us through and the players deserved nothing less.
People have said this week we were “lucky” that Suwon did us a favour against Guizhou Renhe with a draw that maintained our second-placing in the group.
If it was “luck” - which I don-t agree with - it was of our own making.
Let-s not forget we had the chance to beat Suwon at Bluetongue in the first game of the group stage and we were seven minutes from victory against Guizhou over in China. We also lead Kashiwa at their place before the hosts came home with a wet sail.
So we have been in the group stage up to our necks from day one and again I go back to the massive win in Korea just a couple of days after the Grand Final.
That not only proved we belonged at this level but that we could win away from home at this level.
The drama and romance of a cup competition gripped Bluetongue Stadium on Tuesday night with both sets of supporters lighting up the stadium both physically and verbally and then we had to wait a couple of minutes after fulltime for the Suwon-Guizhou result to filter through.
The buzz that reverberated around the stadium when confirmation arrived that we had qualified for the second round is hard to put into words - you had to be there to experience it.
Who we meet in the next round of games was yet to be decided at the time of going to print but one thing is for sure - we have entered the section of the draw that includes only Asia-s elite and the players who don a Mariners jersey each week fully deserve to be there.
We have now achieved our two major goals for the season - winning the Grand Final and qualifying for the second round of the ACL. We look forward to the Round of 16 games without an ounce of pressure on us. We will embrace the challenge as always but most importantly we will be in it to win it!