Positive step for spirited Mariners

The Central Coast Mariners’ form renaissance it may not quite have been, but the yellow and navy have taken a major step in the right direction as a result of tonight’s tough 0-0 stalemate with Korean heavyweights Pohang Steelers in the club’s AFC Champions League debut at Central Coast Stadium.

The Central Coast Mariners- form renaissance it may not quite have been, but the yellow and navy have taken a major step in the right direction as a result of tonight-s tough 0-0 stalemate with Korean heavyweights Pohang Steelers in the club-s AFC Champions League debut at Central Coast Stadium.

Ninety tense minutes at the Mariners- rain soaked bay side home could not separate the two sides, with both unable to land the knock out blow despite a scattering of half chances at either end.

Tonight-s result sees the Mariners emerge from their historic first taste of Asia with the knowledge that they have the ability to compete at the highest level on the continent, alongside their confidence boosting competition point and clean sheet.

The Mariners- energies are now focused towards next Wednesday-s unforgiving trip to China-s east and the challenge of Tianjin Teda, where more points would be a welcome addition to tonight-s ultimately positive start.

"As we said before the game - the first game is always the hardest, we didn-t know a lot about Pohang, but once we got going we looked reasonably comfortable throughout the game," said Mariners Football Manager Lawrie McKinna after the match.

"Overall, with the run that we-ve had lately, to not concede a goal is a big stat for us and I think that we can build on that as we go through now."

Measured and calculated, the Mariners set about their first Asian challenge in a diplomatic fashion - largely controlling the opening stages without being able to manufacture chances on goal that reflected their dominance of possession.

Nik Mrdja and Matt Simon - used in tandem as a front pairing for the first time in yellow and navy, provided the home side with a potent attacking outlet that was well serviced by fellow Qantas Socceroo Dean Heffernan, who excelled in his somewhat unfamiliar midfield role.

In defence, Nigel Boogaard and Alex Wilkinson were seldom tested behind the solid centre pair of John Hutchinson and new signing Shane Huke - whose starting berth made him the 47th player to wear the Mariners crest in a competitive fixture.

While Simon tested Pohang ‘keeper Shin Hwa-Yong in the first stanza, Huke applied the same pressure early in the second when forcing the visiting shot stopper to save his unwitting long-range effort that so nearly sneaked under the crossbar.

Not to be outdone, Mariners custodian Danny Vukovic pulled off a potentially game saving stop in the closing stages from Pohang midfielder Choi Hyo-Jin, who unleashed a stunning long-range effort that was goal bound if not for the intervention of the Mariners- gloveman.

Such resilience exemplified the character of what was a Mariners performance of old, which while perhaps not as visually appealing as those past, was one that will give the players, coaching staff and club members and supporters great confidence ahead of the challenges that await at home and abroad.

"We-re happy with the draw and probably think that we deserved a wee bit more, but comfortable with the result," said McKinna.

"There was some good football, some good following up, some good backing up and some good movement from both teams.

"After tonight, I-d say that the end of the last Hyundai A-League season is behind us now, we-ve kept a clean sheet and we can build on that in Tianjin."

The Mariners- AFC Champions League 2009 campaign continues on Wednesday, 18 March against Chinese Super League heavyweights Tianjin Teda at their Tianjin Teda Stadium home. Kick off is at 11pm AEDT.

The Mariners will next be at Central Coast Stadium for Match Day 3 of the AFC Champions League 2009, where they will take on Japan-s Kawasaki Frontale on Wednesday, 8 April. Kick off is at 8pm.

Tickets are on sale and available for purchase from any Ticketek outlet, 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 (21. Ahmad Elrich 84-), 4. Pedj Bojic, 5. Bradley Porter, 7. John Hutchinson, 8. Dean Heffernan, 9. Nik Mrdja (10. Adrian Caceres 72-), 16. Nigel Boogaard, 17. Matthew Osman, 18. Alex Wilkinson, 19. Matt Simon

Unused Subs 13. Paul O-Grady, 15. Andrew Clark, 22. Nick Rizzo, 23. Adam Kwasnik, 30. Andrew Redmayne (gk)

Yellow Cards Bojic 40-, Simon 82- Red Cards None Goals None

Pohang Steelers 1. Shin Hwa-Yong (gk), 2. Choi Hyo-Jin, 3. Kim Kwang-Suk, 5. Kim Tae-Su, 7. Kim Jae-Sung (6. Kim Gi-Dong 77-), 9. Stevica Ristik (22. No Byung-Jun 80-), 11. Brasilia (10. Denilson 51-), 20. Shin Hyung-Min, 24. Hwang Jae-Won, 27. Kim Chang-Hoon, 32. Kim Hyung-Il

Unused Subs 8. Hwang Jin-Sung, 18. Namkung Do, 21. Song Dong-Jin (gk), 37. Kang Dae-Ho

Yellow Cards Shin Hyung-Min 78- Red Cards None Goals None

Referee Khalil Ibrahim Al Ghamdi (Saudi Arabia) Crowd 6,870