The Central Coast Mariners have consolidated second spot on the Hyundai A-League ladder with a strong 3-1 victory over the Melbourne Heart in their Week 8 encounter at Bluetongue Stadium this evening. Two goals in the final ten minutes from Daniel McBreen and Patrick Zwaanswijk along with a first half stunner from Matt Simon was enough to seal maximum points against a resolute Heart side.
Several days of consistent rain on the Central Coast became a distant memory as the clouds broke over Bluetongue Stadium, bathing the Mariners’ picturesque bayside home in a perfect spring afternoon. Captain Alex Wilkinson took to the pitch for the 150th time in the yellow and navy in the Hyundai A-League, and received a warm welcome from the Mariners faithful.
Billed as a clash between two form sides, both the home team and Melbourne Heart struggled to complete passes early as they attempted to come to terms with a fast and slippery surface. Making his first starting appearance of the campaign Mustafa Amini tried to impose himself on the game by getting some early touches in an effort to link up with Bernie Ibini.
With the Heart committing numbers forward, Josh Rose pushed forward to capitalise on the extra space, and his efforts created the first half-chance of the match. A perfectly timed cross found a flying Ibini, with only a desperate block by Jonatan Germano denying the in-form marksman.
It took time for Melbourne to respond with their first chance for the match, and it came from the boot of Matt Thompson who pushed his shot wide after losing his footing while in the process of shooting.
Starting in his second consecutive match after his return from Chinese Super League club Chengdu Blades midfield stalwart John Hutchinson had the best chance of the match thus far in the 32nd minute. Some intelligent lead-up from Amini found Hutchinson who drove the ball with plenty of venom towards Clint Bolton’s goal. Unfortunately the shot clipped Ibini’s trailing leg and deflected harmlessly away from the goal.
The Heart had one final chance to notch a goal against the run of play when Maycon went on a weaving run, but a resolute Mariners defence held firm and it appeared that the first half would remain a stalemate. Matt Simon had other ideas. After winning a corner in stoppage time, Alex Wilkinson in his milestone match soared above his marker to get the ball to the striker, who under enormous pressure was able to turn and drive the ball home while being perpendicular to the ground. It was a fantastic finish from the marksman, and was a real confidence booster going into the sheds for the home after a lackluster first half by their lofty standards.
It was the visitors who began the second term stronger as the home side struggled to get into a rhythm during the opening exchanges. Pedj Bojic was the busiest player on the park as he had many fine touches in what was an end-to-end stage of the match. Heart substitute David Williams went within inches of heading home with his first touch in the 59th minute, and the scare shook the home side out of their slumber.
Pressing forward in search of an elusive goal, the home side showed good determination to string together passes with some good touches from McGlinchey, Amini, Hutchinson and Troy Hearfield but were unable to find the knock-out blow.
With the confidence that a winning streak can bring, Melbourne Heart striker Maycon almost got his side on level terms after he manufactured a chance from nothing. Despite being heavily marked, Maycon was able to get his shot away which forced Mariners custodian Justin Pasfield to make his first real save of the afternoon.
The visitors wouldn’t have to wait long for another chance however. In the 78th minute a floating free-kick found the imposing head of Eli Babalj who was able to nod home past an outstretched Pasfield. At 1-all, and with time on the clock the Mariners were desperate to regain the lead.
Four minutes later the opportunity to do so presented itself when referee Gerard Parsons adjudged Germano to have handled the ball in the box, and immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Daniel McBreen stepped up to take the all-important kick, and ice-cool under pressure the veteran calmly slotted the ball home.
Knowing the capabilities of the visitors to score late goals, the Mariners were determined not to give the Heart any opportunity to get back into the match. Pasfield handled everything thrown at him with aplomb, but the points would ultimately be sealed from the head of Patrick Zwaanswijk.
The experienced Dutchman who scored a stunning free kick last weekend against Sydney FC underscored his importance to the Central Coast side with a textbook header late in regular time. Aspiring youngsters should study this vision as a way to take full advantage of a set-piece, and to unlock even the tightest of defences.
Post match, Mariners Head Coach Graham Arnold emphasised that the biggest positive he could take from the match was that despite his team not playing to their full capacity, they still earned three crucial Hyundai A-League points.
“The biggest positive is that when you don’t play well you still win,” Arnold said.
“One thing I always know is that I can never walk into the dressing room and be angry with them for not putting an effort in because they die on the field for me.
“And when they do that they keep themselves in with a great chance of winning,” he said.
Skipper Wilkinson said that while his 150th Hyundai A-League appearance is a great personal milestone, he was more concerned with his side gaining the three competition points.
“It’s a great milestone – something that you look back on at the end of your career, but it’s more important for three points tonight and I’m just glad we got them,” Wilkinson said.
“To get two late goals is fantastic. The team spirit and the character that we’ve got is fantastic and that’s what got us through tonight.”
The Mariners continue their 2011/12 Hyundai A-League campaign with a trip to the City of Churches to take on Adelaide United next Friday 2 December. With three points in the bag, and an F3 derby against the Newcastle Jets to look forward to the next time they take to their Bluetongue surface the Mariners are well placed as they chase the Brisbane Roar on the Hyundai A-League table.
Central Coast Mariners 3 (Simon 45 + 1’, McBreen 83’ (pen), Zwaanswijk 87’)
Melbourne Heart 1 (Babalj 78’)
Central Coast Mariners: 20. Justin PASFIELD (GK), 3. Joshua ROSE, 4. Pedj BOJIC, 6. Patrick ZWAANSWIJK, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 8. Rostyn GRIFFITHS, 9. Bernie IBINI (12. Troy HEARFIELD 57’), 14. Michael McGLINCHEY, 18. Alex WILKINSON (C), 19. Matt SIMON (10. Adriano PELLEGRINO 85’), 22. Mustafa AMINI (2. Daniel McBREEN 71’)
Subs not Used: 30. Nathan DENHAM (GK)
Yellow Cards: Zwaanswijk 27’
Red Cards: None
Melbourne Heart: 1. Clint BOLTON (GK), 2. Michael MARRONE, 3. Brendan HAMILL, 5. FRED (C), 6. Matthew THOMPSON (16. Aziz BEHIC 71’), 7. Rutger WORM (19. Eli BABALJ 64’), 9. MAYCON, 10. Wayne SRHOJ (15. David WILLIAMS 57’), 13. Jonatan GERMANO, 18. Curtis GOOD, 25. Adrian MADASCHI
Subs not Used: 30. Sebastian MATTEI (GK)
Yellow Cards: Srhoj 40’
Red Cards: None
Referee: Gerard PARSONS
Crowd: 7, 242 at Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford