18/04/2024

The Central Coast Mariners celebrating in the 2023 A-League Men Grand Final which sealed them qualification to the AFC Cup. Photo Credit: Joshua Davis

In the first meeting between two A-League Men sides in continental competition, high stakes were on the line with the winner going through to the AFC Cup Inter-Zonal Semi-Final.

The Mariners would advance with a 3-2 victory on a hot and humid night in Campbelltown.

The opening 25 minutes was dominated by the Central Coast Mariners as they put all the pressure on hosts Macarthur FC, with the visitors having 69 per cent of the ball and five corners.

Despite the pressure the Mariners had been building throughout, Macarthur would have the best chance of the first half with a shot from Valere Germain forcing a save from Danny Vukovic.

The rebound would fall to Ulises Davila, forcing Brian Kaltak to clear it behind for a corner.

The Mariners would continue to dominate the ball throughout the first half, heading into the half time break with 65 per cent of the ball, but the scores locked at zero.

Mark Jackson would make a triple sub at the half-time break, with Bailey Brandtman, Ryan Edmondson and Angel Torres coming on for Christian Theoharous, Jing Reec and Storm Roux to start the second half.

He said after the game that the triple substitute at half time was to add some physicality into the game, while Storm Roux’s substitute was a tactical one with him being on a yellow card.

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The second half would start much the same as the first, but Macarthur would have the best of the chances, including a massive chance which the hosts could not capitalise on.

The game would continue to play out as a stalemate with both sides having chances but neither able to get it past the respective keepers.

In the 81st minute, Josh Nisbet would find a way to split Macarthur’s defence with a through ball to Angel Torres, who would put it past Filip Kurto to open the scoring for the Mariners and getting them one step closer to advancement.

Josh Nisbet, who was awarded player of the match, said post-game that his brilliant pass to Torres for the opener was down to the goalscorer.

“He made eye contact just before I played the ball and he sort of had his move as he started drifting out the back of the defenders.

“It was just my job to get it to him.”

In response to the Mariners goal, Mile Sterjovski would move Macarthur’s formation to a back three, which paid dividends in the 88th minute as Ulises Davila would head home a pass from Jed Drew to level the scores at 1-1.

With five minutes of time added on, both sides seemed content to see it out, and the game would head to extra time.

It would not take long after the resumption of play for Macarthur to take the lead through Lachie Rose, giving the hosts their first lead of the night.

Rose would jump over the advertising hoardings and charge towards the Bullpen, which would see the fence collapse as everyone rushed to get near the goalscorer.

Post-game, Mile Sterjovski was asked what the celebrations of Lachie Rose’s goal with the Bullpen and the academy side show from his perspective.

“For me personally and our team, we make a conscious effort to entertain our fans, to make the club grow. We want to see Macarthur succeed. It’s a growing area,” Sterjovski said.

“I really do believe that with time, we’ll be a very successful club with what we’ve got in place for the future.”

With the last kick of the first half of extra time, Mikael Doka would fire a strike from outside the box which Filip Kurto had no chance of saving to level the scores again at two a piece with 15 minutes to play.

The Mariners would sub Alou Kuol on in the 110th minute to try and find a go ahead goal, and as the game looked set to head to penalties, there would be one last twist.

The Mariners would find the winner in the 120th minute through Ronald Barcellos to advance in the AFC Cup.

When asked post-game if there was any better way to get the victory than a last-gasp winner, coach Mark Jackson said there were plenty of better ways to get it done.

“But we know football’s not like that sometimes. Football’s hard. We made it hard for ourselves in a lot of moments.

“When you’re in a competition like this and you have to win games and the boys on the pitch dug deep and found a way to win. 

“Sometimes in football that’s needed. It can’t be all pure football and excellent and happy and things.

“Sometimes [you need to] dig deep and find a way and those boys on the pitch and especially this fella next to me here (Josh Nisbet) found a way.”

Macarthur coach Mile Sterjovski said post-game that it was a tough game like the side knew it would be, and praised his side’s performance after the game.

“The character of the boys to turn the game around at half-time, like I said, I thought we were strong in the second half,” he said.

“The fight and the character is going to be very important now at the back-end of the season to show that and to keep going.

“I think we do have the quality in the team to finish the season strong.”

The Mariners will now face Indian Super League side Odisha FC in the AFC Cup Inter-Zonal Semi Finals in a two-legged tie on March 7 in Gosford, and away in Bhubaneswar on March 14 with kick-off times to be confirmed.

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