Central Coast Mariners grabs grand final glory
Central Coast Mariners made it fourth time lucky as it won its first A-League grand final with a 2-0 victory over Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday.
After three previous failures at the final hurdle, Graham Arnold's side finally broke its hoodoo thanks to goals in each half from veterans Patrick Zwaanswijk and Daniel McBreen in front of 42,102 fans at a heaving Allianz Stadium.
It proved a game too far for Premiers' Plate winner WSW as its fairytale debut season failed to deliver one last miracle against a Mariners side that would not be denied the championship.
How the A-League grand final played out on Twitter:
Central Coast took the lead a minute from the interval when 38-year-old out-of-contract Dutchman Zwaanswijk - possibly playing his last game for the club - got in ahead of Dino Kresinger to bullet home a near post header past keeper Ante Covic from Michael McGlinchey's corner.
The goal made him the oldest scorer in any A-League finals game and the sixth oldest scorer in all 6780 top flight league games in Australia.
An ecstatic Arnold said: "I can't be more proud of the boys. We've learned the hard way what it feels like to lose a grand final.
"We spoke about that during the week and none of us wanted to suffer that feeling again. It was the worst feeling ever after the Brisbane grand final.
"The boys knew what a big game this was - it was my job this week to keep them relaxed. After four grand finals our fairytale has now been achieved. I thought we dictated the play and it was a fantastic performance and effort from us."
The Wanderers had a strong shout for a penalty waved away by referee Peter Green less than 60 seconds later when defender Pedj Bojic looked to have handled a cross but he escaped the ultimate punishment.
A pivotal call by Green provided Central Coast with the chance to score the killer goal in the 68th minute, the referee deciding German full-back Jerome Polenz's handled the ball while trying to keep McBreen at bay .
The A-League Golden Boot, who had missed three of his previous five spot-kicks, made no mistake as he gave Arnold's men a two-goal cushion with his 19th of the season.
Two months ago the Mariners were in financial crisis. Players were not being paid. They had to borrow money to meet their bills and mortgages until Englishman Mike Charlesworth bought the club and saved the day.
Arnold's team made Charlesworth's rescue act all worthwhile. Even though the Mariners mentor admitted he may not be around for another tilt next season.
"I feel like I've completed my own personal journey with this win and while I wouldn't want to go to another A-League club, I do have ambitions to test myself overseas (where there is interest in China and also at English outfit Sheffield United)," he said.
The exit signs are also flashing for youngsters Bernie Ibini, keeper Mat Ryan and defender Trent Sainsbury as overseas club circle.
Mariners captain John Hutchinson dedicated the win to the club's long-suffering fans.
"It's amazing," he said. "It means a lot to us but it means more than a lot to the fans.
"There was a fantastic atmosphere and the team slogged it out."
Ryan said the win was for the losing grand final teams that had come before them.
"There's no better feeling in football," he said. "This victory goes out to the boys who have been here before."
Wanderers skipper Michael Beauchamp said: "It's amazing the amount of support we have had but it doesn't take away from the pain at the moment.
"Credit to the Mariners, they finished off their chances."
The Mariners began the brightest, seeking to suck the Wanderers in and then pierce them with precision, long-distance balls over the top.
And from one such delivery after nine minutes, Mile Sterjovski came close to giving Arnold's men the advantage, lofting his shot over the bar as keeper Ante Covic raced off his line.
Wanderers' first meaningful raid came in the 19th minute, when the evasive Shinji Ono's clever cross fell invitingly for Kresinger but the Croatian striker couldn't make contact with his head.
WSW turned up the heat in the second half - pinning the Mariners back for periods of the stanza - but it was the out-of-contract Sterjovski, also possibly playing his last game for the club, who came close to adding a second when he fired just over after neatly creating the opportunity for himself.
Unfortunately for the Mariners players, Arnold signalled there would be "zero" celebrations to mark the breaking of their grand final jinx when the squad flies out to South Korea on Monday morning for an AFC Champions League match on Tuesday.