From ball-boy to record breaker: Hatch comes of age to write another chapter in developing Mariners fairytale
The feel-good stories continue to flow out of Gosford as Central Coast Mariners debutant Matt Hatch wrote another chapter in his side's fairytale story on Monday night.
The 20-year-old scored the quickest debut goal in A-League history with his first ever touch in a 2-0 win over Macarthur FC. His sealing goal sent the club he served as a ball-boy years ago seven points clear at the top of the table.
This is a side which approached the 2020/21 A-League campaign off the back of finishing dead last in the three previous seasons.
You can add Hatch's magical moment to the tales of Alou Kuol's uprising, Oliver Bozanic's return, Matt Simon's resurgence, Daniel De Silva's career-best form and so many more which have come out of the Mariners throughout the first 11 Matchweeks of the season, as a galvanised side leaves the past behind on a journey out of the gloom.
It's developing as the story of the season, a journey which, like Hatch's maiden A-League goal, has come out of nowhere to spark a tremendous response from all those going along for the ride.
"It’s a bit hard to wrap my head around at the moment… I’m just trying to take it all in," Hatch told FOX Sports post-match.
"I nearly fell over, (the ball) went a bit behind me.
"I (saw) it a bit late, I didn’t know where the ball had gone at the start.
"I just put my head down and started running. I’m just glad Alou (Kuol) decided not to shoot for once."
Hatch's introduction to the contest in the 81st minute proved a masterstroke by Mariners boss Alen Stajcic, who reaped the rewards of his substitution just seconds later when the 20-year-old slotted home the sealing goal in a memorable win.
Speaking post-match, Stajcic said he saw an opportunity to utilise Hatch's blistering pace against a tiring Macarthur defence - a vision which came to fruition in devastating fashion.
"Hatchy has been in our NPL setup for a couple of years now," Stajcic said.
He’s probably one of the quickest players in the world - he (runs at) around 35/36 kilometres an hour.
"Against a tiring defence we thought he could be effective, and he’s blessed to score with his first touch, (on his) wrong foot, you couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect.
"Congratulations to him, and congrats to all our NPL boys who are doing a wonderful job this year."
After speaking to FOX Sports in the aftermath of the 2-0 win, Stajcic continued to wax lyrical about Hatch's impact in his post-match press conference. The Mariners boss says the speedster's readiness to perform on the big stage spoke volumes of the strong connection between the youth setup and senior side which has been extensively developed under his tenure.
"He’s waited a long time to get his debut. He nearly came on last time we played Macarthur, actually," Stajcic said.
"He made the most of his opportunity, he’s more of a wide player and a left full-back, he hasn’t played up front for us or our youth team recently.
"But he’s just explosive; so quick, for him to get on the end of that, that little transition from (Michal) Janota and Alou (Kuol) was excellent and to finish with his non-preferred foot, his first touch in the A-League, it’s obviously a magical moment for him, and we’re really proud of him.
"It's just a great moment for our whole club, the platform we’ve set with our youth team and our A-League team means we’re really heading in the right direction and we want to lay a really good platform for this club to keep growing, not only short-term but also long-term."
A lot has been made about the toughness of the Mariners in their remarkable rise to the top of the A-League table: the guts, the grit, the commitment of Stajcic's battle-hardened soldiers to the cause.
Bozanic has typified all of those qualities in 2020/21, bossing the midfield week after week in what has been a superb return to Gosford to date.
But the midfielder - whose excellent form continues to generate discussions of his potential return to the Socceroos squad - says being a 'hard working' side means so much more than physicality and endurance alone.
"We put in a lot of hard work, but that’s tactically, that’s technically, that’s mentally, everything," Bozanic said.
"It’s been a long process to get where we are, to right now. We’re still building and we’re still growing so there’s still plenty ahead for us.
"It’s a fantastic dressing room. We do have a lot of young players, but the experienced players work really well, Matty (Simon), (Birighitti), Marco (Ureña) are all doing their bit to make sure this team sticks together."
Melbourne City v Macarthur FC
Friday, March 12 2021
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEDT
Central Coast Mariners v Perth Glory
Sunday, March 14 2021
Central Coast Stadium
Kick-off: 4.05pm AEDT
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