Mariners' New Years Eve delight: Kuol header decides tight F3 Derby
A first-half Alou Kuol header has handed Central Coast Mariners a 1-0 New Years Eve win over Newcastle Jets, the club's first Round 1 A-League win since the 2015/16 season.
The Mariners, who strung together two draws and a win to end the 2019/20 A-League campaign, went into the sheds at half time with a one-goal lead thanks to an opportunistic header by Kuol, who capitalised on a stagnant Jets defence to put his side ahead.
The goal to the hosts came after two chances spurned by the Jets throughout the first half, with Angus Thurgate and Ramy Najjarine both failing to beat Mark Birighitti in the Mariners' goal.
The Mariners remained resolute in defence of their goal in the second stanza, with Birighitti pulling off a remarkable save to somehow keep Kosta Petratos and the Jets from finding an equaliser.
Thurgate was the next to test Birighitti's 'keeping prowess - this time from distance - but the Mariners' gloveman was once again up to the task, leaping to his right to tip Thurgate's calling strike off the bar and out for a corner.
The Mariners were without a home victory since January 12 - their first home game of the season - and with the minutes ticking down toward 2021 they finally registered their second, braving a ruthless push from the Jets to claim all three points in their first game of the campaign.
Thurgate, Najjarine spurn chances to put Newcastle ahead
Before the Mariners pulled ahead, the Jets were presented with two chances to craft a lead of their own, but Thurgate and Najjarine were unable to place their respective strikes in the back of the net.
First it was Thurgate, who received the ball after some nimble footwork from Kosta Petratos before firing a first-time strike over the bar, and with five minutes to play in the first half it was Najjarine's turn to attack the Mariners' goal, but his long-range right-footed strike was easily collected by Birighitti.
Kuol desperation leads to the opening goal
When Stefan Nigro floated a free-kick into the Mariners' box, it seemed the ball was destined to be cleared by the Newcastle defence.
Connor O'Toole was camped under the ball, but ducked away from the header after what can only be assumed as advice from teammates to leave the ball for his goalkeeper.
But the ball bounced invitingly instead for Kuol who timed his run to perfection, leaped above all others and directed a strong header into the back of the net.
Birighitti keeps Petratos at bay with magnificent save
When Valentino Yuel found Kosta Petratos at the back post, his sliding strike seemed destined to find the back of the net.
That was until Birighitti produced a moment of individual brilliance, sprawling backwards to shovel the ball away from the goal-line and somehow keep the Jets off the scoresheet.
Birighitti at it again to deny Thurgate from distance
As the F3 Derby rolled on, Birighitti proved time and again to be the thorn in Newcastle's side, pulling out save after save of quality and importance.
After depriving Petratos from close range, Birighitti pulled out a stunning diving block to stop Thurgate from registering a phenomenal equaliser.
Poised with the ball on his left foot outside the box Thurgate sent a curling shot toward the top corner, but Birighitti's fingertips pushed the ball off the bar and away for a corner.
Bozanic bomb rattles the bar
Oli Bozanic returned to the Mariners for the 2020/21 campaign and almost produced a magnificent goal on his comeback with just minutes to play in the game.
Poised with the ball near the halfway line, Bozanic let rip with his left boot. The ball sailed toward goal and had Jack Duncan scrambling, before the attempt hit the bar and landed safely away from Newcastle's goal.
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