'What a way to start the new year': Young and old blend to spark fireworks in Gosford

Central Coast Mariners veteran Oli Bozanic says his younger teammates have learned exactly what it takes to buy into the Mariners way: working hard for the team, to achieve goals as a team.

It's exactly the kind of spirit shown by youngsters Alou Kuol and Jaden Casella as they combined with the older heads around them in the Mariners starting 11 to register a 1-0 win over Newcastle Jets in a Round 1 New Years Eve F3 Derby.

Kuol - who netted the only goal of the match - scored in that very manner, anticipating a chance out of nothing to leap over a Newcastle defender and scrambling Jets 'keeper Jack Duncan to direct a header over the line.

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But as the 19-year-old admitted post-match, he didn't know much about the chance until the crowd were up off their feet.

"I don’t know what to say," Kuol told FOX Sports post-match.

"The ball went in, I didn’t know hey, I just ran to the corner flag to see all the fans, it’s crazy, it’s crazy.

"I still can’t believe it."

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Whether he believes it or not, the South Sudanese-born Australian had scored his first goal in the A-League in his fifth appearance, a goal which would decide the contest in the Mariners' favour.

But he wasn't the only young Mariner on display: Casella, 20, who made his A-League debut after recently starring for NSW NPL1 side Rockdale, caught the eye throughout his 70 minutes of play, proving his signing on a scholarship deal could prove a valuable piece of business by Alen Stajcic and the Mariners. 

"You can notice a difference when stepping up to the A-League, but look, I’m so grateful for the opportunity," Casella said post-match.

"Ever since i came to the Mariners I’ve been training and working as hard as I can, and just doing what I can for the club and obviously for myself.

"It was a big step up and I loved every minute of it.

"I was extremely excited [to debut], I had to keep my calm during the week, stay composed, know what my role was for the team.

"Obviously it was very important getting the three points tonight, so I was just happy I could do what I could in the 70 minutes i got.

At the end of the day we got the win, so look, I’m extremely excited and what a way to start the new year.

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Central Coast Mariners
Delight erupted as Kuol scored the goal which would ultimately give the hosts a well-deserved win

Josh Nisbet, 21, and Mariners Academy product Gianni Stensness also featured prominently for the Mariners in the Round 1 clash, and didn't look out of place amongst the likes of Matt Simon and Bozanic, who returned to Gosford ahead of the 2020/21 season.

Bozanic looked as though he hadn't missed a beat operating in the heart of midfield for the Mariners, a club with which he had experienced so many cherished memories before his overseas departure.

"It’s a little hard to hear you over the fireworks tonight," Bozanic admitted to FOX Sports as excitement for a new year filled the air in Gosford.

"It was a pretty special night for me to be back, and the boys played fantastic tonight.

"It was a hard shift, some of the players haven’t played for a long time like myself, so it was good to get out there again and get a win.

"[The young players] did really well tonight.

"The goalscorer (Kuol) and a few of the boys making their debuts and that kind of thing, they’ve done really well.

All the boys listen really well, they work hard every day and that’s what it’s about at this club, we’ve always got to work for what we want in this league so that’s just the [start] for us tonight.

Oli Bozanic
Bozanic produced a solid performance on his return to the A-League

 

"It’s a beautiful place, the Central Coast, so it’s always been that kind of dream for me to play here again, and now I’ve got that opportunity."

Bozanic continued: "we had a win tonight, we don’t have long before the next game so we’re just going to recover and really prepare ourselves for the next game."