Troy Hearfield’s stoppage-time equaliser was enough for the Mariners to salvage a dramatic 1-all draw against NSW rivals Sydney FC at Bluetongue Stadium this evening. The draw means the Mariners still hold a narrow three-point lead over fellow AFC Champions League representatives Brisbane Roar as the battle to be crowned Season Seven Hyundai A-League premiers continues to heat up.
Troy Hearfield-s stoppage-time equaliser was enough for the Mariners to salvage a dramatic 1-all draw against NSW rivals Sydney FC at Bluetongue Stadium this evening. The draw means the Mariners still hold a narrow three-point lead over fellow AFC Champions League representatives Brisbane Roar as the battle to be crowned Season Seven Hyundai A-League premiers continues to heat up.
Graham Arnold was forced to make a minor reshuffle to the team that went down narrowly to the Melbourne Heart last start. Trent Sainsbury came into the starting line-up in a direct swap with the suspended Pedj Bojic, while Rostyn Griffith-s mid-week departure meant John Hutchinson was moved to a more central role. This allowed Qantas Australian U23 skipper Oliver Bozanic to start on the left side of midfield in his 50th Hyundai A-League game.
The rain, which has drenched NSW throughout the week, made an appearance before kick-off making the pristine Bluetongue pitch slippery for the players.
In a physical opening neither side could manufacture any clear-cut scoring chances, but it wasn-t for lack of trying. Both teams were willing to put their bodies on the line as first Adam Kwasnik and Terry McFlynn were forced to undergo running repairs in order to continue further participation in the match.
Bozanic looked sharp with a quick break down the flank after 20 minutes, but was unable to deliver a cross to the supporting players.
Sydney-s best chance of the half fell to Nick Carle in the 21st minute who was denied by a strong save from Mat Ryan.
The close shave clearly woke the home side as first Rose made his presence felt with a fine run, before Tomas Rogic forced Ivan Necevski into a good save. English import John Sutton was starting to show the form that made him such a handful for defenders in the Scottish Premier League.
Brett Emerton had a chance to break the deadlock late in the half but was thwarted by an outstanding covering challenge from Alex Wilkinson.
The visitors came out in the second half desperate for a goal, and their hungriness nearly paid immediate dividends with Joel Chianese forcing Ryan into his second exceptional save of the evening.
Ryan could do little to prevent Sydney from opening the scoring with a goal to Chianese in the 56th minute. After making the initial save Ryan was left stranded on the ground as Chianese slotted home,
Bernie Ibini was thrown into the fray and made an immediate impact, nearly pulling the goal back in 58th minute. Ibini did everything right to round Necevski but ultimately made the angle too acute for himself.
Trent Sainsbury defended courageously throughout the match, showing some good speed to frustrate the Sydney strikers but his night ended prematurely after a sickening head-clash. The incident saw the talented defender end the evening with five stitches needed to close his wound.
The home side-s best chance to equalise fell to Bozanic after 69 minutes. Ibini whipped in a well-timed cross and the hometown junior got himself into a promising position when he shrugged off his markers, but just couldn-t direct his cross down.
When Sutton directed a half-chance straight into Necevski-s arms it looked like the Mariners would once again be unable to pull back a one goal margin.
John Hutchinson evoked memories of his sensational strikes against Sydney at the SFS several seasons ago with a brilliant effort from the edge of the box that cannoned into the crossbar.
As the match went into stoppage time it looked like Sydney FC would claim a very valuable three points, but the home side continued to play positively.
Just as he did against Glasgow Celtic FC in the pre-season, Troy Hearfield broke Sydney FC hearts with a dramatic header in the 91st minute.
The goal was the catalyst for an amazing period of play. First Zwaanswijk went close to scoring an unlikely winner before Chianese dragged a shot across the face of Ryan-s goal.
For the Yellow and Navy, attention can now switch to the opening group of the AFC Champions League when the Mariners take on Tianjin Teda FC in China on Wednesday evening AEST.
Post match, Graham Arnold said he was pleased with the efforts of his charges and again praised the character on display by his players.
“We had to really dig deep tonight and I felt that we deserved the point,” he said. “I think we had as many good chances as they did.”
“The character the boys showed again was fantastic and probably the last five or so minutes the system was just five boys having a go for it. Even when we got the goal back I thought we may as well just keep going because one point or three, probably three is more valuable at this moment in time and we were unlucky not to get one at the end as well.”
Arnold emphasised that as yet, he hadn-t taken an in-depth look at Tianjin Teda, a team coached by Croatian manager, Josip Kuze. Indeed, Arnold said he would take a good look of the footage of Tianjin he has acquired on the trip to China. Arnold also expressed his enthusiasm to play in Asia-s premier club competition.
“I think it-s no secret that we-ve got a tough schedule … but it-s something that-s so exciting, I-m buzzing myself the fact that we-re playing in the Asian Champions League, we-re representing Australia, we-re representing the A-League … it-s one game at a time.”
Mariners skipper Alex Wilkinson said the teams- strong structure would enhance their opportunity to win in Tianjin.
“With our structure we-ve got a great chance of breaking them down … (we-re) really looking forward to the challenge and the future games to come.”
Central Coast Mariners 1 (Hearfield 90 + 1-)
Sydney FC 1 (Chianese 56-)
Central Coast Mariners: 1. Mathew RYAN (GK), 3. Joshua ROSE, 6. Patrick ZWANNSWIJK, 7. John HUTCHINSON, 11. Oliver BOZANIC (2. Daniel McBREEN 75-), 14. Michael McGLINCHEY, 16. Trent SAINSBURY (12. Troy HEARFIELD 66-), 17. Tomas ROGIC, 18. Alex WILKINSON (C), 19. John SUTTON, 23. Adam KWASNIK (9. Bernie IBINI 56-)
Subs not Used: 20. Justin PASFIELD (GK)
Yellow Cards: Rose 83-, Hutchinson 90 + 3-
Red Cards: None
Sydney FC: 20. Ivan NECEVSKI (GK), 4. Pascal BOSSCHAART, 5. Michael BEAUCHAMP, 7. Brett EMERTON (11. Dimitri PETRATOS 60-), 8. Karol KISEL (17. Terry ANTONIS 78-), 9. Bruno CAZARINE (22. Nathan SHERLOCK 90-), 10. Nick CARLE, 15. Terry McFLYNN (C), 16. Joel CHIANESE, 21. Scott JAMIESON, 23. Rhyan GRANT.
Subs not Used: 1. Liam REDDY (GK).
Yellow Cards: Grant 22-, Kisel 30-, Carle 45-
Red Cards: None
Referee: Chris BEATH
Crowd: 8, 658 at Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford