Kennedy heroics help Mariners clinch Hyundai A-League epic
Ben Kennedy was a two-time penalty hero as Central Coast Mariners weathered an almighty late storm to emerge 3-2 winners over Newcastle Jets in Saturday evening's extraordinary Hyundai A-League F3 Derby.
After a goalless first-half, Alen Stajcic's side established a remarkable three-goal advantage midway through the second period thanks to goals from Jordan Murray, Jem Karacan and Connor Pain.
But Newcastle rallied through Roy O'Donovan and Ronny Vargas to ensure yet another nervy finale for the struggling Gosford club, which culminated in the award of a stoppage-time penalty kick to the Jets for Jonathan Aspropotamitis’ foul on Irishman O'Donovan.
However, after the Jets' striker's initial spot-kick was saved and then buried on the follow up by Daniel Georgievski, referee Adam Kersey decided that the penalty would have to be re-taken after Video Assistant Referee review indicated that the Jets fullback had encroached on the initial kick.
O’Donovan returned to the spot as the clock neared 100 minutes, but Kennedy leapt to his left to deny the forward again in a nerve-shredding finale to one of the most memorable Hyundai A-League fixtures in recent memory.
Kennedy's heroics handed the Mariners’ their first away win in the Hyundai A-League since November 2017 and inflicts a serious dent in the top-six aspirations of their local rivals.
For the first time in seven seasons, Central Coast failed to get a single shot away in the opening half, but they broke the deadlock when Murray raced onto Matthew Millar's pass before sliding the ball past Glen Moss five minutes into the second period.
Millar, who will wear Newcastle colours next season, tallied a competition-high eighth assist with that effort, and the former South Melbourne man was instrumental in doubling his side's lead on 64 minutes.
Weaving and darting his way past three Jets defenders on the right flank, Millar pulled a cross back from the byline which was dispatched by Karacan.
And the Mariners snatched an unbelievable third when Murray teed up Pain to fire home from the edge of the box three minutes later.
O'Donovan made it six goals in five against his former employers with a poacher's finish from Lachlan Jackson's cross with 16 minutes remaining, and Newcastle's hopes were ignited further when Kennedy parried a cross onto the knees of Vargas, which then rebounded agonisingly into the net on 81 minutes.
The drama did not stop there. Newcastle were awarded a stoppage-time penalty when Aspropotamitis felled O'Donovan in the box, and the Irishman was twice denied by the Mariners gloveman from the spot.
It was a breathless finale, which ended with Alen Stajcic beginning his caretaker reign as Mariners coach with a morale-boosting three points.