Mariners toughen up for ACL

Central Coast completed its warm-up for the AFC Champions League with a spirited 2-0 loss to Chinese powerhouse Shandong Luneng on Tuesday.

Central Coast completed its warm-up for the AFC Champions League with a spirited 2-0 loss to Chinese powerhouse Shandong Luneng on Tuesday.

Goals from Li Jinyu and Lu Zheng gave the reigning Chinese Super League champions victory, but the Mariners' performance was one of vast improvement compared to last Saturday's against Jiangsu Sainty and with a bit of luck could have come away with a draw.

It was a much closer match than the scoreline reflected, with Shandong's second goal coming with virtually the last kick of the game.

Before Jinyu's opening goal in the 12th minute, the Mariners could have gone ahead with Nick Mrdja seeing his powerful shot well saved by goalkeeper Li Leilei.

Despite falling a goal behind, Central Coast kept pressing and were unlucky not to score on a number of different occassions, the closest coming when former Venezuelan international Alejandro Cichero denied an own goal in the last minute of regulation time with a goal-line clearance.

"Today was a reasonable performance and we've said that a few times in the past few weeks," coach Lawrie McKinna said after the match.

"We copped a bad goal from a corner after fifteen minutes and probably dominated most of the first half."

"Second half, we totally dominated, Andrew Redmayne didn't have a save to make - we pushed forward and had a few cleared off the line, their 'keeper made a few good saves and then they caught us on the break with one minute to play in stoppage time."

"2-0 is flattering to them and overall our performance against the top team in China was OK."

The Mariners return to Central Coast on Wednesday to fine tune their preparations ahead of next week's blockbuster against Korean FA Cup winners Pohang Steelers.

"The amount of training that we've got in while we've been here and the game time that everyone has gotten - this trip has been invaluable," said McKinna.

"Everybody has got a lot out of the trip, which stands us in good stead for the game against Pohang."

"We're looking forward to that game and looking forward to getting back to the Central Coast and getting a victory in front of our home fans."

"We're not far away from our best form, we know that we've got room for improvement - it's just getting that one goal and going on with it and I'm sure that things will turn around for us."