Central Coast Mariners boss Phil Moss feels his side have returned to some of their best form despite losing 3-1 to Guangzhou R&F in the ACL qualifier on Tuesday night.
The Mariners dominated possession but struggled to create many genuine chances, with the visitor’s class eventually shining through in Gosford.
Jiang Ning and Lu Lin had the Chinese Super League club 2-0 up early in the second half, with an embarrassing own goal by Josh Rose in the final minute compounding a disappointing night for the home side, before Glen Trifiro got a consolation in stoppage time.
But despite missing out on a spot in the ACL group stage for just the second time in the last six years, Moss saw positives from his side’s display.
“It kind of went to plan except from either end of the pitch. We gave away a soft goal early on and gave ourselves a taller mountain to climb but I can’t not be proud of the way we played at times against a really high quality opposition,” the Mariners boss told Fox Sports.
“They’ve got international players in their team. They are a quality side and we dominated possession as I thought we would at home but it’s that cutting edge in front of goal.
“We had our periods where we really dominated and had lots of entries into their box but it’s about finishing those chances.
“It’s disappointing from that point of view but I feel we played ourselves into some form tonight. If we keep performing like that in the A-League and put the finishing touch on it we can cause some waves in the second half of the season.”
Despite failing to create many opportunities with the large amount of possession they had, Moss believes it was defensive lapses rather than poor finishing which cost his side.
“If you look at the goals they scored tonight they were quality goals but we contributed to them by giving the ball away cheaply or defending poorly in key moments,” he said.
“But I can’t say I’m not proud of my boys.
“The effort, intensity and some of the football was outstanding against a top Asian side, an Asian side worth a lot of money…a lot more than us.”
The Mariners, sitting eighth in the Hyundai A-League, will now turn their focus to domestic duties with a clash against Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
Guangzhou, whose domestic season doesn’t begin until next month, joins Gamba Osaka (Japan), Seongnam F.C. (South Korea) and Buriram United F.C. (Thailand) in a tough Group F for the ACL, which begins next week.
Defending champions Western Sydney Wanderers FC and Brisbane Roar will be the Hyundai A-League’s only representative in this year’s competition.