Popovic – we're hurting but proud

Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic admitted losing the grand final was a painful but said he was proud of what his club had achieved.

Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic admitted losing the grand final was a painful experience but said he was still proud of what his club had achieved.

The Wanderers, the story of the year in Australian sport, have set the Hyundai A-League alight in their maiden season and were aiming to top off their premiership with a grand final triumph.

But against a determined and stronger Central Coast Mariners, the Wanderers faded at the last. Mariners boss Graham Arnold successfully nullified the Wanderers two main attacking weapons, denying both Shinji Ono and Mark Bridge time and space on the ball.

As a result, Western Sydney struggled to retain possession in the middle of the park as the Mariners slowly exerted their dominance, scoring at key moments in both halves.

For Popovic it was a painful end to an otherwise exhilarating season but he conceded Central Coast were deserved winners.

“It is disappointing,” Popovic said after the game. “We wanted to win it and overall weren-t quite good enough. We were waiting for half time and getting hurt in a few areas and that goal hurt us.

“We haven-t conceded a set play all year so it was an ominous warning. We had a bit of play in the second half but conceded a second so we conceded at the wrong time.

“We had a few opportunities but our final ball and decision-making wasn-t right. We got behind them a few times in the first half but you need to capitalise on those little moments. Ultimately their two goals came from set plays, we didn-t concede from open play.

"The small details in big games are very important and they were better than us in those areas.

“I don-t think defeat means we have to learn; whether we won or lost we have to get better. They were the better team and they won.”

Popovic also conceded that Patrick-s Zwaanswijk-s header just before half time and Daniel McBreen-s penalty during a passage of play when the Wanderers were edging closer an equaliser hurt his side at important moments.

The Wanderers boss also suggested that Pedj Bojic-s perceived handball in the first half was equal to the penalty given for Jerome Polenz-s in the second.

“I thought the penalty call was right. They-re big decisions, they change games. We-d just conceded a minute earlier, that changes the whole game.

"You can say was it deliberate or not but Jerome Polenz's handball wasn-t deliberate either. But he didn-t give it and you have to move on. And at 2-0 they-re a very good side and knew how to shut the game down.”

But the A-League coach of the year said his players can be proud of everything they have achieved this season - once they move past the pain of this defeat - and will come back better and stronger.

“It was a tough conversation (with the players after the game) because you want to talk about the great year we-ve had but we didn-t win today. But I don-t like losing and the players don-t like losing.

“I-m sure tomorrow when we reflect of course we proud, as a club we-re all proud of how we-ve started up this club. We will look with pride at what we-ve done. But we want to get another opportunity next year to correct it.”