Roar progress to Prelim

A dominant display from youthful livewires Mitch Nichols and Michael Zullo has seen Queensland Roar advance to the A-League Preliminary Final after they triumphed 2-1 over Central Coast in the second leg of the Minor Semi-Final at Suncorp Stadium.

A dominant display from youthful livewires Mitch Nichols and Michael Zullo has seen Queensland Roar advance to the A-League Preliminary Final after they triumphed 2-1 over Central Coast in the second leg of the Minor Semi-Final at Suncorp Stadium.

Timely use of the shin from a nimble Nichols saw the Roar take the lead in the 21st minute before a pinpoint pass from the playmaker freed up midfielder Matt McKay, who fired truly shortly after half-time.

The Mariners, who started on the back foot after dropping the opening leg 2-0, continued to battle gamely and were soon rewarded in the 64th minute when Roar keeper Liam Reddy failed to negotiate a powerful long-range strike from substitute Nik Mrdja.

The match, already largely an end-to-end affair, opened up further as free-flowing football prospered, much to the delight of the crowd of 23, 705.

Mrdja and fellow substitute Sasho Petrovski continued to turn the heat up on Reddy while at the other end Brazilian Henrique, who entered the fray at the expense of Nichols in the 76th minute, showed plenty of pace in his A-League debut.

The visitors feverishly peppered Reddy, but the Roar defence were able to keep them at bay and book a place in next weekend's Preliminary Final, where they will meet either Adelaide United or Melbourne Victory.

Nichols saw his early goal as the game-turning moment.

"They came out and were pressing for the first goal and for us to get it, it basically almost killed the game off," Nichols said.

"You could see their heads drop straightaway after we got that goal."

"All the boys are buzzing…everyone's raring to go and hopefully we can put in a good performance next week and make the Grand Final."

Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna was left to lament the fact his side played their best football after conceding two goals.

"After the first goal went in, a lot of belief went out the window for everyone," McKinna said.

"Then obviously (after the second goal) we were gone, 3-1 I thought we could get there, but then we gave that one away."

"Only then did we start looking for the ball, wanting the ball, getting wide and keeping possession. The boys up front were holding it and Mrdja scored."

Earlier Central Coast came out full of goal-hungry intent and dominated possession at first, with Reddy having a few nervous moments, watching an excellent looping cross from Andrew Clark go unrewarded and later being forced into a scrambling save in the 20th minute.

But the home side soaked up the pressure well and looked deadly while going forwards, with Zullo and Nichols finding space and linking up well to thoroughly test Mariners goalkeeper Danny Vukovic on a number of occasions before a deft touch from Nichols got the Roar on the scoreboard.

Nichols' shinned effort, his third consecutive goal in as many games, came on the back of an excellent passage of play from the Brisbane-based side.

A clambering Vukovic kept out a searing Sergio van Dijk strike, only for the ball to eventually fall to Massimo Murdocca, whose shot was neatly deflected into the back of the net by Nichols.

Zullo and Nichols continued to run amok, with the 20-year-old duo creating a number of chances before half time.

McKay pounced shortly after the break in the 49th minute, intercepting a wayward pass before playing van Dijk in, with Nichols the middleman before McKay essentially slammed the door on the Mariner's chances of progressing to next week.

Craig Moore, who only arrived in Brisbane on Friday morning, impressively played the match out, showing no ill effects after backing up from a starring role in the Socceroos' 0-0 draw with Japan in Yokohama.

Match Details

Queensland Roar 2 (Nichols 21', McKay 49') Central Coast 1 (Mrdja 64' )

Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane Crowd: 23, 705 Friday 13 January 2009 Referee: Peter Green