CENTRAL Coast Mariners will need at least three goals at home to secure their place in the Grand Final after going down 2-0 to Newcastle Jets.
Goals to brothers Adam Griffiths and Joel Griffiths either side of the break saw the Mariners suffer their second loss of the campaign to their northern rivals, this one in front of a record derby attendance of 22,960.
Two weeks after suffering defeat to the Jets at Bluetongue Stadium, the Central Coast were a vastly improved outfit in soaking sunshine, but ultimately unable to contribute to the fixture where it counted most – on the scoreboard.
The Mariners’ loss to their fiercest rivals in a match of such importance is a bitter pill to swallow for Central Coast players and supporters alike.
"We played alright, I can’t come in here and say that we didn’t play well or that we didn’t create chances and I couldn’t say that we played the long ball game – we actually passed the ball, a lot of times better than Newcastle did," said Mariners Football Manager Lawrie McKinna after the match.
"The second half, we tried to force it a few times through the middle, instead of going wide, but we were quite comfortable.
"Defensively we coped quite well and created chances, but it just didn’t fall for us today."
The first half was surely one of the unluckiest halves of A-League football ever endured by the Central Coast.
An uncharacteristic miss, a goal line clearance, the woodwork and a decision from the men in the middle combined to deny the Mariners the opening goal they so desperately deserved.
On three of these occasions, understandably frustrated Mariners striker John Aloisi was on the receiving end.
Firstly, the Socceroo legend, who two years ago netted the most famous penalty kick in Australian football history, skewed an effort from the spot wide of goal midway through the half.
Next, Aloisi thundered a near text book free kick from the fringes of the penalty area against the upright, and then across the face of goal, with Jets ‘keeper Ante Covic well beaten.
Lastly, the assistant referee on the eastern side of EnergyAustralia Stadium intervened to declare Aloisi offside, after the 31-year-old showcased the very goal poaching instincts he has become so celebrated for.
Ultimately and unfortunately for the visitors, they were unable to net the goal their first half dominance suggested and were made to pay on 22 minutes.
Jets defender Griffiths was first to a neat low cross by Troy Hearfield, but still showed great clinical nous to direct his header on the fly past the helpless Danny Vukovic.
Minutes later, the Mariners were left to lament Aloisi’s rare penalty miss after Sasho Petrovski was fouled by Newcastle captain Jade North, before the aforementioned pair of ill-fated near misses saw the Central Coast to the break trailing by the solitary goal.
At the start of the second stanza, the Central Coast continued to assert their authority, albeit without manufacturing the same volume of goalscoring chances they had throughout the previous 45 minutes.
Late in the game, former Mariners midfielder and Central Coast product James Holland burst into the penalty area where he was met by substitute Andre Gumprecht, who was adjudged by referee Matthew Breeze to have made an illegal challenge for the ball.
Consequently, striker Griffiths was summoned to the penalty spot where he made no mistake in dispatching the Jets’ second past Vukovic – the third goal the Socceroo in waiting has slotted past the Mariners in two seasons.
The Mariners now look forward to the return leg at Bluetongue Stadium in two weeks, knowing that the reverse of tonight’s score line will at least force the tie into extra time.
Should the Central Coast find the back of the net on three occasions and keep the Jets scoreless, they will secure their berth in the A-League 2008 Grand Final.
"It would have been nice to get a goal up here and we could have had two by half time, but credit to Newcastle, they’ve won 2-0 at home," said McKinna.
"The boys in the dressing room are pretty upset, but very positive that we can reverse the result.
"We’ve come up here and played reasonably well, we didn’t get the bounce of the ball, but there are a lot of positives from the game and we’ll look to build on that in the next two weeks."
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