Game of the Month: Central Coast 2-0 Wellington Phoenix
The match which finally decided the final A-League standings ended in success after a confident performance from Mariners.
Player of the Month: Adam Kwasnik
Two goals in four games ensured the midfielder returned to the starting line up.
Goal of the Month: Adam Kwasnik V Newcastle Jets
Outstanding finish from the young midfielder, cutting inside from the wing, past two defenders, and then drilling the ball home.
It was a peculiar month for the Mariners, one full of mixed emotions, and from it all, there was just a single meagre win for the yellow and navy.
Thankfully however, that single win made all the difference in the business end of the A-League title chase.
It kicked off with a Round 19 fixture away to Perth Glory – the A-League whipping boys for most of the season, and things started brightly for the Mariners.
With Vukovic, Hutchinson and Owens back from injury, and Ceccoli and O’Grady making their first appearances of the season, the lads looked comfortable during the first half, eventually taking the lead through old-fashioned route one football – Vukovic and Aloisi linking up well to allow Hutchinson to finish off a simple chance.
However, a revitalised Perth had different ideas, and Ukrainian Rukavytsya slid home to level the scores in the second half.
We toiled for the rest of the game, but couldn’t find the killer blow to break down their resilience. It must be said though, the point did secure our return to the summit of the A-League.
Then disappointment struck in Round 20 as our rivals from up the F3 won a tense game in front of a record crowd for Bluetongue – 19,238.
Ironically, it was Central Coast graduate James Holland who struck first for the visitors, sliding the ball past Vukovic early on to score against his hometown club.
Still, not the kind of team to give up easily, Coast’s Adam Kwasnik showed some silky tricks on the wing, before finding the back of the net just three minutes after the opener.
It didn’t last though, and Joel Griffiths (A-League’s leading scorer) again took advantage of the Mariners ability to defend at the start of each half, and made it 2-1 within 10 minutes of the restart.
It wasn’t until Round 21 that the true spirit of the Mariners shone through, where a fantastic looping header from forward revelation John Aloisi, and a wonderfully placed finish from wing wonder Adam Kwasnik secured a 2-0 win over bottom placed Phoenix, which, with the right results from the other matches, secured the Mariners the well earned honour of being A-League Premiers.
Having secured the Premiership, and a guaranteed spot in next seasons ACL (Asian Champions League), we could now look forward to a what promised to be a scintilating Major semi-final against local rivals the Jets.
At which point the bubble burst.
Despite earning the right for the A-League Grand Final to be held at the ground of either us, or the Jets, the FFA have decided that it would be a better idea to host it in Sydney (read more here).
And then to the semi-final itself? Depsite controlling the game, and having countless chances, we couldn’t even find the back of the net as Newcastle romped to a much undeserved 2-0 victory in the first leg.
No need for despair regarding our performance though – if we play like we did against Newcastle again, we should easily make the Grand Final, and may even become Champions, whether our journey takes a detour throught the Preliminary Final or not.
What does cause despair however, is the fear of contracts running out for players in the coming months. As we told you here, fourteen (mostly unnamed) Mariners players are out of contract at the end of this season, the most notable being John Aloisi, who has been tremendous since he joined.
So come on Mariners, lets whup the Jets in the return leg, and lets get our best players secured to the club!
(Author update: The second leg did indeed finish 3-0 to Central Coast with goals from Adam Kwasnik and Sash Petrovski (2). Expect a more detailed report in the February review)