A resurgent performance from the Mariners was not enough to hold off the soaring Macarthur outfit as they came up trumps with an inspirational 2-0 victory after extra time away in Gosford.
After 90 minutes apiece, Charles M’Mombwa notched the killer blow early in extra time while Michael Ruhs sealed the deal with a late goal as Macarthur booked a blockbuster Semi-Final against Melbourne City next Sunday at AAMI Park.
VAR laid a dagger early on in the encounter as a spectacular goal from Macarthur was disallowed in the 3rd minute, denying English marksman Matt Derbyshire his 15th goal of the season.
After a phenomenally weighted pass from Alexander Susnjar, Derbyshire took a touch and chipped the Mariners keeper before VAR correctly adjudged his run to be offside.
Macarthur continued their early pressure as Basque maestro Etxebarria gained an influence on the game through his set pieces.
Fortunately for the Gosford outfit, keeper Mark Birighitti made a phenomenal save down to his left to deny a power header from James Meredith after a sublime free kick from Etxebarria.
Jake McGing and Tommy Oar proved a constant threat in the first-half for the Bulls while Central Coast played a patient game to ward off Macarthur’s midfield dominance.
Macarthur continued to push the ball out wide for their wing-backs as they sought to unlock the Mariners’ resolute block with crosses into the box.
In the absence of Socceroo Ruon Tongyik, young centre-half Kye Rowles defended gallantly to ensure the Mariners’ first-half survival against the Macarthur onslaught which saw them head into half-time with 74% of the ball possession.
Despite Macarthur’s first half dominance of the ball, Central Coast’s defence was pragmatic and stood tall as they entered the main break at zero goals apiece.
Led by some sublime skills from Danny Desilva and Marco Ureña, Central Coast sought to bounce back at the start of the 2nd half as the Mariners’ presence became increasingly visceral.
Dynamic midfielder Joshua Nisbet cut a resurgent figure after half-time as his pace and work ethic become ever present at the heart of the Mariner midfield.
Capitalising on their early 2nd half pressure, Central Coast netted a well-worked goal courtesy of a fine finish from Daniel Bouman only to be dealt their share of VAR drama as Bouman’s run in the lead-up was controversially deemed offside after a deflection from Macarthur’s James Meredith.
The disallowed goal proved to be a thorn in the Mariners’ side as Macarthur sought to stake their claim for a Semi-Final berth in their first season.
In another moment of drama, Bulls defender Meredith was sent off in the 75th minute for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity from Ureña, setting up a scintillating finish to the match.
Tensions threatened to boil over in the 2nd half as Central Coast’s marauding left-back Jack Clisby escaped a red card for a scything challenge on Macarthur youngster Michael Ruhs. Neither outfit took a backward step as the match was headed for extra time after both sides failed to score within 90 minutes.
Macarthur worked tirelessly with 10 men during extra time and were rewarded with a phenomenal early goal from youngster Charles M’Mombwa who took his shirt off and celebrated with the fans after Stefan Nigro failed to clear the ball off the line.
Despite gallant extra-time efforts from Ureña and VFB Stuttgart signing Alou Kuol, Central Coast could not overcome the deficit from the Bulls and were ultimately eliminated from the competition after a killer blow in the 121st minute from Ruhs.
CROWD BRINGS THE HEAT IN GOSFORD
Despite languishing near the foot of the A-League’s table in recent years, the Mariners’ revival appears to have rejuvenated the Gosford faithful with over 10,000 people witnessing their historic victory.
The crowd provided an unrelenting atmosphere for 120 minutes which assisted in willing the Mariners on for the entirety. Despite a good turn-out at Gosford, the ‘Yellow Army’s’ influence was not enough to secure the victory but it paints a good picture for the Mariners and their fanbase heading into next season.
MARINERS YEARN FOR CRUCIAL COGS
After suffering an injury in the warm-up in their final game of the season against Western Utd, captain and former Socceroo Oli Bozanić was ruled out for the Mariners’ elimination final.
Youngsters Joshua Nisbet and Gianni Stensness struggled to curtail Macarthur’s experience and guile in midfield as the Gosford outfit felt the absence of their inspirational leader.
Rowles and Daniel Hall fought gallantly at the heart of the Mariner defence but ultimately faced an uphill battle to replicate the strength and class of recent national team debutant Tongyik.
Goals from both Derbyshire and Bouman were disallowed as the sides shared the early brunt of the VAR’s influence. However, just as Macarthur sought to exert complete control of the affair, Shaun Evans brandished a red card for Meredith after he was deemed to have denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
This decision was shrouded in controversy due to both a potential handball in the lead-up and the question of whether Meredith indeed denied a goalscoring opportunity.
VAR’s failure to intervene and overturn the decision is certain to draw criticism from the Macarthur camp as calls for the abolition of VAR ahead of next season ramp up.
Central Coast Mariners 0 Macarthur FC 2 (Charles M’Mombwa 93m, Michael Ruhs 120+1m)
Referee: Shaun Evans
VAR: Kris Griffiths-Jones
Central Coast Mariners: 4-4-2
No. 1. Mark Birighitti (gk), 5. Stefan Nigro (3. Lewis Miller 102m), 23. Daniel Hall, 15. Kye Rowles, 11. Jack Clisby (25. Matthew Hatch 106m), 14. Daniel Bouman (22. Michal Janota 89m), 4. Joshua Nisbet, 6. Gianni Stensness, 10. Daniel Desilva, 12. Marco Ureña, 19. Matt Simon (c) (29. Alou Kuol 89m)
Unused Subs: 20. Adam Pearce (gk), 26. Jaden Casella, 30. Jordan Smylie
Manager: Alan Stajčić
Yellow Cards: Hall, Clisby
Red Cards: None
Macarthur FC: 3-4-2-1
No. 1. Adam Federici (gk), 5. Mark Milligan (c), 15. Alexander Susnjar, 12. James Meredith, 2. Jake McGing, 4. Benat Etxebarria (7. Ivan Franjić 73m), 29. Antonis Martis (22. Liam Rose 91m), 11. Tommy Oar (3. Antony Golec 87m), 33. Markel Susaeta (21. Jake Hollman 109m), 24. Charles M’Mombwa (14. Moudi Najjar 102m), 27. Matt Derbyshire (19. Michael Ruhs 87m)
Unused Subs: 16. Nick Suman (gk)
Manager: Ante Milicic
Yellow Cards: Milligan, Martis, Susaeta, Golec, M’Mombwa, Ruhs
Red Cards: Meredith (75th minute)
Image Supplied: Macarthur FC