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Mariners dig deep to keep campaign on the rails

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  • Damian J. Anderson
    http://www.smh.com.au/sport/football/mariners-dig-deep-to-keep-campaign-on-the-rails-20120403-1wb67.html Mariners dig deep to keep campaign on the rails
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 2012
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      Mariners dig deep to keep campaign on the rails

      Sebastian Hassett
      April 4, 2012

      Central Coast 1 Seongnam Ilhwa 1


      Hard-fought … John Sutton clashes with Seongnam goalkeeper Ha Kang-Jin and Yun Young-Sun. Photo: Getty Images

      A midweek match couldn’t have been a worse distraction for the championship-chasing Central Coast Mariners, or so it would seem. But players are competitive beasts and any early thoughts of preservation dissipated the moment they twigged their Asian Champions League hopes were on the line during the 1-1 draw with Seongnam Ilhwa.

      The elusive lure of winning the A-League might remain their biggest goal but Sunday’s semi-final second leg seemed a million miles away when Seongnam striker Hevertinho lined up to take his penalty in the second half.

      In the previous 15 minutes, Central Coast had taken the lead through Adam Kwasnik, Seongnam’s impressive forward Everton had equalised and then Josh Rose was sent off for bringing down Everton in the box, leading to Hevertinho standing at the spot.

      Had it gone in, the Mariners would have boasted two points from three games with just one home match remaining. Instead the football gods evened things out for the sending off and the ball cannoned into the crossbar.

      That makes it three draws in Central Coast’s first three ACL matches and while it’s not ideal, it’s hardly panic stations – especially as their attention is still divided elsewhere.

      ‘‘I can’t be prouder of the boys after what they had to go through on Saturday night. It’s a two-day turnaround after the flight home from Brisbane and the effort we put in was incredible, made even tougher by the sending off,’’ said coach Graham Arnold.

      ‘‘We went for the win because we wanted to get the three points and even with 10 men we had a couple of good chances and we rode our luck at the other end.’’

      Asked how much his players could keep giving, Arnold replied: ‘‘They keep amazing me. The younger boys were overloaded and fatigued from Saturday but the older boys just keep on keeping on and I thought they were fantastic.’’

      Arnold took the opportunity to re-shape his starting line-up just enough to protect those younger bodies, playing a veteran front triangle of Daniel McBreen, Kwasnik and John Sutton.

      Seongnam are a fascinating club, not least because they are owned by billionaire Pyongyang-born entrepreneur Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church, famous globally for their mass weddings. That wasn’t enough to excite the locals, however, with a disappointing crowd of just 5018 turning out for the occasion.

      The Koreans offered a 4-2-3-1 formation with the imposing Serbian striker Vladimir Jovancic at the point of attack.

      The opening half-hour produced hardly any opportunities at either end and then it was at a sleepy moment when Everton nearly caught the Mariners keeper Matt Ryan napping while star young midfielder Yoon Bitgaram pushed his effort just wide as the visitors looked more dangerous.

      The hosts returned fire after the break and very nearly took the lead in the 47th minute when Kwasnik did well to reach McBreen’s clever flick, only to have his curling shot hit the post.

      However, three minutes later they had their reward as McBreen’s snapshot was too hot for Ha Kang-jin, allowing Kwasnik to blast home the rebound.

      But the game would then change dramatically and not in the Mariners’ favour. Some sloppy defending saw Rose left to mark two players from an incoming ball. As the pass came to Everton, Rose was left a metre behind and the Brazilian had his measure, going wide before slamming a well-placed shot that Ryan failed to keep out.

      Soon after Rose was again left exposed from a through ball aimed at Everton, clumsily bringing down the striker in the box and earning a red card but Hevertinho blasted his penalty into the crossbar.

      With the scoreline tied at 1-1, both sides went for the win in a thrilling final 30 minutes. Chances at one end were repeatedly met by equally good chances at the other. Just as Bernie Ibini’s header was tipped over by Kangjin with a splendid save, another substitute, Jeon Sung-chan, stung Ryan’s palms. Perhaps the best chance fell the way of Jovancic when he found himself in space after 77 minutes, only to blast over from point-blank range.

      But nobody could find a winner, meaning of all five matches played so far in the group, all five have been draws. If only a draw was all the Mariners needed on Sunday.

      Damian J. Anderson

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