Central Coast Mariners players celebrate with striker Jordan Murray (left) after he scored against the Jets. Picture: Getty Images
Central Coast Mariners players celebrate with striker Jordan Murray (left) after he scored against the Jets. Picture: Getty Images

Mariners break drought in wild F3 derby finish

Update: Even in the rain, it took Alen Stajcic 12 minutes to sit down.

For 720 seconds, Central Coast's newly installed interim coach stalked his technical area, the firmly planted crossed-armed stance so familiar to any observer of the Matildas in recent years.

Except, of course, the odd gesticulation towards the pitch was directed at the players of an A-League team he's been tasked with restoring to something resembling health.

And even when the Mariners scored a third time to seal an improbable 3-2 win, and Newcastle got two back and were awarded a contentious penalty, and all throughout the injury-time drama as Ben Kennedy saved not one but two spot-kicks after Daniel Georgievski encroached, Stajcic still stood with those arms tightly folded.

He might have allowed himself a small smile at fulltime when, as the club's long-suffering fans rushed into the wet to celebrate last night's scarcely believable victory, he admitted the last few weeks had been the biggest rollercoaster of his life.

"My individual circumstances and the club's have probably mirrored and paralleled each other in a lot of ways," Stajcic said.

Central Coast Mariners interim coach Alen Stajcic celebrates Saturday night’s win over the Jets. Picture: AAP
Central Coast Mariners interim coach Alen Stajcic celebrates Saturday night’s win over the Jets. Picture: AAP
 

"They've had a lot of ups and downs, probably more downs, and so have I.

"I've been here for one minute and two training sessions so really the accolades need to go to the players.

"They were really fighting and scrapping for every moment, trying to pick themselves and the club up from last week.

"Even had it finished at 3-3 I think that would've been there for everyone to see."

Mariners keeper Ben Kennedy saves his second penalty. Picture: AAP
Mariners keeper Ben Kennedy saves his second penalty. Picture: AAP

At times the Mariners rode their luck, and at others gained fortuitous possession through the carelessness of Ernie Merrick's hosts, who've suffered another setback in their late run for the finals.

"We let ourselves down in the first half, we had more than enough chances to get the first goal," Merrick said.

"If we'd have scored then it would have been a different result. But credit to the Mariners, they fought really hard."

There was also a familiar sense of dread when Roy O'Donovan and Ronny Vargas scored late to mount a comeback that threatened to undo it all.

 

Jem Karacan celebrates scoring for the Mariners on Saturday night. Picture: Getty Images
Jem Karacan celebrates scoring for the Mariners on Saturday night. Picture: Getty Images
 

Then the unthinkable happened.

Jonathan Aspropotamitis appeared to bring O'Donovan down as he ran into the box and referee Adam Kersey pointed to the spot.

Kennedy parried away the Irishman's spot-kick and Georgievski fired it into the net. Except he'd rushed in too early and, amid pushing and shoving and general flailing about, the video assistant referee pinned him for encroachment.

A re-take was ordered and yet again Kennedy saved, and again Georgievski scooped up the rebound only to skew wide.

But by then Jordan Murray, Jem Karacan and Connor Pain had also found the scoresheet and Matt Millar, who's ironically looking like a very good signing for the Jets next season, had added two assists.

 

Newcastle Jets striker Roy O’Donovan (left) and Central Coast Mariners defender Jonathan Aspropotamitis compete for the ball. Picture: Getty Images
Newcastle Jets striker Roy O’Donovan (left) and Central Coast Mariners defender Jonathan Aspropotamitis compete for the ball. Picture: Getty Images

 

Suddenly the A-League's smallest club, who'd claimed seven points all season, suddenly had 10 and their first F3 derby win at McDonald Jones Stadium in six years.

Stajcic's task here was daunting. While his achievements with the women's national team over a four-year World Cup cycle are well-documented, how much one man could do in five days is another question entirely.

The answer became clear in the opening 45 minutes, during which a similar line-up - including the reinstated Tom Hiariej and Connor Pain - focused on defensive structure and got numbers behind the ball.

In short, Stajcic's Mariners weren't open for business like they were eight times last week Wellington Phoenix.

But the Jets weren't exactly queuing up to get in early on, and Stajcic had long taken a seat before they got a first shot away.

 

 

Newcastle Jets forward Dimitri Petratos shoots on goal. Picture: AAP
Newcastle Jets forward Dimitri Petratos shoots on goal. Picture: AAP

 

Dimi Petratos, whose stunning strike a fortnight ago iced their last-out upset of Melbourne Victory, couldn't get enough on his free-kick but later unleashed a pile-driver that smacked the bottom of the far post before Sam Graham blocked Jair's follow-up.

If that was lucky, Kennedy's preceding reaction stop was pure skill, a reflex raise of the glove to deny Steven Ugarkovic a sure thing.

The Jets pushed and probed and chances arrived, and when halftime rolled around they had 10 shots to Central Coast's none.

That changed soon after the break when a counter-attack finally bore some fruit and Millar slid a perfect ball to Murray, who slipped between Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Lachlan Jackson and finished with aplomb.

Soon later Millar was at it again, crossing into the box where Karacan slammed home off a deflection from Boogaard.

Three minutes later Jack Clisby started the Mariners' third, passing to Murray who cut back for Pain's scruffy shot that rolled out of Glen Moss's reach.

News Corp Australia


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