Glory win battle of fine margins
Perth Glory celebrate AAP Image/Paul Miller
In a grand final qualifier that was always likely to be decided by the finest of margins, it was no surprise that this one went all the way to the final spot kick.
In front of a disappointing Bluetongue crowd of 7,572, Perth Glory eventually beat the Central Coast Mariners 5-3 on penalties after scores were locked at 1-1 after extra time.
This was always going to be a tight and tense affair, and so it proved, with the game twisting this way and that, the cards eventually falling in the Glory’s favour.
Such is the physicality and style of both these sides, there was likely to be little separating them, with the formations selected only confirming a risk-free approach, perhaps understandable for a final.
With Ian Ferguson playing Shane Smeltz in the hole behind Billy Mehmet, in a formation that looked like a 4-2-3-1 in defence and 4-4-2 in attack, this only made the game tighter.
Graham Arnold, meanwhile, had a choice between the muscle of target man John Sutton or the younger and quicker Bernie Ibini, effectively a choice between hitting a big man and playing for seconds, or trying to expose the Glory in behind.
Choosing Sutton and leaving Ibini for late impact off the bench highlighted the way Arnold was thinking.
He was prepared to engage Ferguson in a physical battle, and leave Ibini for later, when the game opened up and players tired.
In truth, it was the most sensible option, and had both Adam Kwasnik and Ibini been a little more ruthless when the Mariners were dominating the second period, things may have been entirely different.
Indeed, in the space of a couple of minutes midway through the second period, Kwasnik missed two great opportunities, firing the first close enough for Danny Vukovic to react with his right foot, and then blazing across the goal a minute later.
And this was after the missed penalty by Patrick Zwaanswijk earlier in the second half.
Punching in my notes at the game, I wondered whether these three great opportunities would come back to haunt the Mariners.
No doubt Arnold and a few in the gallery may have been thinking the same thing.
In truth, an inability to finish has been the issue for the Mariners since Matt Simon’s departed in January.
Flying mid-season, but bereft of funds and needing to balance the books, they took a pragmatic approach by letting Simon and Rostyn Griffiths go.
This was always likely to come back to bite, and with Sutton failing to have an impact up front, the attack often floundered.
Simon’s absence, in particular, effected the performances of Ibini. Together they were developing quite the partnership, sharing scoring and assist duties, but the youngster has struggled since.
While Arnold was able to cover the centre of his midfield through John Hutchinson, the lack of midfield cover in his squad meant that Hutchinson, Michael McGlinchey and Oliver Bozanic were playing game after game, in both the A-League and Asian Champions League.
Perth on the hand have been able to concentrate on matters domestic, and at times it showed, with Dean Heffernan in particular running on strongly towards the end while his apposing fullbacks looked jaded.
Earlier in the evening it was Josh Risdon getting forward and impressing, playing a key role in Smeltz’s equaliser.
While the Mariners had fair claims for feeling aggrieved about the lack of an offside flag in the build up, the ledger was balanced somewhat by the awarding of a soft penalty against Steve Pantelidis.
At the end of the day, as Arnold hinted afterwards, it was poor finishing rather than poor officiating that cost them.
The Glory, meanwhile, continue a run that has seen them lose only two of their past 18, that after a five game losing streak before Christmas.
Ominously, one of those 3-0 losses was at the hands of next week’s grand final opponents, Brisbane Roar.
Having played two periods of extra time on the spin, there’s little doubt Ferguson will have to nurse some sore and aging bodies through the next week.
As well, it looks like he’ll miss his influential Brazilian left sided player Andrezinho, who limped off Bluetongue with what looked a bad groin injury.
It won’t be easy on the wide expanses of Suncorp, but you’d be mad to completely write off the Glory.
As I wrote a fortnight ago, Ferguson should take much of the credit for pulling things together, but the reality is that everyone at the club has played a role.
From Tony Sage to Jacob Burns and the rest of the players, there has been a steely determination to turn things around.
Burns has epitomised the mentality running through the place, leading by example, rekindling some of his best form.
Yesterday he took the responsibility of looking after Tomas Rogic, one few have been successful at. Often he was seen throwing his body at an opponent to block a shot, inspiring stuff.
It was fitting therefore that he stepped up and buried the winning spot kick, as sad as it was to see Michael McGlinchey, one of the Mariners best this season, miss his.
Such were the fine margins between success and failure on this gripping evening.
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA
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