The Central Coast Mariners have been doing everything right in the off-season, and deserve a shot at the A-League title. Coach Alen Stajcic has recruited players specifically with experience and pitch authority.
Gosford, 16 Jan 2019. Central Coast Mariners (Home) 1-1 Melbourne City (Away).
The home fans are momentarily silenced, the calm after a storm. It looked to be happening again. The Mariners had gone 1-0 heading into the break, and yet conceded a soft goal from a corner deep into the second half.
The yellow jerseys were rattled, unsure. Slick passing combinations that had previously came off were abandoned in favour mindless hoofball into the rapidly darkening sky. Melbourne were pushing, straining.
The dam, you sense, was about to break. The script was written for another late goal, another morale sapping defeat, their 11th in a row. Warren Joyce was out of his seat, urging his blue clad troops into the massed yellow ranks.
Except that football and fate are often fickle mistresses, and the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. As the clock ticked into the 89th minute, the yellow ranks found an opening, a chink in the previously relentless Melbourne high press.
It might have been fatigue, it might have been complacency. Whatever it was, it allowed the Mariners to string a few passes together, a punch drunk boxer shaking his head and getting up off the mat.
Re-engergised, they surged forward, yellow shirts streaming upfield, darting into the spaces behind. The crowd got to its feet, baying in anticipation, sensing the coming of something special.
There would be no feel good goal here tonight. Come back next time, lads.
One Mariner had other ideas, though. Seizing the ball, which had bounced loose on the edge of the area, Matt Simon jinked past blue shirts left and right, surging into the City box, a veritable one-man army.
That was at least until Griffiths slammed his considerable girth into his back, sending sprawling to the turf.
Peeeep! A long blast of the whistle obliged the Mariners’ protests, as referee Jarred Gillett pointed to the spot.
The stage was set. Matt Simon vs Eugene Galekovic. The unstoppable force against the immovable object. The 4000-strong yellow army sucked in its breath collectively as an unnatural stillness held Gosford Stadium in a firm grasp.
The subsequent scenes seemed to unfold in slow motion, a series of stills.
Peep! A lazy blast of the whistle. Matty begins his run-up…
Galekovic does his signature spaghetti limb dance, bouncing frol foot to foot…
Bam! A sweet connection. The ball sails through the air…
…Straight into Galekovic’s meaty paw.
The stadium froze. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Not Simon, though. He reacted quickest to smash the rebound into the net.
The stadium erupts. Final score, Central Coast Mariners (Home) 2-1 Melbourne City (Away)
327 days of pain, distilled into one night of climax. It was joy juice, 190 proof.
It was 16 Jan 2019, Gosford.