After the stunning departures of Melbourne Victory, Sydney FC and Perth Glory in Round of 32 FFA Cup play, three of the remaining A-League clubs made real statements on the first night of Round of 16 action just a week ago.
On that night, Adelaide United, Melbourne City and Newcastle Jets advanced through to the last eight, along with the popular Moreland Zebras. Last night, the Western Sydney Wanderers, Brisbane Roar and Central Coast Mariners were all hoping to do the same.
The Wanderers faced Sydney United in Campbelltown while the Mariners and Roar met in an all A-League battle at Dolphin Stadium in Redcliffe.
Adelaide Olympic and Hume City appeared likely to conjure a desperate encounter in Adelaide and the Brisbane Strikers had Manly United in their cross hairs at Perry Park.
As has become the norm, the night did not fail to deliver the expected drama and there were goals aplenty at three of the four venues.
Western Sydney proved just a little too polished for an NPL grand finalist with plenty on their mind.
First half goals to Bruce Kamau, Daniel Georgievski and Kwame Yeboah gave the red and black a comfortable lead at the break and thoughts of an NSW NPL decider with APIA Leichhardt this coming Saturday appeared to have Sydney United somewhat distracted.
A second half penalty would pull one back for United, but the Wanderers quickly restored the three goal advantage and went on to qualifying in fine style with a 7-1 victory.
Adelaide Olympic and Hume City went to the half-time break level at 1-1 before Marko Delic added two second half goals to complete his hat-trick and send City into the final eight with a 3-1 win.
The Strikers and Manly played out a goalless first 45 minutes before the deadlock was finally broken by a Matthew Richardson goal in the 62nd minute. The Strikers advanced in regular time yet the other Queensland team in action last night become embroiled in an enthralling and gripping contest not too far up the road.
The new look, Robbie Fowler-led Roar and Alen Stajcic’s Mariners drew what appeared an excellent crowd in Redcliffe and a significant number of lounge room eyes around the nation; with everyone keen to see whether the Englishman can indeed rejuvenate the Roar and if Stajcic has any chance of rebuilding the Mariners.
What played out was compelling, in a match that had an impressive tempo at times. ‘Old Man River’ Matt Simon scored from the spot in the 21st minute to give the Mariners an early lead and despite the odd scary break from midfield by the home side and a few missed chances, the visitors managed things reasonably well in the first half.
However, things changed very quickly. Just 60 seconds after the restart, Brad Inman placed a neat left foot strike into the bottom corner and celebrated a return to his country of birth with his first goal for Brisbane. At 1-1, things were set up nicely.
Momentum appeared to grow for the Roar with Roy O’Donovan sniffing about up top, Englishmen Tom Aldred and Macaulay Gillesphey impressing in defence and Stefan Mauk and Jake McGing creating well in the midfield.
Daniel De Silva and Jordan Murray threw the odd wave at the Brisbane back four yet the longer the contest went, the more Fowler’s men appeared to be growing in confidence and composure.
O’Donovan missed a golden chance with his left foot in the 61st minute and frankly should have done better.
Brisbane continued to have the better of the contest until the 85th minute, when Simon struck again with a deft and well angled pass into the goal mouth to set up Samuel Silvera and the Mariners took a surprising and unexpected lead.
Seemingly within seconds, the Roar won a penalty and O’Donovan converted from the spot to send the match into a frantic final few minutes of normal time with the scores locked at 2-2.
Extra-time it was to be. However, even that wasn’t enough to determine the final qualifier for the quarter-finals.
Penalties followed and after Matt Simon got the Mariners off to a perfect start in the shootout, Mark Birighitti saved O’Donovan’s attempt midway through the drama. The goal keeper was to repeat the dose by deflecting Tom Aldred’s spot kick just minutes later and the home fans headed to the car parks, once again frustrated in FFA Cup play.
Year after the year the cup continues to produce and despite the Roar walking away with nothing after a sustained and often impressive effort, Fowler will be confident that his team is building well for the upcoming A-League season.
As for the Mariners? Well they will be ecstatic with both the result and the obvious improvements being made with Stajcic at the helm.