Central Coast coach Alen Stajcic concedes a horror run of losses has taken its toll on the morale of the Mariners, but patience with the young team is essential for eventual A-League success.
It’s 7:15pm on a regular Wednesday night – except this night was anything but ordinary for Central Coast Mariners fans.
After being knocked out of the FFA Cup Round of 32 four times in a row, the Mariners were about to play in a semi-final, a stage of the tournament they hadn’t reached since the first time it ran back in 2014.
My family and I are big Mariners fans, so naturally we made the hour and a half train ride to Gosford. They were all buzzing, and they asked me what the result might be. I said it would be a tight game and predicted the Mariners to win by a goal.
Fifteen minutes before kick-off the parts of the stadium opened before the game had a liveliness you simply cannot feel through the TV. I couldn’t help but feel nervous. I wanted the Mariners to win.
The game kicked off. Every time a Mariners player made a tackle, started a counter-attack or did anything else noteworthy the Mariners fans burst into cheers and applauded until their hands were red. I couldn’t help but join in. It was a tense first half, with the biggest chance being a Samuel Silvera header that Jordan Elsey managed direct up and onto the crossbar.
Mariners goalkeeper Mark Birighitti also elbowed George Blackwood in the face, which most likely would have been a red card offence if the referee had seen it or if there had been VAR. What I could see from high up in the stands was that after a preseason with Alen Stajcic the Mariners seemed to have improved their shape and benefited from having a composed and confident goalkeeper in Birighitti.
The second half was a lot more eventful, with Adelaide hitting the post before Jordan Murray missed a one on one against United debutant Isaac Richards. The first goal came when Silvera was fouled just near the right-hand side touchline, and Jack Clisby stepped up to take the shot. Clisby scored, and the dream was on the for the Mariners.
But in the 72nd minute Matt Simon was red-carded and Adelaide United went on to score two goals and win.
The Mariners may have lost, but there are lots of reasons for them and their fans to keep their heads up.
First of all, Simon’s second yellow card shouldn’t have been given, and if the Mariners still had 11 men on the field, it would have shaped up as a completely different game.
Second, the Mariners midfield looks way better. Milan Djuric was deployed in the holding midfield-deep playmaker role and had a fantastic game. He made a lot of great forward passes and looks very comfortable in that role. Also, Daniel De Silva had a great game overall and often tracked back to help out the defence. This would most likely be thanks to Stajcic, and he looks to be enjoying football a lot more back in the Central Coast.
Tommy Oar was brilliant as always, and Silvera looks like the next big thing for the Mariners. The back four was very solid, and it wasn’t through their fault that they conceded – Adelaide ran them over in the last 15 minutes.
Overall the Mariners are already developing, and making a semi-final of the FFA Cup is already going a few steps ahead for the revival of the club. They look like they could be one good striker away from having a great season.
So, Mariners fans, keep your heads held high!