Central Coast has secured an all-important home elimination final, coming away with a 2-0 win over a dogged Western United.
Jack Clisby’s first-half volley and Marcos Urena’s late tap-in were enough to launch the Mariners above Brisbane and into third on the final standings.
As a result, Alen Stajcic’s side will host A-League new boys Macarthur in their first final in seven years next Saturday, capping off an unexpected surge up the table.
After four wooden spoons in five seasons, it’s a long-awaited return for a side who has long hoped to return to the success of their early days in the competition.
Having beaten the Bulls in all three of their meetings this season, Central Coast will go in with all the confidence that they can advance past the first week of finals and book an away semi-final against reigning champions Sydney FC.
Despite losing Oliver Bozanic in the warm-up and being without classy winger Daniel De Silva, the Mariners put in another disciplined performance – a hallmark of their season to date.
However, Western United’s disappointing campaign has drawn to a close as their winless end to the season extended to nine.
Although the form-line looks grim, it was a second-straight improved performance from Western who again turned to the youth ahead of a ‘reset’ in the off-season.
Adisu Bayew and former Victory fullback Dalibor Markovic were handed their first starts while A-League games record holder Andrew Durante played his final game before hanging up the boots.
Central Coast took the lead after Gianni Stensness’ corner fell among a sea of players with Clisby emerging from the scrum to volley home the opener.
Following halftime, the Mariners were seemingly content to sit-back and close out the result but invited a much-improved attacking effort from United who pushed for an equaliser.
Youngster Bayew’s header came inches away from stealing a point but was clawed off the line by Mark Birighitti.
However, after withstanding Western’s second-half forays, Central Coast had their sealer as Urena tapped home from close-range.
Jack Clisby netted the first of the Mariners’ goals. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
Dan the man
When Ruon Tongyik was called up for a well-deserved place in the Socceroos’ squad, the Mariners were left with a gaping hole in defence.
However, in only his third career start, Daniel Hall filled in brilliantly, putting in yet another solid display at the heart of the back four alongside Kye Rowles – showing no signs of nerves despite his lack of senior games.
The 21-year-old has proven he is a more than an ample replacement heading into finals, quelling any lingering fears of a collapse in Tongyik’s absence.
Western United face a massive off-season as they look to reach the lofty heights of last season’s semi-final finish.
Mark Rudan promised a reset of the squad heading into the off-season and with his side hamstrung by having the second-worst defence and attack in the league, a starting point has been established.
Has father time finally caught up with Besart Berisha? Is too-much responsibility on the shoulders of an ageing Alessandro Diamanti? Who replaces retiring Andrew Durante?
These are just some of the questions Rudan will need to answer starting this week.
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