Central Coast beats Western Sydney to win A-League
Central Coast ended a history of bitter grand final disappointment by beating the Western Sydney Wanderers 2-0 on Saturday to win Australian football's A-League.
The Mariners were playing in their fourth A-League final, a record since the league's inception in 2005, after enduring crushing disappointments in their previous finals appearances.
In 2011 they led Brisbane 2-0 with three minutes remaining in extra time, before going down on penalties.
This time, as underdogs, they scored through a Patrik Zwaanswijk header in the 43rd minute and a penalty by the league's leading scorer Danny McBreen in the 67th. The win ended the Wanderers' 13-match unbeaten streak in A-League games in front of a crowd of 42,000.
There was rich irony in the fact the victory was sealed emphatically from the penalty spot. Central Coast have had a wretched season in converting penalties, missing five in a row at one stage, including two in the Asian Champions League.
They had missed three in A-League matches and two of those misses were by McBreen, who finally scored one against the Melbourne Heart in round 27, remained undaunted and stepped up confidently to take the spot kick on Sunday.
He sent Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic the wrong way and slammed the ball powerfully into the left-hand side netting. Covic had previously faced four penalties this season and saved them all.
McBreen said he didn't allow either the Mariners' poor record with penalties this season nor the disappointment of previous grand finals to affect him.
''Obvious (the 2011 grand final loss) was all done and dusted by the time this season started,'' he said. ''But everybody else likes to bring it up.
''We just said we can't change the past but we can just affect what happens this week so we worked towards that. Luckily for us we did it and I got a penalty and it went in this time.''
Earlier, Zwaanswijk rose high over Dino Kresinger to connect with a Michael McGlinchey corner at the near post, driving the ball into the Wanderers goal. In doing so he became, at 38, the oldest goalscorer in an A-League grand final.
Sunday's defeat deprived Western Sydney of the final element in a fairytale debut season in the 10-team A-League. It had already won the premiership and the Premier's Plate as the top team in the regular season and a win in the grand final would have been all the more extraordinary.
Although it seemed competitive for long stages in the match, Western Sydney was unable to break down a gritty Central Coast defense. An uneven playing surface troubled both teams, disturbing the fluency which has been part of Western Sydney's game all season.
The Central Coast players, many of them veterans of previous grand finals, were overcome with emotion when the final whistle sounded. After losing the 2006 grand final to Sydney FC and in 2008 to Newcastle before the devastating loss to Brisbane, there was a clear determination not to allow another one to slip by.
Coach Graham Arnold, who played 85 matches for Australia and later managed the Socceroos, was in charge of Central Coast in 2011 and addressed that loss in the leadup to the match.
''I haven't brought 2011 up too many times but in the last couple of weeks I brought that up,'' he said. ''We've used it as motivation, that we never want to feel like that ever again.
''It's the worst feeling that any sportsman or football player could feel and we just wanted to make sure we set the gameplan, we played for 95 minutes and we continued to do what we did from the start of the game.''
Mariners captain John Hutchinson dedicated the win to his team's long suffering fans, who shared players' sense of loss in previous finals.
''Words can't explain what this means,'' Hutchinson said. ''We worked our socks off today.
''Western Sydney's a great team and they've had an outstanding season but on the day I thought we were the better team and deserved to win.
''It's amazing. I said to the fans a long time ago that this is not for us, it's for them. It means a lot to us but I know it means a lot to the fans as well.''
Western Sydney attacked strongly at the start of the second half and, trailing 1-0, seemed capable of turning the match around. But Central Coast weathered that storm and clinched the match with McBreen's penalty for a Jerome Polenz hand ball.
Western Sydney built a huge fan base in their first year in the A-League but was unable to deliver the final trophy to those fans.
''It's fantastic the amount of support we've had this year,'' captain Michael Beauchamp said. ''It's got bigger and better throughout the year.
''But it doesn't take away from the pain at the moment. I think we forced it one or two times when we had the ball today. But credit to the Mariners, they finished off their chances.
''In saying that, credit to our boys because we fought right up to the last minute and that's all you can do.''
Arnold has one more year to run on his contract as Central Coast manager but has been linked to a move to Sheffield United.
''For myself, I've completed the journey I'll say,'' Arnold said. ''I set my goal when I first came, when I signed a three-year deal, to win a grand final.
''I've got another year tacked on my contract when I extended last year and I'm happy to be here. I don't think I want to go to another A-League club at this point in time.''
Central Coast's win was more remarkable because of the financial difficulties they faced only two months ago, alleviated when the club was purchased by Englishman Mike Charlesworth.