Bernie Ibini's goal proved enough as the Central Coast Mariners kept their A-League championship defence alive through a 1-0 Elimination Final win over Adelaide United.
Mariners boss Phil Moss made four changes to the side which suffered a 1-0 loss against FC Seoul in the AFC Champions League midweek as defender Eddy Bosnar returned, Glen Trifiro was elevated to the starting line-up with Nick Fitzgerald and Ibini were named in attack.
Josep Gombau made two changes from Adelaide’s final regular season game as Jordan Elsey and Bruce Djite (who missed the majority of training this week) made way for John McKain and Jeronimo Neumann.
Both sides opened with purpose but Adelaide had the best early chance after five minutes when Mariners Joshua Rose and then Storm Roux conspired to clear the ball after Fabio Ferreira made a good run into the home area. An Osama Malik header from the ensuing corner was well saved by Mariners goalkeeper Liam Reddy.
Adelaide dominated possession early on, as has become their pattern this season, but the Mariners held firm and counter-attacked well. Fullback Joshua Rose miscued a right footed strike, which ended up going over the sideline, after some great build-up. Isaias then blazed over as Adelaide attacked on 20 minutes but they still struggled to break down the home side even as Ferreira chipped in a ball two minutes later, which went over Neumann’s head.
Neumann then deflected a shot off Roux’s head which was snaffled by Reddy as the Reds continued to raid through the Mariners midfield to no avail. Both Sergio Cirio and Michael Zullo, down the left flank, made purposeful runs before play often broke down in the final third.
Seven minutes before the interval applause rang out throughout Central Coast Stadium in tribute to Dylan Tombides after the Young Socceroo and West Ham striker lost his battle with testicular cancer on Friday. This was in addition to a minutes applause prior to kick-off to recognise the passing of the 20 year-old who debuted for the East London club in 2012.
The Mariners started the second half the stronger side with Ibini and Mitchell Duke combining as the former fired in a low ball easily saved by Eugene Galekovic.
Prior to the hour mark Ibini was in the action again when his hard right-footed strike was stopped by Galekovic, with the play coming following some crisp lead-up play from Anthony Caceres and Roux.
Spaniard Gombau made the game’s first change with 30 minute remaining as Djite replaced Neumann but it was the Mariners who scored the breakthrough goal soon after, with Ibini thrashing the ball past Galekovic after an expert lay-off from Duke.
Awer Mabil showed dash when he came on for Adelaide, whilst Mariners captain Hutchinson provided stability when he replaced Trifiro in the midfield.
A late Djite strike was parried away by Reddy and more drama ensued as Zac Anderson was booked for a foul giving Adelaide a free kick. That was cleared by Bosnar but moments later, as the Mariners were deep on attack, substitutes Hutchinson and Mabil clashed and had to be pulled apart by players and officials. Referee Ben Williams did not book anyone as the match ended on a fiery note.
The reigning A-League champions travel to Japan for their final ACL group game against Sanfrecce Hiroshima which is on Wednesday, requiring a win (but perhaps a draw) to progress in that competition.