Daniel McBreen's first-half strike was enough to send the Central Coast Mariners through to the A-League grand final at the expense of an outplayed Melbourne Victory
|By HAMISH NEAL at BLUETONGUE STADIUM
Daniel McBreen sent the Central Coast Mariners into a fourth A-League grand final after his 42nd-minute goal lifted the Mariners to 1-0 triumph over the Melbourne Victory on Sunday at Bluetongue Stadium
The semi-final win means the Mariners will now face the Western Sydney Wanderers in next Sunday’s decider at Allianz Stadium.
However, the Mariners will need to do it without combative midfielder Nick Montgomery, who was sent off late for a second bookable offence.
McBreen's winner was the least the Mariners deserved.
After Bernie Ibini beat two defenders, he laid a ball on for 35-year-old McBreen - the competition's Golden Boot winner - to give the home side the lead prior to the interval.
Mariners coach Graham Arnold had returned eight players to his side's starting side after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Guizhou Renhe in the Asian Champions League Tuesday, while Argentine playmaker Marcos Flores swapped places with Connor Pain for Victory.
Mariners forwards Mile Sterjovski and Bernie Ibini had early attempts on goal for the home side as the Central Coast attacked Victory's right flank, primarily targeting 19-year-old defender Jason Geria.
Mariners defenders Pedj Bojic, Joshua Rose, and Trent Sainsbury also got involved, having strikes on goal.
Victory were more positive as the half wore on, with New Zealand international Marco Rojas forcing Mat Ryan to intercept a cross in the 28th minute as he attempted to send a ball towards team-mate Archie Thompson.
Flores was also lively but the Mariners were often able to respond quickly in transition.
McBreen's goal in the shadows of half-time was a reward for effort after a positive period of play for the Mariners, with Victory goalkeeper Nathan Coe kept busy by ten attempts on goal.
After an hour of play, Thompson finally had the Victory's first meaningful shot on target after a smart run. The veteran forward had another shot four minutes later as the visitors chased an equaliser.
Both sides made attacking substitution with Mitchell Duke, 22, and 19-year-old Pain coming on for the Mariners and Victory respectively.
Arnold's decision to bring on Duke nearly had the desired impact in the 70th minute when he rifled a shot just wide of the right-hand post.
The men in yellow and navy continued to be better in attack, with a tight off-side call costing them a second goal in the final 10 minutes before Montgomery's dismissal.
Montgomery was shown a second yellow card after a late foul on Mark Milligan, which will cost him a grand final appearance.
A late foul on substitute Andrew Nabbout gave Victory a chance to send the game into extra-time, but Rojas' free-kick was sent into the Mariners' wall for the home side to hang on.
The Mariners will now get the chance to exorcise their grand final demons after previous losses to Sydney FC, Newcastle Jets and the Brisbane Roar.