Central Coast Mariners deservedly clinched their maiden A-League championship, with goals from veterans Patrick Zwaanswijk and Daniel McBreen clinching victory
|By JOHN GRECO at ALLIANZ STADIUM
Central Coast have put an end to their grand final heartache, spoiling Western Sydney's fairytale with a resounding 2-0 win in the A-League decider at a packed Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
Following failures in 2006, '08 and '11, the Mariners finally buried their demons with a well-deserved win over a gallant Wanderers outfit in front of more than 42,000 fans.
A first-half goal from veteran defender Patrick Zwaanswijk and a penalty after the break from Joe Marston Medal winner Daniel McBreen sent Graham Arnold's side on their way to victory.
The Wanderers threw everything at the Central Coast in the dying minutes but, after so many years of pain and anguish, they were not about to be denied a maiden championship.
Western Sydney, who secured the Premiers' Plate a few weeks ago, were aiming to finish off a remarkable double success in their debut season.
They gave it everything but were beaten by a Mariners side that thoroughly deserved their triumph.
The Mariners settled the quickest and were a whisker away from opening the scoring inside 10 minutes.
A seemingly hopeful ball forward from defender Trent Sainsbury caught the Wanderers defence square, with Mile Sterjovski beating the offside trap to bear down on goal.
As goalkeeper Ante Covic rushed out to pressure Sterjovski, the former Socceroos striker produced a clever lob which landed on top of the crossbar and over.
The bumpy surface as a result of the torrential rain that hit Sydney in the lead-up to the game meant it was difficult for both sides to produce much free-flowing football.
But it did not stop the chances being created in front of goal.
The Wanderers best opportunity came on 19 minutes when defending from a corner.
Shinji Ono picked up possession in his own box before releasing Mark Bridge in space down the left.
Bridge was given time to turn and look up and he produced a delightful cross into the middle which was just slightly too hard for striker Dino Kresinger to get a header on.
It was a close call for Graham Arnold's side but it was the Mariners who continued to muster the better opportunities and they went close twice within a minute.
First, Sainsbury failed to connect when the ball fell to him at close range after the Wanderers failed to clear a corner.
Then, after the best piece of play in the half, Josh Rose got into a good position down the left but his low, fizzing cross was a fraction too far in front of Bernie Ibini at the far post.
But just when it looked like the two sides would go the sheds level, the Mariners struck a minute before the break through Zwaanswijk.
The big Dutchman shrugged off the attention of Kresinger to rise highest and bury Michael McGlinchey's past a stranded Covic.
It was Zwaanswijk's first goal of the season and a just reward for Central Coast's first-half dominance.
But they were perhaps a shade lucky not to have given away a penalty right on half-time when the ball appeared to strike the arm of Pedj Bojic, with referee Peter Green giving the defender the benefit of the doubt.
The Wanderers started with a lot more purpose after the break but were still finding it hard to put any pressure on Mat Ryan's goal.
But the Mariners continued to look threatening themselves going forward and got the decisive second midway through the half.
As Daniel McBreen and Jerome Polenz battled for the ball inside the Wanderers box, the ball popped up and struck the defender on the arm, with Green perfectly placed to award a spot-kick.
McBreen, who had missed his last two penalties, made no mistake this time for his 19th goal of a remarkable season to send the Mariners fans into a frenzy.
Despite having to absorb some pressure in the dying minutes, the Mariners were not about to throw this one away to trigger massive celebrations for the club's loyal and patient fans.