Early League leaders Queensland Roar were lucky to come away from a sodden Bluetoungue CC Stadium with a point last night. The aptly named Mariners tested the woodwork twice during a game that entertained the small but hardy and boisterous crowd, but alas descended often into a 'water puddle' lottery.
The 0-0 result was in the end the most likely with both goalkeepers doing a wonderfull job for the conditions although any mistake in defence could have allowed a soft goal.
There is a saying among Mariners fans that if it is raining in Gosford the Mariners must be playing at home - this day was solid fuel for the theory, with very heavy rain earlier in the day however the ground held up enough to start and was even draining during the game before further storms swept in. The heavy weather did have a similar effect on the crowd as the game the night before in Adelaide, with even season ticket holder bays decimated.
With the notoriously injury plauged Mariners still missing their star striker in Nick Mrdja and key defender Andrew Clark out for the first time in their history, they at least went into the game looking to get some game time out of Tom Pondeljak and John Hutchinson.
The Roar, with coach Miron Bleiberg stoking the rivalry with his candid thoughts during the week, came to Bluetounge CC Stadium with a near full strength squad other than the injured Stuart McLaren. The weather however caused Blieberg to change his formation, such as leaving star striker Ante Milicic on the bench, and opting for young legs in an attempt to stretch his opponent. As he said after the game, " ... watching the Mariners last week I suspected they were not yet a 90 minute team."
The game started with both teams testing out the conditions and each other, and it wasn't until the 10th minute that the Mariners, who settled in the conditions quicker, played Adam Kwasnik up the right forcing a corner - which found Noel Spencer lurking 20m out and he tested Liam Reddy in the Queensland goal with a skidding shot that the custodian held well.
Five minutes later the Coast put together some good play, with the ball played forward neatly by the experienced Tony Vidmar, and it ended with an early cross from the left that with a deflection by Josh McCloughlan just evaded Adam Kwasnik as he slid past the ball, and the goaline and into the net - meanwhile the ball continued on.
The northerners had one of their best chances of the half when Simon Lynch got free and shot from close range on the left but Danny Vukovic had it covered.
One minute later Kwasnik found himself surrounded by maroon shorts and slotted the ball back to Spencer whose skidding shot on target from 20m tested Reddy.
A 33' chance for the Coast came when Matt Osman sent in an early cross from the left finding an angled running Kwasnik, but the striker's attempt at a glancing header went wide on the right.
The Roar had a chance when Matt McKay steered a shot through the mass of players in front of him that took a wicked deflection off a Mariners defender and almost wrong-footed Vukovic in the Central Coast goal - he produced a fine reflex save to cleer the ball with his outstretched right leg.
The first half had been fairly even though the prompting of Vidmar, the unpredictability of Tom Pondeljak, and the hard running of Kwasnik challenged the Roar, who relied on solid defence and counter attack through the dangerous Simon Lynch.
In the second half the Queenslanders came out with more assuredness and Young Socceroo Dario Vidosic sent a free-kick over the wall and the keeper saw it late but made his save.
In the 56th minute Lynch got free but shot wide past the advancing Vukovic.
A good chance to the Mariners when Andre Gumprecht crossed from the right to Stewart Petrie whose glancing header over the defence almost connected with the well positioned and running Kwasnik.
The Mariners were now back on top with Tom Pondeljak desperately unlucky with his long range strike in the 64th minute which cannoned off the crossbar with the keeper beaten, and the rebound shot from Petrie blocked.
Sustained pressure from Kwasnik with Reddy fast to come out to nullify the service to the young striker.
In the 82nd minute Pondeljak was again denied by the crossbar after Vuko Tomasevic's seering free kick was first parried by Reddy to the feet of the ever-ready Mariners midfielder who struck a fearsome shot that rebounded off the underside of the crossbar.
A last gasp chance for the visitors as Lynch got away on the left, however a diving save by Vukovic denied his shot on the run.
Overall the Mariners will rue the two points lost, but it was an encouraging display after the week before. The Queensland team did not falter in their attempt to play football and remain, overnight at least, on the top of the table, a fact that Miron Bleiberg was quick to point out after the game.
Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna said also after the game that "I thought the players from both sides handled the conditions very well. Every now and then you got a bit excited when something seemed to be on, then a puddle would pop up. But there were no really silly tackles that can happen in conditions like that."
He indicated that the game had given him nor further injury problems, although I noticed later that Pondeljak sported marks on the shin that spelt out the commitment that both teams had given.
"It was definitely a far better performance from us. We hit the woodwork a few times and needed a bit of luck to get a goal, but overall, we are happy with the performance, stated McKinna."
Roar coach Miron Bleiberg also seemed happy, although like McKinna that is his media persona. "Bleiberg stated, "Overall I am happy with the performance, and I said about a mature performance that we played two kids, our U20"s Ben Griffin [ed. who made his HAL debut] and Dario Vidosic and I'm not sure how many teams in the A-League have their under 20's on the bench let alone with them starting ... so, I'm happy!"
"I am happy because we have shown this season that we can adapt to any conditions and still manage to get a result. It was a mature performance; we never panicked and I think we had the upper hand on many occasions in the match. Both teams had chances and in the end a draw was a fair result I think."
The Mariners face the hard task at an expected full Olympic Park in Melbourne next weekend while the Queenslanders host the improved NZ Knights.