Mariners v Jets

A-League report by Alan Clark
Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle United Jets

Mark Bridge's goal just after the hour was enough to give Newcastle Jets a gritty Grand Final win over Premiers Central Coast Mariners at Sydney Football Stadium in front of 36,354 enthralled fans on Sunday evening, drawing the 2007-08 season to a gripping close.

It was unlikely that there would be much between the sides in the game's showcase event, such has been the tight nature of most previous occasions these two rivals have met in the three years of the league. And given the nature of the rivalry - the two sides are separated by less than a hundred kilometres in a competition which spans several time-zones - although the scoreline would not be expected to be a generous one, the nature of the contest would be full-blooded.

And so it transpired. The game concluded in frantic scenes, with Mariners claiming with some legitimacy to have been on the wrong side of two decent shouts for a penalty, and Mariners' goalkeeper Danny Vukovic dismissed deep in added time as a consequence of overly-advancing his case in support of the second. Jets' substitute Matt Holland had thrust his arm at the ball as Tom Pondeljak's corner was sent in to the near post when Mariners had committed all resources - including Vukovic - to one final attempt to take the game into extra time.

Minutes earlier, John Aloisi had tangled with Adam d'Apuzzo in the six-yard box as Aloisi strained every muscle attempting to reach a cross at the far post. Aloisi loudly protested he had been held, but had his entreaties waved away.

Aloisi had an unimpeded header from a better position after Adam Kwasnik had crossed from a similar position five minutes after the break without hitting the target. That should have put Mariners one up, and might have been enough in a game where the margins generally are slight.

But it was Bridge who got the breakthrough, capitalising on an error by the veteran Tony Vidmar, who slipped as he sought to take the ball away from Bridge's attentions wide at the halfway line. Bridges then had a clear run in on goal with only Vukovic and central defender Alex Wilkinson providing the last line. Bridge had some work to do before even getting into a shooting position, but did so effectively, wrong-footing the scrambling Wilkinson as he did so, and sending his shot arrowing into the top corner from the forward edge of the penalty-area.

It was a cruel way for Vidmar to end his career as a footballer, having decided during the lead-up that this would be his final game. Indeed, it was almost Vidmar's final involvement as Mariners' coach Lawrie McKinna withdrew him for forward Matt Simon with fifteen minutes to go as he committed players forward.

It had been a game where neither coach left much in the locker from its earliest moments. There was no twenty-minute period of feeling each other out and playing in reserve. It was full-on from the start.

If the Jets players were tired after taking the last two games to added-time their first half start didn't show it. Mariners scarcely got a look-in for the first twenty minutes, even if goalscoring opportunities were few. Adam Griffiths put a chance over the bar after Matt Thompson's good lead-up work just after the quarter hour.

Barely two minutes later, as Jets threatened to break the game open, Bridges shot wide after Jin-Hyung Song cleverly back-heeled a ball into his path, taking three Mariners' defenders completely out of the contest.

Song's touches throughout gave Jets an edge. The Korean's close control and threaded passes often split Central Coast's covering attempts. Song has only played a few competitive games for Newcastle, all during Jets' frantic Finals campaign, but once there's been a longer time to gel, he will prove a potent force in Jets' armoury.

At the half-hour, Song put wide after Adam Kwasnik had benefited from a long ball forward and cut inside.

But as the half progressed, Mariners began to arm-wrestle its way into contention. John Hutchinson busied himself mid-pitch, tackling with vigour and spraying passes to his wide men to open the game up.

Greg Owens almost capitalised on a part-cleared ball by man-of-the-match Andrew Durante, but found the ball sticking under his foot meaning Durante was able to block Owens' shot after he'd re-set his sights.

Then came Vidmar's slip and Bridge's goal, which was the signal for McKinna to put on Andre Gumprecht and Tom Pondeljak for Owens and Kwasnik, and shortly after Simon for Vidmar.

The breakthrough couldn't come for McKinna's men, and the game entered its red-hot last five minutes with referee Mark Shield working hard to damp down the hot heads and keep the players' minds on the job.

Nigel Boogaard and Aloisi both saw yellow and Vukovic red as the game drew to a fiery close, after the game seemed to have settled down following cautions to Joel Griffiths and Mile Jedinak before the quarter-hour, and Adam Griffiths just before the interval.