Macarthur break Mariners hearts to secure maiden Semi-Final
Macarthur broke the Central Coast Mariners' hearts away from home in the first elimination final to secure a semi-final match-up against Melbourne City next week.
The Bulls started strong, creating chance after chance and being denied copious amounts of times by Mark Birighitti. He produced a spectacular save to deny the away side the lead in the 10th minute.
Neither side was able to open the deadlock in the first half despite creating numerous chances each.
The 74th minute saw makeshift centre-back James Meredith lunge in on Marcos Urena one-on-one to force the referee to draw red with fifteen minutes to go.
However, the home side failed to capitalise with a string of missed chances and a lack of control, seeing them head into extra time.
It was Charles M'Mombwa who broke the deadlock and the hearts of the Mariners’ faithful.
A cross from Ivan Franjic found Markel Susaeta, who struck the post with his low volley. The rebound was then bundled in by M'Mombwa, who raced off to celebrate with the travelling away fans.
M'Mombwa celebrates the opening goal of the final with his teammates. (Macarthur FC)
Red-hot Alou Kuol failed to impact the game significantly, only coming off the bench in the 88th minute for captain Matt Simon. The Mariners came close to levelling the scores in the 118th minute when Kye Rowles blasted a volley over the crossbar.
The game's last action saw Michael Ruhs stride past the stricken Rowles and finish past Birighitti to strike a dagger straight through the Central Coast fans.
The Red Card
The send-off of James Meredith changed the complexion of the game, not against Macarthur, but for them. The ability to absorb pressure and release small counterattacks in quick succession proved worthwhile, with both goals coming from these transition moments.
VAR played a significant part in denying the Central Coast the opener and the controversial red card of Meredith. Daniel Bouman was called marginally offside after finishing past Adam Federici in controversial circumstances. After going upstairs, VAR deemed that the Macarthur defender did not play at the ball in the lead-up. Ureña looked to have handled the ball just before being dragged down by Meredith in the build-up to his red card too.
The work rate of players like Josh Nisbet and Gianni Stensness in the first half was inferior, with both failing to impact the first half. They made up for it in the following three halves of football, dominating the play by creating and pulling strings for the Central Coast side.