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ALM Grand Final vs Victory 23/24

greenlig

Well-Known Member
Worth the read. This was how The Guardian reported live for the Grand Final:

Today, the Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final will be hosted HERE for the first time ever. @ccmariners and @gomvfc, battling it out for the ultimate honour at the footballing paradise that is Industree Group Stadium

This is going to be 𝐠𝐨𝐨𝐝.

Preamble

By Jonathan Howcroft

Hello everybody and welcome to live coverage of the A-League Men grand final between Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory. Kick-off at Industree Group Stadium in Gosford is 7.45pm.

It’s an occasion Mariners fans have waited 18-years to witness: the toilet seat finally up for grabs in front of the giant sauce bottles. And those fans should be confident about their side’s chances. Central Coast are, after all, defending champions, this year’s premiers, and AFC Cup winners. They have won 18 of 25 domestic matches, dating back to November, losing just twice in that time.

Victory finished 13 points below the Mariners after seven months of the regular season , leading to inevitable questioning about how it is possible for the major prize in Australian club football to be within reach of a side that has won just four of its past 19 matches in normal time. But the finals model is designed to accentuate the unpredictability of knockout sport, and that means Victory remain a chance. Should they prevail it would cap an underdog finals series that has already seen them progress on penalties against Melbourne City, and require extra time against Wellington Phoenix.

A Victory win would hand coach Tony Popovic his first championship, at the fifth time of asking, with his third club. It would also make Popovic the first coach to complete the clean sweep of major trophies after celebrating premierships with Western Sydney Wanderers and Perth Glory, an Australian Cup with Victory, and the AFC Champions League with Wanderers. Still only 50, it could prove a springboard for a manager who has demonstrated the potential to excel beyond these shores, only to find himself returning to home comforts after signing up to questionable projects in 2017 (Karabükspor) and 2020 (Xanthi).

Central Coast Mariners XI

The Mariners go in as expected, unchanged from their semi-final success. Big games will be required by Vanuatuan Brian Kaltak in the heart of defence, Socceroo Josh Nisbet at the base of midfield, and livewire Alou Kuol up front.

Melbourne Victory XI

Frenchman Zinédine Machach returns to Victory’s midfield after missing both legs of the semi-final through suspension. Bruno Fornaroli will dominate attention in attack, but this could be the big stage Daniel Arzani’s career has been crying out for since he burst onto the scene at the 2018 World Cup.

While the Mariners are back in the grand final for a second year in a row, this is a very different iteration of the club. Head coach Nick Montgomery left for Hibernian, while key players from 2023 including Jason Cummings, Sammy Silvera, Nectar Triantis, Beni N’Kololo, James McGarr, and Marco Tulio have all left. It is a reflection of the strength of the organisation and marks a stunning turnaround for a club that were a basket case for a decade not so long ago.

The Victory squad is so chock full of potential it’s as if they were deliberately trying to shine a light on the failure of the Australian system to convert promising long youngsters into established overseas stars. At one time or another Daniel Arzani, Jake Brimmer, Connor Chapman, Ryan Teague, Ben Folami, and Chris Ikonomidis have all been hailed as the next big thing in Australian football. All have spent time in the national team system. All have spent time in foreign leagues. All are still under 30.

At 𝟯𝟵 𝘆𝗲𝗮𝗿𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝟱𝟴 𝗱𝗮𝘆𝘀 old, Danny Vukvovic will become the oldest player in Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final history today!

The @ccmariners captain is set to break the record set by Ante Covic in 2014

It is still, cool, and dry under the lights in Gosford. A full house is forecast, with the total attendance likely to set a new record for Industree Group Stadium after some extra seating was installed at the palm tree, pushing the capacity over 20,000. However, that does mean the famous sauce bottles have been shifted out of their regular vantage points.

Leigh Broxham has not made it into Victory’s matchday squad, so he will end his extraordinary 18-year career with a league-leading 386 appearances.

Both teams are in their home kits tonight. That means the Mariners are top to toe in sandy yellow, Victory one long shock of navy blue.

A-League referee of the year Alex King will take charge of his first grand final.

Out come the teams, down the tunnel, past the championship trophy and into a cauldron of noise at a packed Industree Group Stadium.

Pregame formalities have been taken care of. Kick-off is imminent.

Kick off!​

The A-League grand final is under way…

2 mins: Both sides tear off at breakneck speed, competing fiercely for every second ball. Unsurprisingly, there’s little football of note to talk about, but young Jacob Farrell can feel proud of some good early work on Daniel Arzani in what’s likely to be one of the key duels of the evening.

4 mins: Victory have had a couple of goal kicks, and on both occasions they’ve committed to playing out from the back, backing themselves under pressure. The first attempt down the right was shut down by Farrell, the second, on the left, managed to force through the lines to Machach who roams forward, breaks into the box and squeezes away a weak shot that’s cleared by the sliding Kaltak.

6 mins: Victory are seeing much more of the ball and executing plenty of neat triangles in the middle third. The Mariners are more direct, looking to profit from turnovers, and when they secure the ball the volume from the crowd raises a number of decibels.

8 mins: Victory’s fullbacks are both hugging the touchline when their side take possession, stretching the field as wide as possible, but the Mariners, and Theoharous in particular, are diligent in their tracking. Everything so far is taking place between the two penalty boxes.

10 mins: The Mariners look a little stilted in possession when Victory drop off. The ball is passed repeatedly along the home back four without ever threatening to break into a sophisticated pattern of play. Eventually a long diagonal is dealt with by the visitors.

12 mins: The TV coverage cuts to the temporary seating where the famous sauce bottles usually reside. As tonight’s fixture is run by the APL, not the Mariners, there’s no place for the comedy condiments. Shame.

14 mins: The game remains at an impasse as Victory allow the Mariners all the time in the world to rack up some passing stats along halfway. The only outlet so far has been Theoharous, and again he is targeted but Arzani shows his newfound maturity, tracking back and dealing with the threat in a battle of the former winger wunderkinds.

16 mins: Tapp with a crunching challenge on Valadon in midfield that gets the home fans to their feet in applause. Alex King was right on the spot and he waves play on. Theoharous is not so fortunate after he clips Teague’s heels but Arzani’s free-kick delivery is easily cleared.

Arzani doesn’t give up though and latches on to the second ball, skins Theoharous, reaches the byline, but his cross is turned behind by Roux for a corner.

17 mins: The dead ball routine is neat between Teague, Machach and Arzani, and the latter swings over a dangerous cross to the far post but the Mariners do enough to smuggle it away. Victory are enjoying a decent spell of attacking pressure.

19 mins: Vukovic fluffs a goal kick straight to Arzani. The winger takes a few paces and lets fly from range, but he drags his speculative effort wide of the post.

Tony Popovic will be the happier of the two coaches so far. His side look more dangerous in attack, and tactically assured in defence.

21 mins: Another loose pass out of defence from the Mariners is picked off by Fornaroli who earns a second corner of the night. Teague takes it – and there’s a free-for-all on the six-yard line – but Victory are unable to find a header with Miranda under serious physically pressure. The Mariners don’t care, they tear down the other end, releasing Theoharous, and Traore is forced into a professional foul on the left, for which he is rightly booked.

23 mins: Doka with the deep free-kick to the far post, Kaltak nods it across the face, and then there’s an ugly clash of heads between Kuol and Da Silva that leaves both men bloodied on the floor.

While play is stopped there’s a chance to catch replays of the earlier Victory corner. Miranda was definitely manhandled in the box as he leapt for his header. You’ve seen penalties given for that kind of shirt-tugging, but he also had a piece of yellow jersey in his fist at the time, so probably six-of-one half-a-dozen of the other.

24 mins: That really was a nasty clash of heads. Both Kuol and Da Silva have been split over their eyebrows like boxers and blood continues to leak from each bonce.

26 mins: Still paused here in Gosford as both men are bandaged like mummies. Thankfully they’re both on their feet, changing their bloodied shirts, and they’ll be back to join the fray in no time. Da Silva is now wearing the No.62 jersey.

28 mins: Kuol is down again after getting an elbow to the back of his head… from Da Silva! It’s like Fury v Usyk. Now Fornaroli’s on the deck, earning a trademark free-kick near the touchline after holding off a cluster of yellow jerseys long enough to draw the foul. Popovic, like all A-League managers, then goes unnecessarily ballistic at the impotent fourth official. Such a tinpot look.

30 mins: CCM head the resulting free-kick clear and Kuol is belatedly awarded a free-kick. He is quite the sight now, Alou Kuol. He has a bright white dyed Afro, that is now streaked pink with blood, and between his hairline and his eyes is a Dennis Lillee style headband of Elastoplast.

32 mins: Amongst the stoppages Victory continue to have the better of the game. Arzani skips into the box, running like a dressage pony on his tiptoes while Mariners defenders do their best not to lunge in and shepherd the ball to the byline. They do just that then try and release Theoharous down the left on the counter – literally their only attacking ploy so far.

34 mins: The home midfield cannot string any passes together at pace. They’re fine going sideways but anything through the lines has been cut out easily by the well-structured Victory machine.

36 mins: The Mariners are playing so conservatively. Tapp has time and space at the base of midfield with Farrell making a sharp inverted fullback run to his left, but the option is eschewed and the safe sideways pass is taken. This sets up a minute or so of nothing before Central Coast fall back on Plan A and feed Theoharous on the left. He doesn’t disappoint, skinning his man with superb footwork then dinking over a teasing cross, but there’s only Kuol in the box and he is bodied out of the contest.

38 mins: I can’t see the stats but Brian Kaltak must have had about half the Mariners’ touches. So much of the game so far has been the Vanuatuan looking downfield just inside his own half, shaping left and right, and failing to see anything of interest.

40 mins: The home side have upped their hustle in the past few minutes, hunting Victory all over the pitch trying to force the quick turnover and rapid counterattack: aka gegenpressing. The chasing has been good, the attacking bit afterwards not so much.

41 mins: Good save! First proper save of the night and it’s from Danny Vukovic, diving low to his right to palm away a stinging drive from Daniel Arzani from the edge of the box.

43 mins: Victory are sitting back a little after asserting themselves for a good chunk of this half. The Mariners pick their way through the lines a couple of times, but it’s very slow and contains no end product.

45 mins: The Mariners almost free Roux on the inside right channel but Izzo is out smartly to win a clash near the byline and earn a free-kick. Plenty of Victory defenders on the scene too in case their former full-back got the better of the situation.

45+2 mins: Better from Victory, stepping up their game for a minute or so, using Arzani on the right, and as a decoy infield. It is from that move that allows Geria to overlap and pick out Teague near the penalty spot, but his header flashes wide of the post. Good opportunity for the visitors there, a shame for them it didn’t fall to a more noted goalscorer.


45+4 mins: Nisbet has time and space in the final third but fails to find his target with his cross. The second ball is recycled and Roux forces his side’s first corner of the night.

45+6 mins: Theoharous doesn’t beat the first defender with a dreadful corner. Is there anything more maddening in football?

45+7 mins: As we enter the seventh minute of stoppage time, the Mariners resume their passing drill across the back four. Kaltak eventually punts an aimless ball forward.

Half-time: Central Coast Mariners 0-0 Melbourne Victory​

No goals. One save. Plenty of fouls. One massive clash of heads. Victory the better of the two sides at the interval.

The teams are making their way out for the second half. Victory players presumably with the instruction to go for the jugular after setting out their stall nicely in the first half. The Mariners may be due a tactical reshuffle in the final third after a laboured 45 minutes.

46 mins: And there is a change for the hosts with Alou Kuol not coming out for the second period after his head knock in the first half. Ryan Edmondson is on in his place up front.

47 mins: And as expected Victory come out with their foot on the gas. The initial burst is down the right but the ball is played across the top of the box all the way to Traore who has a sight of goal and drills a skidder that Vukovic smothers well under pressure.

49 mins: Not for the first time tonight Fornaroli hits the deck. It’s always tough to figure out if he’s there by design or not, but on this occasion he’s rag-dolled by Balard in midfield.

50 mins: Machach feeds Khelifi on the counter but Hall stands his ground and blocks the shot on the edge of the box. Victory are primed.

GOAL! Central Coast Mariners 0-1 Melbourne Victory (Geria, 50)​

Oh boy, they sure are primed! The Mariners fail to comprehensively clear their lines from Khelifi’s earlier effort and after a couple of phases of play near the left touchline, the ball is rolled into the path of Jason Geria on the edge of the penalty area and he absolutely larrups a pure thunderbastard into the top corner. Vukovic had no chance. What a time to score your first goal of the season.

51 mins: Victory are well worth their lead. The Mariners can’t say it wasn’t coming.

52 mins: What have the Mariners got in response? Breaking down a Tony Popovic side with a lead is an unenviable task.

54 mins: Nisbet gets on the ball, dictating traffic with neat little angled passes, but Victory just drop 10 men behind the ball and defend the edge of their penalty area, cutting off passing lanes and driving the Mariners to distraction. This CCM XI is not set up to break down a defence in this way. They want to play fast in transition.

55 mins: Theoharous, who has been a threat all match, goes down the outside on the left, but his cross from the byline is pulled back too far and Victory clear. Not for long though as Fornaroli is penalised for interfering with Hall. The resulting free-kick is claimed with authority by Izzo in a pack of bodies.

57 mins: The Mariners are allowed to get away with a firm challenge on Machach on halfway. It sets up the kind of transition they dream of. Nisbet feeds Theoharous on the burst down the left – it’s a shooting chance – but the ball is blazed wildly across the face and into orbit.

58 mins: And that’s the final involvement of the grand final for Theoharous – his side’s best player and primary outlet. He didn’t appear to be injured. I’ve no idea what Jackson is doing with that one. Miguel Di Pizio replaces Christian Theoharous.

59 mins: Victory make a change of their own: Velupillay on - Khelifi off

60 mins: Roux has done well all night to get down the pitch and outside Traore on Victory’s left, but there has yet to be a final ball to match the endeavour.

62 mins: Victory are still the more likely. Especially when Machach is on the ball. He has that ability to make the game slow down around him while he times his pass.

63 mins: Doka and Nisbet do well to break the lines in midfield, but the ball to Edmondson leaves the lone forward isolated and he ends up driving down a blind alley and slicing a shot wide. In the build-up, not for the first time tonight Da Silva comes out from the back and clatters a Mariner without punishment. He’s got away with at least three rash challenges.

64 mins: Nisbet again threatens to unlock the Victory defence but Geria executes a superb sliding interception to nick the ball off the mini-midfielder’s toes.

66 mins: Victory are going for a second, not packing their defence and midfield, which means there’s plenty of space for the Mariners on the counter if they can clear the initial press. They do so with ease allowing Nisbet room to play. Again Edmondson struggles to find space but Nisbet keeps probing and earns a corner.

67 mins: The corner is headed clear and as the Mariners try to keep the ball alive Da Silva bullies two players off the ball with a pair of challenges that again demonstrate the veteran Frenchman is happy to live on the edge.

68 mins: Velupillay jinks inside from the left and tries to fashion some space in the box but he’s just nudged off his stride and the Mariners clear. Popovic will not be happy with how broken the game is considering his side’s ascendancy, but credit to Victory’s players for pressing for a second and not shutting up shop.

70 mins: Roux times his run superbly to beat the offside trap on the right, but Hall’s through-ball is overhit. That’s Roux’s final involvement for the evening.

71 mins: Jackson continues to roll the dice. A double change for the Mariners, Ronald Barcellos and Harry Steele are on for Storm Roux and Bradley Tapp.

72 mins: Fornaroli buys his side a free-kick in trademark fashion. Accepting possession with his back to goal, sticking his bum out, and waiting for a defender to charge in from behind and push him over.

73 mins: Machach is down with cramp but the Mariners almost play the ball over him in disregard for his ailment. Victory subdue the attack and belt the ball out of play to allow their playmaker the chance to get some treatment.

74 mins: This rare pause in play allows the camera to pan across the packed stadium, taking in the army of fans. Meanwhile, on the field, Teague winces in pain holding his shoulder, players take on water, and everyone steels themselves for one final assault.

75 mins: It is a final assault that will take place without two of Victory’s most dynamic forwards with Arzani given a spell and Machach unfit to continue.

Bonevacia, Folami on. Arzani, Machach off

77 mins: That break in play has settled things down after a hectic 20 or so minutes. That suits Victory who have been able to rest their structure and return to their default strategy of allowing the Mariners all the time in the world on the ball in their back four, then closing ranks once it reaches midfield.

79 mins: Velupillay has impressed since he replaced Arzani on the left, showing great determination in defence and quick feet and a sharp instinct going forward. He is almost freed by Teague and Fornaroli but Hall just gets a deflection on the killer pass.

80 mins: The Mariners are starting to press Victory deeper into their own territory, but there is no threat near the penalty box, for all Nisbet’s jinking and scheming in front of the massed ranks of navy blue shirts.

81 mins: That’s better – Doka with a beautiful teasing cross from the right, leaving Izzo for dead, but there just aren’t any yellow jerseys gambling to get on the end of it.

82 mins: Victory remain camped in their own defensive third, now seemingly happy to repel a Central Coast siege. And all that hard work is rewarded when Farrell is late to a second ball contest with Folami and receives a yellow card.

83 mins: Another minute ticks by before the Mariners can get forward again. Nisbet is again the architect, freeing Barcellos on the left. The cross is whipped over dangerously between the keeper and back four… but again there’s no yellow jersey within cooee of the danger zone. Jackson has to convince his players to gamble!

84 mins: Now Victory break but Kaltak somehow gets a touch to the ball with Folami almost clean through!

The official attendance inside Our Paradise is 21,379!

Thank you so much for your support on this historic night.

85 mins: A deflected through-ball earns a corner for the hosts, but it’s defended well and Victory push the Mariners back towards halfway. Central Coast have hardly made Paul Izzo work all night.

87 mins: Still the Mariners probe, knocking the ball around the mob of navy blue players camped around their own penalty area, like prospectors tapping rock looking for a weakness. None are found.

88 mins: Another corner comes and go with no alarm. Victory have defended superbly all night.

89 mins: Izzo, who has had little to do all night, plucks a tame cross out of the sky then hits the deck, clutching the ball to his chest to milk some time. His penalty shootout heroics will not be required this evening.

90 mins: More subs from Victory with Ikonomidis and Brimmer coming on to provide some fresh legs. An exhausted Fornaroli makes way, along with the quietly impressive Valadon.

GOAL! Central Coast Mariners 1-1 Melbourne Victory (Edmondson 90+1)​

Gosford erupts! Finally a sharp incisive attack from the Mariners! Edmondson starts it with a lovely flick and finishes it with a powerful low drive. In between Nisbet and Barcellos combine to unpick the Victory defence. Pandemonium in stoppage time.

90+2 mins: That was the first genuine opportunity of the night for Central Coast, and Edmondson buried it. The noise is deafening.

90+3 mins: The crowd is urging the home side on to find a winner before extra-time. The Mariners are buzzing.

90+4 mins: Victory have yet to settle following those late substitutions. Without Fornaroli up front the ball is coming straight back after every clearance.

90+5 mins: Can the Mariners force another opening? Not this time as Steele overhits a through-ball.

90+6 mins: Victory fail to beat the first defender with a deep free-kick. Extra-time beckons.

90+7 mins: Is Tony Popovic cursed? His side have been clearly the better over the 90 minutes and the Mariners score with their only shot of the match… in injury time.

Full-time: Central Coast Mariners 1-1 Melbourne Victory​

To extra time we go.

The glorious unpredictability of sport on full display in Gosford. Central Coast managed just four shots all night, and only one of them was on target, but that was all they needed to keep the grand final alive in the 91st minute.

Victory were the better team before they opened the scoring and looked firmly in control after Geria’s belter, keeping their hosts at arm’s length as the clock ticked down to an inevitable triumph. But the Mariners kept plugging away, and the redoubtable Nisbet belatedly found accomplices in a couple of substitutes to keep the treble dream alive.

91 mins: We’re back underway in Gosford. Two 15-minute halves of extra time to come.

92 mins: Central Coast resume on the front foot with Barcellos muscling his way into the left corner. The Brazilian has made an impact off the bench.

93 mins: Hall strides out of defence like Franz Beckenbauer, dragging Victory out of shape, but after spreading the ball to the right there’s no end product and the move fizzles out.

94 mins: Close! Victory spring the offside trap superbly thanks to Brimmer’s vision. Folami has a head-start against Hall in a foot race, but the big defender doesn’t give up, the forward is indecisive, and eventually a weak shot is smothered by defender and goalkeeper. That was a very good opening.

GOAL! Central Coast Mariners 2-1 Melbourne Victory (Di Pizio 97)​

Unbelievable. Central Coast take the lead in Gosford! The ball is played through midfield with finesse to Nisbet, who times his pass perfectly to Barcellos outside him. The cross is drilled low over the penalty spot for the onrushing Di Pizio to smash past Izzo. Delirium in New South Wales!

98 mins: The momentum of that final 10-15 minutes of normal time has carried over into extra time. Central Coast have found a burst of energy and Victory look leaden footed and lacking in structure without Fornaroli and Machach.

100 mins: You have to admire the grit of the Mariners and Josh Nisbet in particular. He huffed and puffed for 90 minutes, trying his darnedest to prise an opening, keeping the ball moving, refusing to panic. Now he’s had a hand in two goals that have set his side on course for history.

101 mins: Victory have now decided to up the tempo. A cross flashes out of Vukovic’s reach. Folami smashes a long range effort high. And now there’s a corner on the left.

102 mins: Bonevacia swings it in but Vukovic stands tall and takes a superb contested mark off Geria’s forehead.

103 mins: Still Victory push. Brimmer is increasingly influential in midfield and he slips in Velupillay but Hall and Kaltak will not be beaten and a decent chance is blocked clear.

104 mins: Brimmer misplaces a pass in midfield and Nisbet seizes the opportunity to jog the ball into space then recycle possession to take the sting out of the game and milk the clock.

105 mins: Jackson is urging his team up the field and squeeze the pitch after Nisbet wins a foul in the middle third.

HT Extra Time: Central Coast Mariners 2-1 Melbourne Victory​

The Mariners are 15 minutes away from a momentous comeback championship victory.

Goals in minutes 90+1 and 97 have turned this match on its head. Tony Popovic is imploring his side to do more in the final 15 minutes, but he may just have to accept that, in his fifth grand final, curses are real and he is very cursed.

THIS IS THE STUFF DREAMS ARE MADE OF!

18-year-old Miguel Di Pizio puts the Central Coast Mariners on the cusp of a treble- and becomes the youngest ever goal scorer in a Grand Final.

An unbelievable story is unfolding in Gosford.

106 mins: Back under way in Gosford. Can Victory force penalties?

106 mins: Da Silva, who is losing his cool – and is already fortunate to not yet be in King’s book – does finally receive a yellow card for tugging back Barcellos.

108 mins: Central Coast settle the tempo but then get stuck trying to clear their lines as Victory swarm over them. Velupillay profits, taking the ball on the burst and running at the yellow jerseys before hitting the deck under pressure. King blows his whistle and the visitors have a direct free-kick 25m from goal.

109 mins: Brimmer drills it into the wall. Teague sees the follow-up charged down. The crowd is living every kick of the ball. The clearance still isn’t complete and Ikonomidis now has a swing but his effort is blocked by a Mariner. This is superb cup-tie much and bullets stuff.

110 mins: Edmondson and Miranda get into a tussle near Victory’s left corner flag. Doka is ordered off the field to deal with blood on his cheek and his shirt. Vukovic has a sit down in a bid to allow the physio onto the field to treat his “cramp” and let the mayhem around him settle down. What else would you rather be doing at 10:30 on a Saturday night?

112 mins: Offside against Ikonomidis after bright work from Traore down the left.

113 mins: Velupillay executes a lovely flick but Bonevacia can’t gather in his stride and the Mariners clear. Victory come straight back through the busy Brimmer, but Kaltak steps out. The massive defender is at it again with a sliding clearance in the box that HAD to be inch perfect or Folami was down for a certain penalty. These final minutes will take an age for the home fans.

114 mins: Victory are throwing everything at this equaliser. Velupillay is lively, Brimmer is bossing midfield, they’re not out of it yet. And they have gone to three at the back with Traore making way for Chapman – who will presumably be a makeshift targetman up front.

115 mins: Brimmer does aim for Chapman but the ball misses its mark and Vukovic gathers, taking pressure seconds off the clock.

116 mins: Bronx cheers from the crowd and more precious time wasted as Miranda sends a ball out of play.

117 mins: After a long period under the cosh the Mariners have inched the game back to halfway. Jackson whips up the crowd. Three minutes left.

118 mins: Victory are running out of options. The Mariners still have plenty of running in midfield to close down Velupillay.

119 mins: Balard is down with cramp in Victory’s half. “We are champions” reverberates around the stadium. Seconds remaining.

120 mins: Izzo belts the ball downfield. A Mariner heads it clear but only as far as Bonevacia – whose shot is deflected for a corner.

120 mins: Kaltak – who else – powers a mighty header clear.

120 +1 mins: Three minutes of injury time left as Barcellos carries the ball 50 metres and into the Victory box but his low cross dribbles across the face of goal with no other Mariner up in support.

GOAL! Central Coast Mariners 3-1 Melbourne Victory (Edmondson, 120+2)​

Edmondson seals it for the Mariners!

120+2 mins Victory were exposed with men upfield. The long punt downfield found Edmondson alone with the goal at his mercy. Nisbet was on hand if he opted to pass but the big Yorkshireman only had eyes for goal and slotted calmly beyond Izzo to put the result beyond doubt.

Full-time: Central Coast Mariners 3-1 Melbourne Victory (AET)​

The Mariners have won the treble, never before seen in Australian football! It's party time in Gosford!

Tony Popovic looks haunted.

The defending champions go back-to-back. Despite losing their coach and half a team in the off season. Despite losing their opening four games. Despite trailing in the grand final after 90 minutes. Incredible.

The Industree Group Stadium pitch is now just a sea of jubilant Mariners fans. Yellow everywhere. Danny Vukovic is mobbed by supporters as he speaks to the host broadcaster. Supersub Ryan Edmondson has a Leeds United scarf draped around his neck. The Harrogate-born striker knew Mark Jackson from their time together at the Elland Road youth system.

Brian Kaltak takes his turn on the mic. The Vanuatuan centre-half is on my shortlist for player of the match, along with his defensive partner Dan Hall, and midfield dynamo Josh NIsbet. Watching them all be mobbed by fans is magnificent.

Away from the mass of bodies the Victory players stand and slump dejectedly. They had one hand on the toilet seat.

“Bit annoyed to give away the lead,” emails Michael, “but you have to have a soft spot for CCM. It’s been end to end since about the 60 minute mark, so they haven’t “stolen” it. Although they’ve been in more GFs than I thought, this is clearly the one they really want.”

It’s incredible to think back to Victory’s control of the tempo and tactics of the match for a good 80 minutes. They were clearly the better side. But once Machach was forced off with cramp and Fornaroli was withdrawn in the belief some fresh legs would help see out the game, the Mariners found an extra gear. A smash and grab ten minute period either side of the final whistle and bish bash bosh: a shiny toilet seat.

Another Victory fan emails in, Paul this time. “From a sad Victory member, I’m so angry about this defensive mindset every second-half. The whole season we’ve watched giving away cheap goals at the end of the game. Poppa’s devastated and I feel for him but it’s his defensive mindset that has meant he’s missed the championship again.”

Five grand finals with three teams is becoming a pretty decent sample size. But I didn’t think that was necessarily the issue tonight. CCM scored with their only shot on target all game, and Victory continued to push after they opened the scoring. As I’ve said below, the only thing you can put your finger on is those substitutions.

“This is why the grand final should never have been sold to Sydney!” emails David McGinniss. “Look at it! The whole Central Coast showing us how it should be done on and off the field.” Amen David. Amen.

Josh Nisbet awarded the Johnny Warren medal as the A-League player of the season​

The Central Coast midfielder had a great game tonight as well. He was the man who kept his side moving forward when Victory were in the ascendancy, and then he had a say in the two key goals. Well worth his place in the national team set-up.

Ryan Edmondson wins the Joe Marston medal as the player of the match​

On at half-time for the bleeding Alou Kuol, the Englishman sent the grand final into extra time with a late strike, then sealed the deal with an ice cool finish.

Brian Kaltak and Josh Nisbet can feel a little aggrieved their hard work has been overlooked.

Victory’s players trudge reluctantly to accept their runner-up medals. Then the Mariners are cheered one by one as they enjoy their moment of glory. Club legend Adam Kwasnik on hand to give meaty handshakes and back slaps.

Last to receive his medal is club captain Danny Vukovic. A Mariner on day one back in 2005, one of the competition’s greatest servants, and now the skipper of the back-to-back champions. 39-years-old and still going strong.

Vukovic thanks the sponsors, commiserates Victory, commends his colleagues, then praises the fans. “You got us over the line tonight. This is going to be remembered for a very long time.”

Central Coast Mariners are A-League Champions for 2023-24​

Vukovic then lifts the championship trophy from its plinth and carries it over to his teammates. In front a sign bearing their achievement he hoists the golden loo lid into the sky as confetti falls from the heavens. Central Coast Mariners are the champions.

For the first time in A-Leagues history, @ccmariners lift the Championship at their home ground. Drink it in, Mariners fans!

Mark Jackson’s side are making a habit of these trophy lift things.

Thank you all for joining me for another entry into the A-League hall of fame. Congratulations Central Coast Mariners. Commiserations Melbourne Victory.

I’ll leave you with Joey Lynch’s first take from Gosford and bid you a good night:

As Alex King’s whistle rang out at Industree Group Stadium, there was no amount of security or barriers on Earth that could have held them back. The Central Coast Mariners’ supporters, apostles clad in blue and yellow, streamed onto the pitch, unable to contain their joy. Their side had just written themselves into history, defeating Melbourne Victory 3-1 in Saturday evening’s A-League Men grand final and securing a historic treble of AFC Cup, premiership and now championship.

It was a remarkable win. An incredible comeback that almost defies explanation. But that the Mariners still exist at all is perhaps something of a minor miracle, so maybe the nature of this win shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

As time had expired, Victory was leading 1-0. Jason Geria, a defensive stalwart with just two goals to his name across 189 previous A-League appearances, had fired the visitors ahead in the 50th minute, passing the ball into the top corner of the net in a manner that gave Danny Vukovic no chance of getting a paw onto it.

The Mariners had desperately hurled themselves forward across the subsequent 40 minutes but they had crashed, like a blue and yellow wave, against a resolute Victory defence. And with each forlorn assault, it became almost impossible not to begin to reflect on the attacking talent that the club had lost, of the constant turnover that comes with being so good. Jason Cummings, Samuel Silvera, Marco Tulio, Garang Kuol, and Béni N’Kololo were all sold by the club over the past 18 months. Ángel Torres has been stood down as he faces sexual assault charges. Alou Kuol had started the game but was forced off at half-time after a sickening first-half head clash with Damien Da Silva.

But the Mariners don’t give up. So often across their history, this little club from Gosford has stared into the abyss. Parlous finances and abject results have threatened their very existence. They will still exist at the margins despite this win. But each time they’ve been able to pull themselves back from the edge, with the community that streamed onto the field on Saturday at their backs. And they found a way to do so again.

In the first minute of injury time, Ryan Edmondson flicked the ball to Ronald Barcellos on the edge of Victory’s area, with the Brazilian subsequently knocking the ball down to Josh Nisbet. The midfielder, who has gone from being written off for his diminutive stature to a Socceroo and the newly crowned Johnny Warren Medallist, then laid the ball off for the run of Edmondson, who struck true. Cue the pandemonium.

“[Nisbet] was all over the place at the end,” Mariners coach Mark Jackson said. “He just never stopped running. What an athlete.”

All of a sudden the mood in Industree Group Stadium went from utter despair to unbridled jubilation. It was the eighth time this season that Tony Popovic’s side had conceded a goal after the 85th minute to fall out of a winning position. This one was the most crushing; a goal apiece and extra-time beckoned, but the sense that destiny was behind the hosts was almost irresistible.

And so it came to pass. In the 97th minute, the Victory defence almost parted as Nisbet found Barcellos in space on the left, with the ball then cut back to the arrival of Miguel Di Pizio at the penalty spot. 18 years old, Di Pizio hadn’t even been born when Vukovic was in goal for the Mariners’ first grand-final appearance in the first year of the A-League, but here he was, firing the Mariners to back-to-back titles – the youngest scorer in grand final history.

In the 121st minute, Edmondson put a bow on things. From unwanted in the north of England to a Joe Marston Medallist as best afield in the A-League Men grand final. A hero in the tale of a team that will go down in folklore as one of the greatest sides in league history.

“I don’t know the [A-League] history much,” Jackson said. “All I can say is that this is a special group of players and staff and club. They’re a special bunch. They really are. And I can’t praise them enough.”
solid f**king read.
 

Wedgie

Well-Known Member
Got my Champions cap delivered today, very disappointed.
Same price as last year's from memory but just cheap material with plastic and cheap printed on lettering.
Sort of thing you'd find in a cheap showbag for 3 year olds.
Last year's was good quality with velcro and fully embroided.
Will be sticking with that one next season.
Ahh well, I'll just watch a replay of the GF again to cheer up.
Hope the Tshirt, Hoody and Scarf I pre-ordered will be better quality but not holding high hopes.
 

crock

Well-Known Member
Got my Champions cap delivered today, very disappointed.
Same price as last year's from memory but just cheap material with plastic and cheap printed on lettering.
Sort of thing you'd find in a cheap showbag for 3 year olds.
Last year's was good quality with velcro and fully embroided.
Will be sticking with that one next season.
Ahh well, I'll just watch a replay of the GF again to cheer up.
Hope the Tshirt, Hoody and Scarf I pre-ordered will be better quality but not holding high hopes.
I'm actually ok with it I like it
 

yellowcake

Well-Known Member
I got my t-shirt last week. I'm happy with it (inspite of the plasticky stick-on lettering) and they looked great on all the team at the Erina Fair Hive event.
Not a match-day article without our colours but spreads the message at other times.
Just wondering if somebody else got my last 'E' on the last 'A-League'...
 

Corsair

Well-Known Member
Got my Champions cap delivered today, very disappointed.
Same price as last year's from memory but just cheap material with plastic and cheap printed on lettering.
Sort of thing you'd find in a cheap showbag for 3 year olds.
Last year's was good quality with velcro and fully embroided.
Will be sticking with that one next season.
Ahh well, I'll just watch a replay of the GF again to cheer up.
Hope the Tshirt, Hoody and Scarf I pre-ordered will be better quality but not holding high hopes.
I could just tell they looked a cheap as possible, what a shame.
 

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