Central Coast Mariners, with goals from James McGarry and Jason Cummings, have sunk Adelaide United 2-1 in the first leg of their A-League Men semi-final.
The Mariners broke a nine-year drought with a stylish triumph on away turf at Adelaide’s Coopers Stadium on Saturday night – their first win in the playoffs since a 2014 elimination final.
After the Reds took a fourth-minute lead via a Craig Goodwin penalty, the visitors crafted a handy buffer ahead of the second leg in Gosford next Saturday night.
The winner on goals aggregate will meet either Melbourne City or Sydney FC in the June 3 grand final in Sydney.
City and Sydney drew 1-1 on Friday night ahead of next week’s deciding second leg in Melbourne.
The Mariners produced a dominant first half to down the Reds, whose Japanese frontman Hiroshi Ibusuki hobbled off with another calf problem – he was starting his first match since suffering the same injury.
“The first half, we probably could have finished the game off with the amount of chances that we created,” Mariners coach Nick Montgomery said.
“I knew in the second half they would throw everything at us and they did …(but) the boys stood big.”
Adelaide’s first attacking sortie, inside two minutes, resulted in a penalty when Goodwin’s cross struck the extended right forearm of Mariner Brian Kaltak.
Goodwin converted from the spot with a low shot into the right corner.
Adelaide’s lead was brief, with McGarry levelling the scores in the 15th minute with a super strike – he launched from just outside the area and the ball sailed into the top left corner.
Central Coast soon went close to adding two more – Sam Silvera blasted onto the crossbar in the 25th minute and Cummings was denied at close-range by Gauci’s reflex right glove six minutes later.
But the Mariners’ dominance was justly rewarded in the 37th minute when they sliced through the midfield, Ben Nkololo found Cummings and the striker beat Gauci with a low right-footer from about five metres out.
The Reds’ best chance of equalising before a parochial 15,771-strong crowd came in the 71st minute when a forceful header from substitute Nestory Irankunda was instinctively saved by Vukovic.
Reds coach Carl Veart said the Mariners “were much better than us in the first half”.
“We were a lot better in the second half than what we were in the first,” Veart said.
“And I suppose we were a bit unfortunate not to get a second goal but that’s finals football. We just weren’t quite sharp enough in the first half.”