Last week started off with a bang for the Mariners, heading up to the Gold Coast for an FFA Cup quarter final and coming back with a 5-0 win over the Palm Beach Sharks. It was Matt Sim who put the result beyond doubt, scoring four goals after coming off the bench in the second half.
Coming just days after a last-gasp victory over the Jets, it seemed as though once again the Mariners would exceed the expectations of the Australian football community, with many expecting a drop-off in performance in the club’s first full season without Graham Arnold.
Things looked set to improve even further with Wellington making the trip across the ditch for round two. The previous ten meetings between the sides yielded just one win for the Kiwis, and given their traditional difficulties on the road, most signs were pointing to a victory for the Mariners.
The starting eleven was virtually unchanged from the one that faced the Jets in round one, with the sole exception of debutant Jacob Poscoliero pushing central defender Zac Anderson to the bench. Joining Anderson on the bench was Anthony Caceres, Glen Trifiro and Nick Fitzgerald, who all started midweek against Palm Beach, and substitute goalkeeper Matthew Nash.
After an early period of pressure from the Phoenix the Mariners found themselves ahead thanks to defensive mix-up. Matt Sim and Kim Seung-yong exchanged passes through the heart of the opposition defence to get the ball inside the penalty area and young fullback Tom Doyle, under the pressure of Sim, inadvertently side-footed the ball into the goal.
The goal triggered a period of dominance for Phil Moss’ side, but they lacked the cutting edge needed to find a second goal. Kim was almost invisible, while Mitchell Duke and Malick Mane struggled to combine, often finding themselves on opposite sides of the field with no-one occupying the role of a traditional striker.
This lack of creativity came back to bite the yellow and navy just before half-time, with Poscoliero bringing down Jeremy Brockie in the box for a penalty. Brockie’s penalty was smashed into the crossbar, but the defence wasn’t alive to the situation and Michael McGlinchey headed home the loose ball on his return to Bluetongue.
The comeback was complete in the 54th minute when Tom Doyle was given the time to measure his cross to Jeremy Brockie, who found an unmarked Nathan Burns to score the winner.
The addition of Nick Fitzgerald to the match gave a brief glimmer of hope, but ultimately there wasn’t enough variation in attack to breach the Wellington backline.
There was also the added issue of Kim Seung-yong’s bust-up with Phil Moss after the Korean was substituted early in the second half. The midfielder was visibly frustrated throughout the match, and could miss the side’s next game against Sydney FC given his current form.
The caveat to this situation is this weekend’s fixture against Western Sydney is postponed due to their ACL commitments.