Central Coast’s trademark fighting spirit was on display in Newcastle on Saturday, with the Mariners clawing their way back from two goals down to earn a valuable Hyundai A-League point from an epic F3 Derby encounter against the Jets.
A close range Scott Neville strike in the 51st minute combined with a disappointing own goal by the Mariners five minutes later had Gary van Egmond’s charges up 2-0 midway through the second stanza.
However Graham Arnold’s men rallied, with Marcos Flores converting a penalty in the 65th minute to commence the comeback, while former Socceroo Mile Sterjovski lashed home the leveller with ten minutes remaining to ensure the reigning Hyundai A-League Champions travelled back down the M1 with their undefeated 2013/14 record intact.
While there was plenty of passion and endeavour on display from both sides in the opening 45 minutes of the contest, neither outfit went especially close to breaking the deadlock in the first half.
Andrew Hoole was looking the most likely outlet for a Jets goal in the opening period, and he pushed efforts high and wide of the woodwork in the 15th and 34th minutes respectively.
Several times Flores, Mitchell Duke and Michael McGlinchey looked threatening for the Mariners, however Newcastle custodian Mark Birighitti was scarcely troubled in a first stanza devoid of much goalmouth action.
If the first half failed to live up to the hype every F3 Derby generates, the second underlined why matches between the two local rivals are such keenly anticipated affairs.
Six minutes after the restart, Neville scored Newcastle’s first goal of the new campaign. Following a smartly worked free-kick and a pair of close range parries from Central Coast shot-stopper Justin Pasfield, the former Perth Glory man poked the ball into the back of the net to send all but about 500 of the 13,744 attendees into raptures.
The Jets wouldn’t have to wait long to double their advantage, however their lead was extended through good luck rather than their own good play. Trent Sainsbury passed a ball back to Pasfield which the ‘keeper misjudged, and though he sprinted back and belted the ball away from goal, the referee correctly ruled that the whole ball had crossed the goal line.
Arnold reacted swiftly to the setback, with Matt Simon and Mile Sterjovski taking the field, and the wily mentor shifting the team’s midfield formation to a diamond. The tactical shift paid dividends in the 64th minute when Joshua Rose advanced down the left and sent a cross into the box. Under pressure, Jets defender Connor Chapman handled the ball in the area and referee Kris Griffiths-Jones awarded a penalty.
Flores netted twice from the spot against Melbourne Heart in Hyundai A-League 2013/14 round 2, and he made no mistake on two occasions against the Jets. Flores’s first effort nestled into the back of the net however Griffiths-Jones ordered a re-take after spotting encroachment. Keeping his cool, the Argentine again sent the ball beyond Birighitti to pull the Mariners back into the contest.
The goal clearly inspired the away side and soon after Flores’s strike Simon had a header brilliantly saved by Birighitti, while Duke had a powerful shot from close range blocked by the desperate Jets defence.
But the Mariners were not to be denied by their northern foes, with substitute Sterjovski rifling a shot on the angle into the back of the net in the 80th minute. After another Flores strike slammed the woodwork, the ball fell to former LOSC Lille man who made no mistake from close range.
Following the fixture Central Coast Mariners Head Coach Graham Arnold revealed that he was happy with the way his mid-game change in system helped inspire the comeback.
“When I changed the system to the way we used to play in the first two years to a diamond with two strikers it caused them some problems, and I was happy that the boys adapted to that very well,” he said.
“I’d rather lose 5-0 than 2-0 so once I changed and went for it it was like the boys released the handbrake and they went for it as well.”
Despite being disappointed with the nature with which the Mariners conceded, Arnold was not displeased with taking a point away from the trip to the Hunter.
“We gifted them two goals, we gave them two early Christmas presents and that’s the disappointing thing.”
“[But] if you can pick up a point at each away game and win a lot of your home games then you’re going to be there or there-about come finals time,” he said.
Central Coast Mariners’ next match is at Gosford’s Bluetongue Stadium against Brisbane Roar on Sunday 10 November, 2013. Kick-off is at 5:00pm.
Newcastle Jets 2 (Neville 51’, Sainsbury (OG) 56’)
Central Coast Mariners 2 (Flores (pen) 65’, Sterjovski 80’)
Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Central Coast Mariners: 1. Justin PASFIELD (Gk), 3. Joshua ROSE, 5. Zachary ANDERSON, 7. John HUTCHINSON (C), 8. Nick MONTGOMERY (21. Mile STERJOVSKI 59’), 9. Mitchell DUKE, 10. Marcos FLORES, 11. Nick FITZGERALD (19. Matt SIMON 59’), 14. Michael MCGLINCHEY, 15. Storm ROUX, 16. Trent SAINSBURY
Substitutes not used: 4. Marcel SEIP, 6. Brent GRIFFITHS, 12. Liam REDDY (Gk)
Yellow cards: Montgomery, Simon
Red cards: Nil
Newcastle Jets: 1. Mark BIRIGHITTI (Gk), 2. Scott NEVILLE (16. Jacob PEPPER 64’), 4. Kew JALIENS, 5. Ben KANTAROVSKI, 7. Andrew HOOLE (18. James BROWN 83’), 8. Ruben ZADKOVICH (C) (19. Michael BRIDGES 87’), 10. Nathan BURNS, 12. Connor CHAPMAN, 15. Joshua BRILLANTE, 21. Sam GALLAWAY, 22. Adam TAGGART
Substitutes not used: 11. Craig GOODWIN, 20. Ben KENNEDY (Gk)
Yellow cards: Kantarovski, Hoole, Taggart, Birighitti
Red cards: Nil
Referee: Kris Griffiths-Jones