Melbourne Heart 1 Central Coast Mariners 0
Melbourne Heart knocked off the bottom team, Gold Coast United, by a single goal last week and on Sunday night they overcame the league leader, Central Coast Mariners by the same score, and with the same goalscorer, Eli Babalj.
A nice symmetry about that, which sets Heart up for a good challenge for a finals berth despite the tough games to come.
Melbourne Heart regained two of its three Olyroos with Aziz Behich and Mate Dugandzic slotting straight in to the starting eleven.
Curtis Good returned in defence after his suspension and Paul Reid took over the anchor role in midfield.
Central Coast also had Matthew Ryan back in goal but Mustafa Amini and Oliver Bozanic were rested.
After a very scrappy opening the early part of the game was broken up by a number of fouls of varying degrees of severity and a couple of technical offences which resulted in three bookings in three minutes.
No doubt the heat was a factor but the quality of the first half was down on previous matches.
Michael McGlinchey showed some flashes of speed and skill down the right and Tomas Rogic built on his growing reputation with the best two shots of the first half.
Adam Kwasnik put a header wide from a Rogic cross after he overlapped on the right.
Heart moves kept breaking down with ill-directed passes and the closest effort did not come till the 38th minute when Fred got away but could not beat Matthew Ryan with his chip-shot.
The second half began with Aziz Behich switched to the right wing for a brief spell, probably just to confuse the visiting defenders.
Heart had a good spell with a number of chances created.
The critical goal came in the 50th minute when Mate Dugandzic found Fred on the right and his pass reached Eli Babalj who managed to hold off Alex Wilkinson and squeeze the ball past Matthew Ryan.
Babalj has made a speciality of short-range goals and this was his sixth of the season.
Central Coast should have been on terms just four minutes later.
Rogic worked his way into the box and was bundled over by a combination of Fred and Matt Thompson.
The referee awarded the penalty, which newcomer John Sutton elected to take in place of regular kicker, Patrick Zwaanswijk.
Sutton struck the ball cleanly enough but it found the base of the post and rebounded into play. Clint Bolton had come close to stopping the first effort and the follow up by Zwaanswijk.
The Mariners were not prepared to leave it at that and they began to bombard the Heart goal.
Pedj Bojic made another of his overlapping runs down the right and fired over a cross shot which beat Bolton, but Simon Colosimo managed to jump and head the ball over his own bar before he finished up like a big fish caught in the net.
It was typical of the way the Heart players put their bodies on the line in the last half-hour, to the point that Brendan Hamill, Mate Dugandzic and Fred all had to be replaced in the hot, humid conditions.
Last time these clubs met in Melbourne, the Mariners pulled off a smash and grab raid in the last minute to claim the points and when keeper Ryan came up for a corner kick in injury time, the home support were fearing that history might repeat.
But Heart held on for an excellent, and thoroughly deserved victory.
Graham Arnold told his players after the game to put that result out of their mind and move on. He had nothing but praise for their efforts and said quite rightly they had the majority of the play and many chances to win the game.
John van’t Schip tried to appear his usual calm, unflappable self, but it was clear that he appreciated the significance of this result in the context of the season, and he is delighted to have all his players fit and challenging for spots.
Simon Colosimo said none of us can afford to half a bad 20 minutes in a game, because there is always someone pushing to take your place.
Sunday, 26 February 2012
Melbourne Heart v Central Coast Mariners
Venue: AAMI Park
Local kick-off: 5:00pm
Referee: Jarred Gillett
Assistant referees: Shaun Evans and Luke Brennan
Fourth official: Greg Gontscharow
1. Clint Bolton, 2. Michael Marrone, 3. Brendan Hamill (13. Jonatan Germano 71’), 4. Simon Colosimo, 5. Fred (11. Alex Terra 79’), 6. Matt Thompson, 16. Aziz Behich, 18. Curtis Good, 19. Eli Babalj, 23. Mate Dugandzic (7. Rutger Worm 65’), 26. Paul Reid.
Unused substitutes: 30. Sebastian Mattei
Yellow cards: Aziz Behich 12’, Paul Reid 16’, Fred 43’, Eli Babalj 64’, Matt Thompson 78’, Alex Terra 90+3’.
Red cards: Nil.
Central Coast Mariners:
1. Mathew Ryan, 3. Joshua Rose, 4. Pedj Bojic, 6. Patrick Zwaanswijk, 7. John Hutchinson, 8. Rostyn Griffiths, 14. Michael McGlinchey (12. Troy Hearfield 79’), 17. Tomas Rogic (2. Daniel McBreen 83’), 18. Alex Wilkinson, 19. John Sutton (9. Bernie Ibini 58’), 23. Adam Kwasnik
Unused substitutes: 20. Justin Pasfield
Yellow cards: Matthew Ryan 12’, Adam Kwasnik 13’, Pedj Bojic 64’
Red cards: Nil.