Late Mariners flurry seals emphatic F3 Derby win to inch closer to Premiers Plate

Central Coast Mariners now need just a point to seal the Premiers Plate in their final game of the season after overcoming rivals Newcastle Jets 3-1 in a pulsating F3 Derby at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Despite some early chances falling the way of the home side it was the Mariners who broke the deadlock in the 21st minute; Alou Kuol firing them into the lead from the edge of the box to bring about an end to his 13-game goal drought.

Newcastle pulled themselves level just 90 seconds into the second half as Clayton Taylor whipped a pinpoint ball onto the head of a leaping Apostolos Stamatelopoulos to score his 17th goal of the season.

The Jets then continued to pile on the pressure after bagging their equaliser but it was the Mariners who scored the game’s third goal and it came via a deflected effort from substitute Harry Steele in the 82nd minute.

Fellow substitute Ryan Edmondson then put the game to bed just five minutes later as he headed home Mikael Doka’s whipped freekick to ensure the Mariners headed back to Gosford with three points in the bag and crucially, one hand on the Premiers Plate.

PHOENIX WIN: Wellington end season on a high with win over Bulls to heap pressure on Mariners in Premiership race.

Following Wellington’s win over Macarthur in their final game of the season the result for the Mariners means they now sit a point behind the Phoenix at the top but they will secure the Premiers Plate with at least a draw against Adelaide in their final game of the season on Wednesday night.

“We knew the Jets were in a good vein of form,” said a delighted Jackson post-game. “They’d beaten some of our rivals in and around us over recent weeks so and we knew the they’d be up for the game.

“So yeah, (an) extremely tough game, happy with certain aspects and probably disappointed with other aspects but it just shows what character we have in the team and we find a way to win.”

The win for the Mariners was their 16th in the league this season and comes just three days after their impressive 3-0 win over Abdysh-Ata Kant of Kyrgyzstan, a result which saw them book their spot in the AFC Cup final.

“We’ve had ups and downs throughout the season, whether they’ve been publicised or not and we’ve dealt with them,” said Jackson when asked how his side have managed to juggle their recent travel congestion and flurry of games.

“You know people talk about the travel being a challenge for us, but we’ve dealt with that and taken that in our stride and adapted to it.

“So whatever we chuck in front of these players or things present themselves as challenges we take them in our stride and we find a way to overcome them and put a performance in.”

As for Newcastle, defeat against the Mariners was their 11th of what’s been a difficult season at times but there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to their ongoing search for new owners.

Reports emerged before the game about a deal now being in place for new owners to take charge of the club and while head coach Rob Stanton was reluctant to confirm the deal had been done, he does believe the fans will soon have some good news.

“I don’t want to say it’s done until you actually see a piece of paper and it’s signed but I’m pretty confident that something is happening.

“I don’t want to say it’s done until it’s actually done but I feel good. I think everyone’s feeling good hope it’d be nice to have it announced soon.

He continued: “These things take time… you got to do your due diligence on things and make sure it’s right for the people and make sure it’s, you know, it’s the right people to come in.

“So we’ve had to be patient and endure that this season but the benefit of that is I think the players have showed and the club has showed they can remain focused on the football side of things.”

Despite dominating the ball in the early stages it was the home side who had the first chance of the game and it fell to the deadly Apostolos Stamatelopoulos.

Collecting possession on the edge of the box, Stamatelopoulos shifted the ball onto his right hand side and drilled a low shot towards goal but thankfully for Mariners keeper Vukovic the ball clipped the outside of his near post and flew behind for a goal kick.

Stamatelopoulos then hit the same post with another effort soon after but the official’s flag was raised for an apparent offside despite the forward protesting he was fouled inside the box in an earlier phase of play.

The Mariners then forged their first real chance of the game in the 19th minute as Max Balard curled a low effort wide of goal from the edge of the box but while he couldn’t find the target Kuol soon could.

Racing on to a long, raking pass from Dan Hall, Kuol out paced Phillip Cancar before cutting back on to his right foot and sending a low shot from the edge of the box towards goal which wrong-footed Jets keeper Ryan Scott before nestling in the back of the net.

Out to bag themselves an equaliser, Newcastle’s Kosta Grozos forced Vukovic into a smart save in the 30th minute as he drilled a low effort towards goal which was palmed away by the veteran skipper.

The Mariners then came close to doubling their lead twice on the approach to half time as first Doka was denied in the 39th minute care of a sharp save by Scott before Brian Kaltak sent a ferocious effort towards goal from the resulting corner which crashed off the stanchion and into the rear of the goal, tricking both fans and commentators alike who all thought he’d found the back of the net.

Trailing 1-0 at the break the Jets came out flying in the second half and dragged themselves level just 90-seconds after the restart.

Released down the left, the lively Taylor created space on the edge of the box before delivering an inch-perfect cross onto the head of Stamatelopoulos who thundered a header beyond Vukovic to put a spanner in the works for the Mariners.

Making his 300th A-League appearance, Newcastle club legend Jason Hoffman was substituted onto the field to rapturous applause in the 62nd minute for what was his final game for the club.

With the Mariners searching for a second, substitute Ronald Barcellos saw his shot deflected wide of the far post after some excellent build-up play by the away side.

However the away side were certainly the team in the ascendancy as the clocked ticked beyond the 80-minute mark and another Mariners substitute soon sent the travelling support into ecstasy.

Stood in acres of space on the edge of the Jets box, Steele received the ball from Jacob Farrell and promptly unleashed a fierce effort towards goal which took a wicked deflection off of Callum Timmins before finding it’s way into the top corner of the Newcastle net.

A few minutes later it was game over in the F3 Derby as substitute Edmondson powered a thumping header beyond Scott and into the back of the net to ensure the three points were going back to Gosford.

So the win means the Mariners remain one point behind Wellington at the top of the ladder however with a rearranged fixture to come against Adelaide in midweek the Mariners now need just a point against the Reds to secure the Premiership.

“Everybody talks about momentum and it’s a new experience for me with Finals Football so I take a lot of advice from people at the club and how we need to be,” said Jackson.

“I’ve been involved in England in playoffs and if you have momentum going into that then it certainly stands you in good stead.

He added: “So we want to keep our performances going, we want to keep the results coming particularly against Adelaide – we want to go for a win, and then we’ve got the AFC Cup final to contend with as well.”