Down a player but not down on confidence, ten-man Macarthur FC struck twice in extra time to steamroll Central Coast Mariners on their way to a 2-0 Elimination Final win at Central Coast Stadium on Saturday night.
30 additional minutes were needed to separate the two sides after an entertaining 90 contest ended goalless at regular time.
Reduced to ten after James Meredith’s 75th-minute dismissal, Macarthur shocked the hosts in extra time, with Charles M’Mombwa’s heading the Bulls into the lead in the 93rd minute before substitute Michael Ruhs applied the finish to a brutal counter attack to seal the shock result in the final moments of the game.
Both sides saw strikes ruled out for offside throughout the contest. Bulls striker Matt Derbyshire ventured offside to score a phenomenal volley in the third minute and a Daniel Bouman finish into the bottom corner in the second half was similarly denied by the flag when the Central Coast forward ventured beyond the defensive line before Matt Simon’s through pass left his foot.
Meredith received his marching orders on 75 minutes for dragging down Marco Ureña as he cut through the Macarthur defence on his way into the 18-yard box. The Bulls passionately objected to referee Shaun Evans’ decision, and despite the ball touching the arm of Ureña in the build-up to Meredith’s challenge the original decision was upheld, as Macarthur were forced to fight to the end of regular time with a one-man disadvantage.
The ten-man Bulls went on to take an unlikely lead two minutes into the first period of extra time through M’Mombwa after Macarthur substitute Ivan Franjic’s cut-back cross to Markel Susaeta led to a strike which hit the post and fell to M’Mombwa to send the back on target. Stefan Nigro got back to try and clear the danger but could only help the ball off the crossbar and in as the visitors took the advantage.
The Mariners threw everything at their opponents until a ruthless counter attack in the 121st minute sealed the game. Jake Hollman turned the ball over in midfield and fellow Bulls substitute Ruhs tore through midfield down toward the opposite end of the field. Weary Mariners defenders fell in his path as Ruhs steamed toward goal to hand his side a stunning 2-0 win.
Macarthur will now prepare to face the Premiers Melbourne City in a Semi Final clash on Sunday, June 20.
REACTION: “This is a club-defining game” – Macarthur make a statement with stunning win over Mariners
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The Bulls looked right at home in the early stages of the contest at Central Coast Stadium, getting well on top throughout the opening half hour of play but failing to find reward for effort on the scoresheet before half-time.
Matt Derbyshire rippled the back of the net with a stunning lobbed finish on the volley with three minutes on the clock, after taking Aleksandar Šušnjar’s ball into the box down off his chest and converting over Mark Birighitti without the ball hitting the deck. But the offside flag was raised to deny Derbyshire the mesmerising strike which would have granted the visitors a shock early lead.
Macarthur continued to display their eagerness to grab the ascendancy in Gosford when Beñat picked James Meredith out with a free-kick swung off the left flank toward the back post on 11 minutes, and the Bulls defender rose above Matt Simon to head low toward the bottom right corner.
It seemed almost certain the attempt would beat Birighitti from close range, but the Mariners gloveman got down low to meet the ball, showing lightning reactions to push the ball around the post and keep his side at level pegging.
Macarthur continued to boss possession and create the more dangerous chances as the visiting side set up camp inside Central Coast’s defensive third, but for all their dominance on the ball Ante Milicic’s side couldn’t break down the home side.
As the clock ticked toward half-time, the Mariners began to show signs of life. Marco Ureña carved out his side’s first genuine chance with a long-range shot which skimmed past Adam Federici’s right-hand goalpost in the 40th minute as Gianni Stensness began to win his share of challenges in midfield to give the home fans optimism heading into the second 45.
After Derbyshire’s first-half goal was scrubbed out for an offside call, Mariners forward Daniel Bouman suffered the same fate in the 56th minute after breaking Macarthur’s defensive line before running onto a Simon through ball to beat Federici with a shot buried into the bottom-right corner.
Meredith got an outstretched boot on the Simon pass as it travelled into Bouman’s path, but his intervention proved insufficient for VAR to eradicate the offside call.
Derbyshire got his first sighter of the second half in the 69th minute of play. The Englishman headed high over the bar from close range after Mark Milligan floated a ball to the back post for Meredith to attack and send into Derbyshire’s path with a header of his own, which the Bulls striker squandered with his inaccurate finish.
Disaster struck for the Bulls in the 75th minute of play when Meredith – who had been involved in plenty of positive Macarthur play – saw red for dragging down Ureña as he turned toward the edge of the penalty area.
After Ureña slid between Šušnjar and Meredith and broke toward goal, Meredith brought the Costa Rican to ground and referee Shaun Evans produced the red card.
Meredith and his Macarthur teammates begged for the decision to be overturned after the ball came off the arm of Ureña in the build-up to the challenge, but Evans consulted with VAR Kris Griffiths-Jones and decided to uphold his original decision to reduce Macarthur to ten.
The ten-man Bulls survived to the end of regular time, and stunned the hosts early into the first half of extra time when M’Mombwa’s header evaded a desperate clearance attempt from Nigro to drop over the line.
M’Mombwa found himself in the right place at the right time after Ivan Franjic’s cross fell to Markel Susaeta in the box, who sent a shot from a narrow angle off the foot of the post and into M’Mombwa’s path.
The 23-year-old headed on goal and Nigro swept a leg in the air to try and clear the ball from danger, only to knock the ball off his crossbar and over the line.
Ruhs put the icing on the cake for Macarthur in the 121st minute after Hollman’s smart turnover in the middle of the park. Ruhs collected the ball after the intercept and darted toward goal, leaving the chasing Mariners defenders in his dust to go one-on-one with Birighitti and apply a crisp finish into the bottom-left corner.
Match details and ticketing information – Finals Series
Melbourne City v Macarthur FC
Sunday, June 20 2021
Kick-off: 4.05pm AEST
GRAND FINAL: Winner SF 1 v Winner SF2
Saturday, June 26 2021
Note: Fixtures are subject to change. Please check www.a-league.com.au/fixtures for latest updates