Advantage Mariners! Premiers take charge of Semi-Final in comeback win over nine-man Sky Blues

Catch all the highlights from Central Coast's 2-1 win over Sydney FC on Friday night

Central Coast Mariners have taken command of their Semi-Final tie with Sydney FC, coming from a goal down to beat the Sky Blues 2-1 in a game that featured two red cards to the home side.

Sydney took the lead in the first half through fullback Joel King but a Josh Nisbet equaliser on the stroke of half-time brought the Mariners back into the game. A penalty conceded by Anthony Caceres early in the second half led to Mikael Doka’s expertly-taken spot kick as the visitors took a 2-1 lead that they held until the full-time whistle.

Get your tickets to the second leg of Central Coast and Sydney FC’s Semi-Final battle at Industree Group Stadium!

Four minutes after Central Coast’s second goal, Jack Rodwell was sent off after referee Ben Abraham reviewed the Sydney defender’s challenge on Christian Theoharous, and returned to the pitch to upgrade the initial yellow card to red, explaining the decision was due to “contact above the ankle” and “studs to the shin.”

Corey Hollman was the next Sky Blue to receive his marching orders, collecting a second yellow card in the 82nd minute after catching Mariners substitute Ronald Barcellos in the face with a high arm.

Sydney thought they had an equaliser through Rhyan Grant prior to Hollman’s send-off but what initially appeared as an offside call on Gabriel Lacerda, who supplied the assist, kept Central Coast’s lead intact as the Premiers left Allianz Stadium with a one-goal lead in the Semi-Final tie.

Post-game, Sydney head coach Ufuk Talay said that after speaking to the officials at full-time, was told the goal was ruled out because the ball had crossed the byline before Lacerda played the cross for Grant to attack.

The Mariners will host the return leg on Saturday, May 18 at Industree Group Stadium, with a place in the Grand Final on the line.

REACTION: ‘He’s looking for contact’: Sydney coach responds to big talking points from Mariners defeat

The Mariners looked to draw first blood early and Theoharous had the first chance of the night. An Alou Kuol flick-on sparked the attack and Nisbet’s pass across the 18-yard box invited Theoharous to strike a first-time attempt on target, which Andrew Redmayne denied with a strong save.

The Mariners recovered possession and reloaded down the right wing. Storm Roux fizzed a ball into the six-yard box but Kuol couldn’t make contact as Sydney survived the early onslaught.

Jake Girdwood-Reich was the replacement for injured winger Joe Lolley in Sydney’s starting XI but the versatile teenager, who slotted in next to Luke Brattan in central midfield, lasted less than 20 minutes before a forced injury withdrawal.

As Girdwood-Reich took his place on the bench, Network 10 pitchside reporter Scott Mackinnon confirmed the Sydney youngster had picked up a left quad injury.

Jake Girdwood-Reich was withdrawn just 19 minutes into the Semi-Final.

Max Burgess came off the bench to replace Girdwood-Reich, shifting forward to the right side of Sydney’s attack, and just minutes later he played a pivotal role in the move that put Sydney ahead.

Burgess took possession on the right, cut past Mariners defender Jacob Farrell into the box and attempted a shot on goal. The shot was blocked but skimmed across goal, and fell invitingly for King whose heavily deflected was helped into the bottom-right corner by Mariners keeper Danny Vukovic.

The opening goal came after a challenge down the other end from Corey Hollman on Theoharous that went unpunished by the referee, who elected not to give a foul before the Sky Blues quickly countered and took the lead.

The Mariners had a chance to equalise when Roux floated a cross toward the penalty area to find Nisbet, who stood unmarked. The Mariners midfielder rose to meet the ball but didn’t make pure contact and Redmayne made a comfortable save.

Then came a big chance for the hosts to double their lead. A neat Sydney move led to Burgess taking possession on the edge of the area, and having shifted the ball onto his favoured left foot, whipped his strike just wide of the mark.

The Mariners made Burgess and the Sky Blues pay with an equaliser on the stroke of half-time. Doka’s long-range shot bounced in front of Redmayne and the Sydney keeper failed to keep the ball within his grasp; the door was left ajar for Nisbet to pounce and the Mariners midfielder took full advantage, poking the ball over the line to equalise.

Similar to the start of the first half, the Mariners flew out of the blocks and an early chance presented to Doka, who got in behind Sydney fullback King to put a shot on target which was cut out by Rodwell.

From one goal down, the Mariners took the lead 10 minutes into the second half when two Sydney players slipped in midfield, which allowed Kuol to gather possession and spark an attack that led to a foul from Anthony Caceres on Theoharous in the box, and a penalty awarded to the Premiers.

The referee paused to receive word from VAR whether a review was necessary but the decision stood; Doka found the bottom-right corner with a pinpoint penalty, beating Redmayne’s outstretched arm to put the Mariners on top in the Semi-Final.

On the hour, things went from bad to worse for Sydney FC. Four minutes after the Mariners took the lead, Sydney defender Rodwell received a yellow card for a tackle on Theoharous in midfield which, after a review on the pitchside monitor, was upgraded to red as the hosts were reduced to 10 men.

Abraham explained the decision on return to the field of play: “After review, contact is above the ankle, studs to the shin. It is a red card.”

Get your tickets to the second leg of Central Coast and Sydney FC’s Semi-Final battle at Industree Group Stadium!

Down to 10 men, Sydney refused to go down without a fight and thought they had an equaliser through Rhyan Grant before an offside call stopped the celebrations.

Robert Mak’s free-kick delivery from deep midfield fell to centre-back Hayden Matthews who got the slightest of touches on the delivery. The ball struck the post and fell to Gabriel Lacerda who picked out Grant to finish; after the game, Sydney coach Talay explained that the word from the officials was the goal was ruled out due to the ball crossing the byline before Lacerda played it to Grant.

“They didn’t give an offside,” Talay said. “I asked the officials after the game, and they gave a goal kick apparently. It wasn’t an offside. When it came back off Vukovic and (Lacerda) controlled it, they said the ball went out and gave a goal kick, not offside.”

The hosts had all the momentum despite the offside call on the near-equaliser, before Hollman was sent off for his second yellow card.

Hollman collected Ronald Barcellos in the face with a high arm as the Mariners forward attempted to burst into his attacking half – an action that was deemed worthy of a second caution as Sydney went down to nine.

Nisbet’s hilarious explanation of away trip ritual: ‘I have so many questions!’

There’s a strong bond on the Central Coast – and after Friday night’s win over Sydney FC, Mariners star Josh Nisbet summed the side’s special atmosphere up to perfection.

Nisbet joined the Network 10 panel to dissect the action from his side’s 2-1 win over Sydney, and was asked by host Tara Rushton what makes the club so special as they hunt for a third piece of silverware this season.

“Look, we’re family,” he said. “We all enjoy our time with each other. On our away trips we’re playing this game called ‘Werewolf’. We’ve got the whole squad playing! You’ve got Vukovic, the oldest, and then you’ve got the youngest (players too).

“Have you guys played ‘Mafia’ before?” Nisbet asked the panel. “Where there’s a few bad guys, and the rest are good guys, and you’ve got to work out who it is? We’ve got like, 16, 17 of us all playing a game. I’m not sure what it’s like at other clubs but we’re all having a laugh, enjoying our time.

“I’ve got so many questions…” Rushton responded. “Who gets to be the villain, who gets to be the hero?”

“It’s all luck,” said Nisbet. “Everyone gets drawn a card, certain cards mean good, certain cards mean bad. There are a few people that aren’t very good at it!”

Asked whether head coach Mark Jackson gets involved in the away trip antics, Nisbet responded: “He hasn’t played, but the assistant coach Danny Schofield, he’s brilliant at picking out the bad guys. But he’s not too good when he is one!”

Get your tickets to the second leg of Central Coast and Sydney FC’s Semi-Final battle at Industree Group Stadium!