On a cloudy Sunday afternoon, we made our way to Central Coast Stadium to witness The Mariners’ first home win of the season.
I’m riding shotgun with fearless The Ladies League leader Rose at the wheel, and I have one job – to tell her when to turn off. “Is it now?” she asks, and I compare the blue dot on my Google Maps with the road we’re passing and conclude, no. We sail past the turn off to the Central Coast and I immediately realise I’ve added twenty minutes to our trip. Sorry, boss.
We’re arriving to the Mariners game early to charm the good people of the Central Coast into parting with their hard-earned in support of the Rural Fire Service. The fans have one job – to scrounge around in their pockets looking for spare change and boy do they deliver, filling our donation buckets.
Central Coast stadium is picturesque: one end lined by a string of palm trees, a water view, four inflatable tomato sauce bottles and a cannon that erupts at the beginning, end, and goal scoring moments of the game.
The Mariners line up against Western United and we wonder what international stars Kone and Diamanti are making of the dancing sauce bottles. There’s a buzz from the home fans that keeps the home side animated but the first half is evenly matched. Central Coast goalkeeper Birighitti has one job, to keep the ball out of the net, and he does so valiantly with the best chances for goal in the first half coming from Western United.
A hard tackle from Mariner defender Gallifuoco on United’s Appiah brings him down outside the box and Diamanti takes a penalty in the 38th minute. It’s the best chance of the first half. He cannons it directly in line with the top of the net but Birighitti is there for both the initial strike and its rebound.
Early in the second half a long cross from Tommy Oar finds Danny De Silva box side, who passes to Galllifuoco who sends the ball bouncing past Western United’s keeper Kurto. It’s Gallifuoco’s first A-League goal, not a minute too soon in the 49th of this game.
Meanwhile, United’s Besart Berisha’s got one job, to stand in front of goal and direct the crosses that come to him into the back of the net. (This might dramatically undersell the role of a forward but let’s go with it.) He gets a string of chances to make good, with crosses from Appiah and Kone loading him up but it’s not his night.
At the other end of the pitch, Mariner Jack Clisby curls a long range strike that sails to the top right of the goal but Kurto makes a leaping save keeping the Western United team in it. No longer in it is Besart Berisha, subbed off for Scott McDonald in the 61st minute. The camera catches Bes in a moment of unspeakable rage with a face that launches a thousand memes. Thanks Bes.
Rudan’s subs step the tempo of the game up. The Mariners fans are sensing that they might have a win on their hands with their chanting becoming more urgent and inspired. There’s a nervous moment at the 82nd minute when a deflection from a United player comes off the upper torso – maybe a hand, maybe an arm, maybe it’s natural, maybe it’s unnatural – of a Mariner who’s at the edge of the box. The ref throws it to VAR and around me, the crowd is certain that their three points are turning into one. But the VAR has one job and nobody’s really sure what it is or how it does it, and the original decision of no handball is upheld.
There are four nervous minutes of extra time and the Mariners come up winners, the difference in this game their relentless defence, and maybe a little bit of good karma built up by their fans being so generous at the beginning of the game.
Disclaimer: Headline is referring to the two new baby Osprey’s that have just hatched and have made a home within Central Coast Stadium. Get your mind out of the gutter.
By Kelly Simpson