Long off- season ahead for shattered Mariners
CRESTFALLEN Central Coast coach Graham Arnold bemoaned an extended off-season which will allow the mental scars of his shattered troops to fester after their bewildering grand final loss last night.
The Mariners were 2-0 up with just four minutes to play in extra time to be staring at their inaugural A-League title before Brisbane Roar got out of jail at Suncorp Stadium with an amazing comeback.
After substitute striker Henrique finally beat outstanding goalkeeper Matt Ryan for the Roar to open their account, midfield enforcer Erik Paartalu headed home a corner off the last play of the game for a dramatic equaliser.
Roar players celebrated as though they had won the match, while the Mariners’ heads dropped and they were beaten 4-2 in the penalty shoot-out with shots by Daniel McBreen and Pedj Bojic brilliantly saved by Michael Theoklitos.
Arnold, a member of the Socceroos side which let slip a 2-0 lead over Iran in the memorable 1997 World Cup qualifier, admitted it would be incredibly difficult for his players to overcome the pain of the club’s third defeat in a decider.
‘‘ They’ll hurt, they’ll hurt for a while but we’ve got a long time because we’ve got six months before the next game,’’ the proud but disappointed coach said.
The A-League will kick off later next season, in October, to avoid a clash with the NRL and AFL play-offs, a decision which amplifies the Mariners’ pain.
‘‘ It’s crap, six months off in football?’’ Arnold questioned. ‘‘ I think the season this year’s been great because we’ve played so much football.
‘‘ I understand the reasons why, but as a coach it’s quite frustrating this is going to live with us for the next four or five months until we start again.’’