It was enough to turn hairs grey but Central Coast Mariners interim manager Alen Stajcic says his side’s pulsating F3 Derby win showcased the spirit that resides within the playing group.
The Mariners were up 3-0 against Newcastle Jets at McDonald Jones Stadium with 15 minutes to go only for the home side to score two quick goals to make things interesting.
Then, in injury-time the Jets were awarded a penalty with Roy O’Donovan’s spot-kick saved by Ben Kennedy but into the path of Daniel Georgievski who thumped it home.
However, VAR intervened and O’Donovan was forced to re-take the penalty after encroachment was spotted on the replay.
Kennedy then entered Mariners’ folklore by denying the Irishman again and saving the day for his club.
Speaking post-match, Stajcic said the spirit was there for all to see after a tough week for the team.
“I don’t think you can pack in anymore drama and excitement in the last 10 or 20 minutes but look, I’ve been here to five minutes so just to see the spirit and the effort and the way the lads went about their work, you could see they were really fighting and scrapping for every moment,” he said.
“Trying to win every ball, every challenge, trying to really pick themselves and the club up from last week and I think everyone could see that. Even if it’d finished at 3-3 I think that would have been there for everyone to see.”
Stajcic, who replaced Mike Mulvey earlier this week after the Mariners’ 8-2 loss to Wellington Phoenix, said the team was capable of dominating matches but had to learn to maintain focus.
“When you come off conceding 13 goals in the last couple of weeks it makes sense that it’s [defence] a part of the game that has to be addressed,” Stajcic said.
“I said in the press conference during the week that I’ve watched so many Mariners games this year where they’ve been the better team with the ball, they’ve dominated games but there’s been moments that they lose and then they lose one or two or three all in a hurry and before they know it they’re leading and they’re 2-1 down or leading and they’re 3-2 down.
“Last week they were dominating for the first 10 minutes and then it was 3-0 within five minutes and that’s something the team has to address in a tactical shape but also a mentality as well.
“I think they did that tonight, I think there was a bit of fatigue there rather than losing the mentality in the last 10 minutes or 15 minutes. I’m really pleased for them, I know it’ll be a big relief for them mentally to overcome the dark places they probably felt they were in during the week.”
No excuses as Jets hit finals stumbling block
Being 3-0 down against your cellar-dwelling rivals is never a fun place to be but more importantly for Newcastle, their finals hopes looked cooked.
Despite the comeback the Jets now face a tough task to break into the top six and will finish the round at least four points adrift of sixth-place, currently Melbourne City.
Jets manager Ernie Merrick said the loss came down to one factor, not taking chances.
“I think I could look for a thousand excuses and I could look for the break, Olympic [Olyroos] players being away, the weather,” Merrick said post-match.
“The bottom line is we dominated in the first half with nothing to show for it and, even if we got into the finals, you can’t play like. You’re not going to last very long so the bottom line it we have to take our chances and with that superiority and possession and shots you have to score goals.”