Weekend Wrap - Mariners are Premiers

After an exciting final weekend, the Central Coast Mariners, competition leaders for the majority of the season, are the 2007/08 Hyundai A-League Premiers.

After an exciting final weekend, the Central Coast Mariners, competition leaders for the majority of the season, are the 2007/08 Hyundai A-League Premiers. Their 2-0 win over Wellington Phoenix on Saturday night, then subsequent failures by Sydney FC and Queensland Roar on Sunday, ensured they finished on top and set up an enticing Major Semi Final with their fiercest and nearest rival Newcastle Jets. The Minor Semi Final will see Sydney and Queensland face off in what should be a titanic two-legged tie. The minor placings saw Melbourne finish in 5th, Adelaide United in 6th, Perth Glory in 7th and the luckless Wellington Phoenix bringing up the rear in 8th and last place.

Results - Round 21 NEWCASTLE JETS 2 beat Perth Glory 1 CENTRAL COAST MARINERS 2 beat Wellington Phoenix 0 Sydney FC 2 drew Melbourne Victory 2 ADELAIDE UNITED 2 beat Queensland Roar 0

Game Wraps Newcastle Jets chose the perfect time to end their poor run of home form against Perth Glory, winning 2-1 to send them to the top of the table in the battle for the race for Premiers Plate. Having lost all four previous matches against Glory at EnergyAustralia Stadium, the Jets held off ten-man Glory, with Mark Bridge-s second half goal sealing the win for the Jets in front of over 16,000 people. It was a damp and miserable night that greeted the players, but the Jets looked determined from the start and took the lead after 22 minutes, Joel Griffiths heading home a brilliant cross from Matt Thompson. The goal, Griffiths 12th of the season, was a new record for most goals in a season (not including finals) and sealed him the Golden Boot Award. Probably the main talking point came ten minutes before half time, when Perth-s Nick Rizzo was given a straight red card for his late tackle on Tarek Elrich. This appeared to galvanise Glory and minutes before half time they equalised, when Jamie Harnwell headed home from close range, after Nikolai Topor-Stanley had headed a corner goalwards. Perth weren-t making it easy for Newcastle, but the breakthrough came in the 64th minute, when some slick one-touch passing by the Jets, saw Bridge through on goal and he tucked his shot home with the outside of his foot, to send the home fans into raptures. The Jets held on, having achieved their goal and putting the pressure on the other three sides to win their games.

Just under 10,000 hardy soles braved the terrible, wet conditions at Bluetongue Stadium, but they went home happy after Central Coast Mariners returned to the winners circle with a 2-0 win over Wellington Phoenix. The Mariners dominated most of the match, but they could have been behind early in the match, but 17-year-old Costa Barbarouses missed an open goal for the Phoenix. Matt Simon, winning a start ahead of Sasho Petrovski, should have then given the Mariners the lead but skied over the crossbar and shortly after had to be replaced because of injury. With the match deadlocked at 0-0 at the break, Mariners fans could be forgiven for thinking the worst, but big-game players know when to step up and that-s what John Aloisi did. Nursing a knee injury, Aloisi, who was captain for the night, opposite his brother, who was the Phoenix skipper, the Qantas Socceroo striker found enough space to meet a Tom Pondeljak cross and he powered home his header. The home side continued to create chances without getting the second goal they needed, while the Phoenix rallied late, creating several chances of their of their own. The match and top spot on the ladder was sealed in the dying minutes, when Phoenix were caught short at the back and Pondeljak cut a cross back to the penalty spot, where Adam Kwasnik smashed home his shot. The goal added extra significance, with Sydney now a goal behind the Mariners and would now have to beat Melbourne by two goals to overtake them on the table. The loss for Phoenix meant they finished with the wooden-spoon, although only courtesy of goal difference and with a great foundation to work on for next season.

Melbourne came and Melbourne conquered. They might not have defeated Sydney FC, but to their traveling army of fans they did the next best thing and denied Sydney the chance of taking their Premiers Plate from them, after a highly entertaining 2-2 draw at the Sydney Football Stadium. Twice Sydney had the lead, which would have secured at least a top two spot, but Melbourne always looked dangerous on the counter and so it proved. The draw meant Sydney could finish no better than third on the table after both Jets and Mariners had won their matches. Sydney got off to a dream start, when Steve Corica was sent through and he made no mistake past debutant Mitchell Langerak. They held that lead till half time, but within a minute of the break, the scores were level when Nick Ward broke into the box and his shot was turned in by Mark Milligan. It was Sydney they re-took the lead midway through the half, when a brilliant turn by Juninho set up Alex Brosque, who made room for a shot and hit home, much to the joy of the 33,400 fans, a Hyundai A-League season high crowd. However Sydney needed to win by two goals to overtake the Mariners and were always suspect to a quick counter by Victory. This duly came with just under 15 minutes remaining, when Carlos Hernandez released Archie Thompson, who beat Ufuk Talay for pace and his square ball found Danny Allsopp who guided home for a superb equaliser. Urged on by the home crowd, Sydney pushed for the winner, but couldn-t find the killer goal they needed.

For those critics who suggested that Queensland held all the aces going into the final weekend, they were proved wrong, with the league leaders going into the final round, dropping to fourth spot after a 2-0 loss to Adelaide United at Hindmarsh Stadium. Roar went into the final round with a +2 goal advantage and only needed to win to secure the Premiers Plate, but it all went horribly wrong for Roar, who had Danny Tiatto sent off for punching Travis Dodd in the first half. Their task was already going to be difficult after they went behind in the 18th minute. What seemed to be a clean take by Roar keeper Griffin McMaster, turned to horror as he brushed against Dodd, the ball spilling loose and Bruce Djite managed to get himself into position and score from close range. In what was a highly physical game, the drama unfolded shortly before half time, when Dodd and Tiatto collided, but Dodd went down as they got up and the referee had no hesitation in giving Tiatto a straight red card. To make the Roar-s misery complete, Lucas Pantelis added a second goal right on the stroke of half time and the Roar-s, Premier Plate hopes were virtually snuffed, but too were their top two hopes. Try as they might Queensland never really threatened the Adelaide goal, with the home side unlucky not to add further goals in the second half.

Highlights & Lowlights The magnificent sight of over 33,000 fans at the Sydney Football Stadium, who witnessed an entertaining match between two fierce rivals. The fact that every game had a lot riding on it, made it a tense and highly contagious weekend of football that didn-t disappoint. The Mariners winning its maiden Hyundai A-League honour is well deserved for a club, seen by many, as the smallest club in the Hyundai A-League. Well done the Mariners.

Weekend Goals Tally: 11

Card Count: 15 yellows - 2 reds

Attendance/Average: 70,322 / 17,581

Goal of the Week We pretty much always look at the spectacular goals, but this week-s goal is worthy, not just because of the finish, but the lead up play as well. Capitalising on a turnover in their own half, Newcastle moved the ball forward in brilliant fashion with no less than six first touch passes, with Adam D-Apuzzo-s superb ball setting Mark Bridge through on goal. With Bridge through, he looked to have stuffed his chance with a poor touch, but kept his composure and with the outside of his right foot, angled his shot past Jason Petkovic, which ended up being the Jets winner.

Player of the Week After a slow start to the season, one of the reasons for the Mariners climb to the top was the form of midfield workhorse Tom Pondeljak. On Saturday night, in the wet and tiring conditions of Bluetongue Stadium, Pondeljak never stopped running and it was his two pieces of brilliant play that led to the Mariners win. First was his pinpoint cross for John Aloisi, which the Qantas Socceroo striker buried with a powerful header, while the second was in the dying minutes when he raced past the Wellington defender and cut back brilliantly for Adam Kwasnik, who made no mistake with his shot from just inside the edge of the area. No doubt during the finals, Pondeljak will be a key player for Mariners as they look to do the double.

One to Watch Costa Barbarouses, as the baby of the Wellington Phoenix side, he has had to bide his time this season. But in a vote of confidence, Ricki Herbert gave him a start in the final game and he didn-t disappoint his boss, albeit for his early chance against the Mariners. The 17-year-old created headaches for experienced Mariners defender Alvin Ceccoli and was full of running all night in the heavy conditions. Created several chances for himself and was not afraid to try things, a good sign in a young player. On this performance, he is sure to get more game time next season for the Phoenix.

Leading Goalscorers 12 - Joel Griffiths (NJ) 9 - Shane Smeltz (WP) 8 - Jamie Harnwell (PG), Alex Brosque (SFC) 7 - John Aloisi (CCM), Danny Allsopp (MV), 6 - Reinaldo (QR), Sasho Petrovski (CCM), Archie Thompson (MV), Nikita Rukavytsya (PG), Bruce Djite (AU), Lucas Pantelis (AU)