Central Coast Mariners tuned up for their upcoming semi-final with Brisbane Roar with a 1-0 win over Newcastle Jets in the last match of the Australian A-League's home and away rounds today. Argentine playmaker Patricio Perez secured victory with a last minute tap-in handing his side a confidence booster ahead of next Saturday's home first leg of the two-match tie against Brisbane.
Title favourites Brisbane finished the regular season with a 25-match unbeaten run, including 16 matches at their home fortress where they will play the second-placed Mariners in the return leg of their semi-final. The winner of that series will advance to the A-League Grand Final on 12 March.
The Mariners, under former Socceroos assistant coach Graham Arnold, are now undefeated in their past nine outings and are increasingly looking like the Roar's main title threat. Brisbane delivered a performance befitting their return to the flood-ravaged Suncorp Stadium by routing Gold Coast United 4-0 yesterday.
The Roar outclassed their neighbours to lift the Premiers Plate as the top team on the final standings before their biggest home crowd of the season - 20,831. Brisbane led after three minutes through Kosta Barbarouses before Erik Paartalu, Brazilian Henrique and German Thomas Broich extended the lead.
Gold Coast finished fourth and will host an elimination playoff against Melbourne Victory today. Adelaide United clinched third spot after downing Victory 2-1 at Adelaide Oval on Friday. Captain Travis Dodd headed the winner in the 78th minute in front of 21,083 fans to set up a home elimination final next Friday against Wellington Phoenix. Phoenix sealed the sixth and last playoff spot with a 3-1 home win over North Queensland Fury in Wellington today.
Last season's champions Sydney FC spoiled the farewell party for two of Australia's finest footballers, pinching a late 2-2 draw with ten-man Melbourne Heart in Melbourne yesterday. Until the 88th minute, the Heart looked set to bring down the curtain on former Socceroos John Aloisi and Josip Skoko's playing careers in style.
Aloisi appeared to have scored the winner in the 62nd minute - ripping off his shirt to celebrate in similar style to his penalty against Uruguay which sealed the Socceroos' passage to the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ finals. But instead the celebrations were scuttled when Nicky Carle scored his second goal to equalise two minutes from full-time.