Daniel McBreen sent the Central Coast Mariners into the A-League grand final after his first-half goal secured a 1-0 win over the Melbourne Victory at Bluetongue Stadium. The Mariners will face season debutants Western Sydney Wanderers in next Sunday's decider at Allianz Stadium, looking to win their first title decider after losing their previous three.
However, the Mariners will need to do it without combative midfielder Nick Montgomery, who was sent off just before full-time for a second bookable offence. After Bernie Ibini beat two defenders he laid a ball on for 35-year-old Daniel McBreen to give the home side the lead three minutes before the interval.
The Mariners recalled eight players to their starting XI after a 2-1 defeat to Guizhou Renhe in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday. Argentinian playmaker Marcos Flores swapped places with Connor Pain for Victory, with Pain relegated to the bench.
Mariners forwards Mile Sterjovski and Ibini had early attempts on goal as the hosts attacked the Victory's down the right, primarily targeting 19-year-old defender Jason Geria. Mariners defenders Pedj Bojic, Joshua Rose, and Trent Sainsbury all had early chances but Melbourne were more positive as the half wore on.
New Zealand international Marco Rojas forced Mat Ryan to intercept a cross in the 28th minute as he sent a ball towards team-mate Archie Thompson. Flores was also lively but the Mariners were often able to respond quickly on the counter attack.
McBreen makes the breakthrough
McBreen's goal in the shadows of half-time was a reward for effort after some proactive attack which kept Victory goalkeeper Nathan Coe busy. It took until an hour into the game before Thompson had Victory's first meaningful shot on target after a smart run.
Both sides made attacking substitutions with youngsters Mitchell Duke and 19-year-old Pain coming on for the Mariners and Victory respectively. Duke's arrival nearly had an immediate impact in the 70th minute when he rifled a shot just wide of the right-hand post.
The Mariners continued to be better in attack with a slight offside costing them a second goal in the final ten minutes before Montgomery's dismissal. Montgomery was shown a second yellow after a late foul on Mark Milligan which will cost him a grand final appearance.
A late foul on substitute Andrew Nabbout gave the Victory a chance to send the game into extra-time but the free-kick was sent into the wall for the home side to hang on. The Mariners will now get the chance to exorcise their grand final demons after prior losses to Sydney FC, Newcastle Jets and the Brisbane Roar.