Central Coast celebrate Mikael Doka's penalty.
Dejected Sydney FC players look on as Central Coast celebrate Mikael Doka's winning spot-kick. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS
  • soccer

Mariners claim 2-1 ALM finals win over nine-man Sydney

George Clarke May 10, 2024

Sydney FC’s A-League Men grand final hopes are hanging by a thread after Jack Rodwell and Corey Hollman were sent off in a 2-1 semi-final loss to the Central Coast Mariners.

Sydney were forced to play the last 10 minutes of Friday’s first leg at Allianz Stadium with nine men, and will be without Rodwell and Hollman for the second leg in Gosford next Saturday.

Rodwell was dismissed after a studs-up challenge on Mariners flyer Christian Theoharous midway through the second half, while Hollman was shown a second yellow in the 82nd minute.

Sydney FC's Corey Hollman (right) is sent off against the Mariners.
 Corey Hollman (right) gets his marching orders during Sydney’s first-leg defeat. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS 

Left-back Joel King got Sydney off to a fine start before a well-taken finish from newly capped Socceroo Josh Nisbet and a Mikael Doka penalty gave the Mariners the lead in the two-legged tie.

“It made our lives difficult when we went down to 10 and then to nine but the boys dug deep,” Sydney boss Ufuk Talay said.

“With the score at 2-1 it definitely gives us a chance in the second game.”

Adding to Talay’s woes are injury concerns over defender Jake Girdwood-Reich.

Sydney’s weakened squad, coupled with homeground advantage for Central Coast in the second leg, should work in the Mariners’ favour.

Crucially for Mark Jackson’s side it keeps the flame burning for a remarkable treble after they added the AFC Cup in Oman earlier this week to the A-League premiers’ plate they secured on May 1.

Josh Nisbet (4) celebrates his first-half equaliser for Central Coast.
 Josh Nisbet (4) celebrates his first-half equaliser for Central Coast. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS 

“It’s phenomenal what the players have been doing and I’m pleased with the courage we showed on the pitch tonight,” Jackson said.

“The next game is going to be even harder. They’re going to bring it because that’s the type of team they are and we’ll be ready for that.”

The Mariners showed little sign of weariness from their Asian exploits despite Sydney taking the early lead when Max Burgess, who replaced Girdwood-Reich, curled a cross into the box for King to net in the 25th minute.

Burgess nearly made it 2-0 before the halftime break but could only hook his shot wide of Danny Vukovic’s post.

The Mariners showed no such wastefulness as they burst down field in the final minute of first-half added time.

Brazilian winger Doka unleashed a long-range shot which Andrew Redmayne spilled into the path of Nisbet, who finished from close range.

Soon after the break the Mariners took the lead when Theoharous went down inside the Sydney box after a challenge from Anthony Caceres.

Redmayne attempted his customary Wiggles-inspired routine but Doka was unfazed and fired home.

Redmayne stretches but can save Doka penalty.
 Andrew Redmayne is unable to keep out Mikael Doka’s (not pictured) 56th-minute penalty. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS 

“He was looking for the contact, he was on his way down when ‘Cac’ was coming across, that’s the referee’s call,” Talay lamented of the decisive spot-kick.

Sydney were beginning to lose their grip on the tie and Rodwell’s sending-off did little to help their cause.

It was only the second time in the Englishman’s career he had been shown a straight red card.

Hollman’s second yellow only added to Talay’s misery and despite their gallant efforts to claw a goal back, Sydney now face an uphill battle to halt the Mariners’ charge to a second-straight grand final.