Brisbane Roar 2-2 Central Coast Mariners: amazing late comeback forces penalties
Brisbane Roar won a fantastic A-League Grand final on penalties.
Angelos Postecoglou named an unchanged side from the XI which took on Mariners the previous time the sides met.
Graham Arnold made three changes from Mariners’ last game. Trent Sainsbury, Patricio Perez and Daniel McBreen were out, Predrag Bojic, Mustafa Amini and Matt Simon came in.
The game was a tremendous spectacle and an intriguing tactical battle too. Both sides had spells of domination, and both changed their strategy as the game went on.
Mariners strikers spread wide
Although on paper this was a 4-3-3 v 4-3-1-2 matchup, the sides actually looked very similar when Roar had the ball. The Mariners’ strikers were both instructed to drop into wide positions and pick up the Roar full-backs when out of possession, with Adam Kwasnik picking up Ivan Franjic, and Simon occupying Shane Stefanutto.
This meant that the strikers often ended up behind young playmaker Mustafa Amini, who became the furthest forward player. He concentrated on staying goalside of Erik Paartalu, which meant the Roar centre-backs had plenty of time on the ball, as Mariners sat in their own half.
Roar struggle early on
Because they had so many opponents to play through, Roar struggled to get their passing game going early on. Balls into the central midfielders were unsuccessful as they were closed down quickly, and the defenders were reluctant to hit longer passes towards the strikers. Roar were dominating possession, but couldn’t create any clear goalscoring chances.
Instead, it was Mariners who looked slightly more threatening, though with their strikers starting from those wide positions up against the full-backs, they lacked someone on the end of moves, especially as they were playing direct football, broadly on the counter-attack. They did force a couple of corners early on in the game, however, and were good at quickly switching play from one flank to the other when Roar’s three central midfielders all came to one side of the pitch.
With Amini picking up Paartalu, the strikers on the full-backs and obvious battles on the sides of midfield, it was Mariners’ holding player Rostyn Griffiths who had the most time on the ball, and he had a very good first half, playing intelligent, calm passes forward and to the flanks. Mariners made good use of that spare man in midfield.
Roar grew into the game, however, and when the initial quick tempo dropped, their quality of passing became more obvious. The front three became more involved, with Thomas Broich picking up the ball in good positions and Jeancarlo Solorzano looking for balls through the defence. They lacked a good final pass, however, with Broich in particular guilty of wasting good situations.
The most obvious change at the start of the second half was the weather. The first half was very hot, but a downpour at the start of the second period changed the situation completely. Roar adapted better to this.
Matt McKay played slightly deeper in the second half, but Roar were more positive with pushing their full-backs on. They both scampered down the line and caused the Mariners’ strikers-cum-wingers a problem – how far were they meant to track them? At some point they were supposed to be passed on to the Mariners’ side midfielders, but often the confusion resulted in the full-backs getting free. In particular, Ivan Franjic arrived late at the back post twice to cause problems, and this additional attacking support from the flanks allowed the Roar wingers to move inside into central positions.
Paartalu was another who pushed forward more in the second half. Postecoglou realised that with two centre-backs having no-one to pick up when Roar had the ball, there was no need for Paartalu to stay goalside of Amini. Therefore, Paartalu moved higher up the pitch, and this caused Amini a similar problem to the full-backs – if he tracked Paartalu all the way, Mariners would end up with all eleven men in their own half of the pitch. Roar were well on top as a result.
This problem lead to Arnold removing Amini, and replacing him with John Hutchinson, a holding midfielder. He played deeper than Amini, flattening the diamond and giving Mariners more protection in front of the defence. This worked excellently – Mariners saw off the threat of Roar, and the game became more even.
Arnold’s further substitutions also worked well. First, Daniel McBreen replaced Simon in a straight swap, but later, when Mariners were competing well in midfield, he removed Griffiths (who had faded), moved Hutchinson to the base of the diamond, dropped McBreen into the playmaker role (the third man to play that position) and introduced the pacey Bernie Ibini upfront.
Ibini turned out to be the key man in extra time. Twice his pace allowed him to get on the end of McBreen’s through balls, and created goalscoring chances from direct attacks out of nothing. This first resulted in the corner for the first goal, and then another direct attack resulted in the second – it seemed that Mariners had the game wrapped up.
Postecoglou really went for it at 2-0 down, removing Milan Susak, the centre-back, and throwing on left-winger Rocco Visconte. Paartalu dropped in at centre-back, and Roar played an all-out-attack 4-2-4ish system late on.
The tactics that handed Roar a route back into the game came from the Mariners, however. Having done so well to get his side back in the game, Arnold invited far too much pressure late on. Ibini was told to drop deep, almost as an additional midfielder, when he would have been better off using his pace on the last line of defence, forcing Roar’s defence back – especially as he’d only come on in the 89th minute, and had fresh legs. The centre-backs were given too long on the ball, and were allowed to start the attacks which eventually resulted in two goals.
Credit should go to Roar, however. At no point did they start hitting the ball long – they continued to play good football and passed the ball wide before playing it into the area. After the first goal, momentum meant they were going to get a chance for a second – which they took – and maybe that momentum helped them through the penalty shoot-out too.
Two Roar players, Roar Matt Smith and Rocco Visconte, agreed that Mariners’ tactics cost them in extra time in an interview with au.fourfourtwo.com. “When they went 2-0 up I think they got instructions to defend and get compact and solid”, Smith said. “Their forwards dropped off enabling us to play out from the back. And when they did have the ball they could’ve used it a bit more wisely instead of just giving it back to us.”
Viconte agreed: “What surprised me was that they didn’t really try to keep the ball…they just kept trying to punt it out of the park and give it back to us.”
Had Ibini played higher up, pressured the centre-backs and tried to get on the end of long balls over the top, Mariners may have held out. It was sad that this decided the game – after all, Arnold’s tactical decisions had twice worked excellently – firstly the introduction of Hutchinson as an additional battler in midfield, then the switch which allowed the McBreen-Ibini combination to work so well.Brisbane Roar 2-2 Central Coast Mariners: amazing late comeback forces penalties