The Mariners have hung on to record a gutsy victory away to Bali United in the AFC Cup, Marco Tulio’s penalty in the second half securing the points in a bad-tempered clash that took the Isuzu UTE A-League side top of their group and gave them their first away win in Asia for 10 years.
A goal up inside a quarter hour, Mark Jackson’s side had to withstand a barrage of attacks once Bali equalised, and deal with some intimidatory tackling as home frustrations grew on Wednesday.
In sweltering conditions in Gianyar Regency, the Mariners had the better of a frenetic start and deservedly took the lead on 13 minutes – Jacob Farrell took a long ball on his chest on the left wing, cut inside and fed Alou Kuol for a smart finish on the turn.
But the goal did nothing to dampen Bali’s spirits as they continually sought to turn the A-League side’s defence with long balls to their pacy attack.
Yabes Ronihad already sprinted clear but scuffed his shot at Danny Vukovic, then Roni turned provider and played in Jefferson – the Brazilian took his time before placing the ball past Vukovic.
The goal lifted the intensity further, and Jefferson escaped the Mariners defence again but allied on the ball and was dispossessed. Then Mohammed Rashid forced a fine save from Vukovic with a powerful volley as Bali sought to take advantage.
For an hour it was an arm wrestle, until Kuol fastened on to a loose ball and went to ground under challenge – the contact was slight but there, and the penalty – to Bali’s fury – was given. Marco Tulio converted with ease.
Immediately Bali had a glorious chance to equalise as Eba Besser won the ball centrally and fed Rahmat for a low cross that Irfan Jaya blazed over.
Attack after attack came but Vukovic and his back four stood strong to ensure the victory.
Angel Torres has had a shaky start to life in the A-League and got a red card for an off-the-ball swipe against Perth Glory last weekend.
In the circumstances he could have hidden, but instead stood up and showcased his considerable skill – as well as coping with a series of fouls and comments from United. This performance should do wonders for his confidence once his A-League suspension is served.
Central Coast were undoubtedly under pressure for the first 15 minutes of the second half, until Alou Kuol’s opportunism came to the fore again – this time winning a penalty by drawing contact with clever close control in the box. Coming after his first half goal, it showed the intelligence the elder Kuol brother has long had.
What it means
To qualify from their group, the Mariners have to come top or be the best second-placed team in Groups F, G or H. Given their final game (on December 13) is away to already-eliminated Stallion Laguna, a point at home to Terengganu on November 29 will very likely see the Mariners on their way to topping the group – a win in Gosford would confirm it.