Hat-trick for Jason Cummings leads Central Coast to stunning grand final triumph over Melbourne City, writes Tom Smithies
Fairy tales, it seems, do come true. Especially when Jason Cummings is in the mood to write himself a starring role.
The littlest club in the A-League, the Mariners who for years left their own fans embarrassed, are the champions a decade after they last won the title.
Led by a hat-trick from their departing talisman Cummings, Nick Montgomery’s side routed Melbourne City, the defending champions, by six goals to one on an extraordinary night at CommBank Stadium.
It was a result that defied logic, the youngest side in the competition putting their storied opponents to the sword – and Cummings was the man who wielded the rapier in record-breaking fashion, having confirmed before the start of the game that he will exit the club once the celebrations are complete to join the Indian Super League. The going of Cummings was the most spectacular moment of all as he deservedly was given the Joe Marston Medal.
Scoring the first goal of the contest and setting up the second, Cummings added two second half penalties to complete his hat-trick and set a club goalscoring record. But while the headlines will be dominated by the Scot striker it was a consumate, all-powerful performance from every one of Montgomery’s ebullient young team.
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On Network 10, an exchange between A-Leagues legends Daniel McBreen and Alex Brosque pretty much said it all.
“Who would have picked 6-1? No one!” McBreen said.
Brosque responded: “None of us. This is incredible. (Commentator Andy Harper) is speechless and he knows just about every word in the English language! What chance do we have of trying to describe this moment. Incredible.”
“I will give one oracle thing,” McBreen said. “After the Adelaide game, someone asked me, I think it was one of the KEEPUP people… Jason Cummings hasn’t broken your record.
“(I said) mark my words, he’ll score a hat-trick in the Grand Final! So find that footage and put it out there!”
The remarkable thing was the way the Mariners settled instantly, their apparent comfort on the biggest stage belying the lack of experience so many of them had of such pressurised air.
City by contrast looked jumpy from the start, an early clearance from Tom Glover sailing out of play as he waved an apology to his team. Marco Tilio found space for an early shot but hit it tamely into the arms of Danny Vukovic.
The epitome of the way Montgomery’s team wanted to own the contest came in the moment when Jamie Maclaren found a pocket of space and aimed to race into the Mariners box – out of nowhere, Nectar Triantis appeared with an interception that left Maclaren dumbfounded.
City’s nerves were hardly settled when Valon Berisha stood on the ball, and Marco Tulio swooped to send Cummings clear – only a powerful hand from Glover prevented Cummings from opening the scoring.
It got worse for Rado Vidosic’s men, in so many ways. Berisha was poleaxed as Vukovic powered off his line to punch the ball clear and limped from the contest, left to watch in horror as the Mariners took the lead.
It was a special goal too, begun in the corner near their own goal as the ball was swiftly moved forward to Cummings; his lay off left Nkololo in acres of space to lope down the right and cross the ball in low. Cummings met it on the volley and though Curtis Good was able to block the shot, Cummings had the poise to regain possession a couple of metres from goal and touch the ball past Glover.
Time and again the Mariners surged forward; Silvera raced clear and was twice denied by Glover, but moments later he would not be denied.
This time the architect was Cummings, battling Good in the centre circle and refusing to cede possession before sliding a perfect pass into the run of Silvera. Cutting across Nuno Reis, Silvera sized up the Mariners goal and passed the ball into the far corner of the net.
The champions were rocking and needed a response. As City probed around the Mariners area, Good found himself in an unlikely advanced position and flicked a pass towards Maclaren in the box, played onside by a momentary lapse of concentration by James McGarry and Kaltak. Eschewing the chance to shoot, Maclaren drove the ball across goal for Richard van der Venne to convert from close range.
Their relief was almost extinguished immediately as Tulio rolled a gorgeous pass for Nkololo to run clear, only for Glover – again – to deny the winger, and City needed the halftime break to regroup.
They simply had to respond, and it felt like a different team that emerged – utterly determined to strongarm their way back into the contest. First Leckie hit the post with a snapshot, then Nabbout raced forward and fed van der Venne to touch the ball past Vukovic, only for Triantis to gallop back and clear it off the line.
Sadly for him, Nabbout’s next contribution was pivotal – but not in a way he will care to recall. As Montgomery sent on Jacob Farrell, Silvera drove into the box – as the ball bounced madly, Farrell had his legs taken away by Nabbout, with referee Chris Beath giving an instant penalty. Glover delayed the kick as long as he dared, but Cummings nervelessly rolled in his side’s third goal.
The goal meant Cummings equalled Daniel McBreen’s record of 19 goals in a season for the Mariners, and moments later he had the chance to break the record.
Farrell was again involved, racing into the box and driving in a low cross that struck Callum Talbot as the City substitute slid across its path. Beath was satisfied Talbot had used his arm and pointed to the spot again; Cummings drove the penalty into the opposite side of the goal and celebrated a hattrick with glee.
Now the Mariners were rampant, and more goals followed. First Silvera cut in from the left and produced an outrageous cross with the outside of his boot, met at the far post by a thumping header from Nkololo. City were dishevelled and the substitute Moresche added the sixth by thumping a loose ball past the blameless Glover.
The premiers were in ruins, and the pretenders had taken the biggest crown of all.