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Mar 25, 2012

Missing Premiers Plate irks Coast's Arnold

Proud Central Coast coach Graham Arnold criticised A-League chiefs on Sunday for not having the Premiers Plate in Wellington to present to his team after they finished on top of the A-League competition.

"I'll probably get called a whinger, but that's disappointing," said Arnold, after the Mariners sealed an achievement he rated greater than a grand final win with a 2-1 final round win over the Phoenix at Westpac Stadium.

"I don't care where you play, the boys have worked their arses off for 27 weeks plus pre-season, and it's not here."

Going into Sunday's games, holders Brisbane Roar were still a chance to retain the plate if Wellington drew with or beat Central Coast ahead of their own clash with last-placed Gold Coast.

But Arnold saw no reason why the trophy couldn't have been presented in Wellington.

"It would have been nice if it was here today. I don't know when they're going to give it to us now. I'd say the second semi-final at Bluetongue, but we've got a big game that day... We're focused on the final series by then."

At least the Mariners will be able to enjoy receiving the trophy before their home fans - and with close rivals Brisbane on hand - as the two teams now meet in the two-legged major semi-finals series with a spot in the grand final at stake.

And, as Arnold predicted, the presentation is expected at the second leg home semi.

Arnold's disappointment was compounded by the weight he gives to winning the six-month competition.

"It means everything. For me, I'm an old-fashioned person and I think the premiership is more important than the grand final," he said.

"It rewards consistency, it rewards the best team. We're the only team that's gone two seasons and compiled more than 50 points - Brisbane, they can't even do that."

Arnold paid tribute to his players, who have had to back up for two Asian Champions League matches at the business end of the A-League season, the latest just three days ago with a 1-1 draw against Japanese team Nagoya Grampus.

"The boys have run with that, but the Mariners only know one way to do it, and that's the tough way.

"Having to come on probably the toughest road trip in the A-League to play a side which has a wonderful home record and to win, that shows me a lot about the character of the players."

The Mariners controlled much of the match, with goals either side of halftime to teenager Bernie Ibini and English striker John Sutton giving them a comfortable lead until a superb 25m Leo Bertos free kick hauled one back for the home team in the 80th minute.

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