Mariners, Sydney FC achieve A-League goals
Central Coast Mariners secured their second A-League Premiers Plate, while Sydney FC ensured finals at Newcastle's expense in a breathtaking regular season climax on Sunday.
Both the Mariners' 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand and Sydney's 3-2 home victory over Newcastle were achieved after nerve-wracking final minutes.
Central Coast were seemingly cruising to the Premiers Plate for finishing top of the ladder after the fixture season, before a Leo Bertos goal with 10 minutes remaining put their spot on the line.
Needing a win to keep top spot out of the clutches of second-placed Brisbane Roar, the Mariners held on to secure their first silverware under coach Graham Arnold.
Only problem was the trophy wasn't there for them to celebrate - something Arnold was critical of afterwards.
"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," Arnold said.
Arnold was however thrilled with his side's endeavour to boss the majority of the match and set up a two-legged major semi-final against their 2011 grand final conquerors the Roar.
With the Premiers Plate out of reach, Brisbane rested several key players but still beat Gold Coast United 2-1 on Sunday night.
"The heartbreak of the grand final loss, it's removed a fair bit of the scar tissue today," Arnold said.
"I'm so proud of the players."
Sydney FC's win in their shootout with Newcastle Jets was an edge-of-the-seat affair from kickoff.
Four goals in the first half left the Sky Blues leading 3-1 at halftime, before Jets midfielder Jobe Wheelhouse set the match alight with an 84th minute goal.
The Jets needed only a draw to make the top six, Sydney a win.
But eventually the Sky Blues - for whom Socceroo Brett Emerton was outstanding and young striker Joel Chianese scored twice - grabbed a deserved win to finish fifth and set up an elimination final on Friday night away to fourth-placed Wellington.
Newcastle's season is over.
Coach Vitezslav Lavicka, whose last match will now be any Sydney FC finals loss, believes his side can be a finals wrecking ball after their "most important performance" of the season.
Their only chance of a return to Sydney is winning three games away from home, then hoping they play Central Coast in the grand final - a match likely to be in Sydney if the Mariners win hosting rights.
"In the finals, I think anything can happen here in the A-League," Lavicka said.
"We are travelling far away to Wellington which means we need a quick recovery because we fly out Wednesday.
"But after a performance like this I think it's easy to get ready again.
"Someone said to me: `This is your last game (in) Sydney' and I said 'who knows?'.
"Anything can happen. Maybe some day we can play back in Sydney, that's the target for us."
Third-placed Perth Glory will host sixth-placed Melbourne Heart on Sunday in the other elimination final.
Perth hammered a poor Melbourne Victory 4-2 in their last fixture match, while the Heart drew with Adelaide United 1-1.