Seongnam beat Mariners 5-0 in ACL
With their A-League season over, Central Coast's Asian Champions League hopes were left looking grim after a dismal 5-0 loss to Seongnam Ilhwa in South Korea on Wednesday night.
Looking to bounce back from the disappointment of Saturday's domestic preliminary final loss to Perth, a weary-looking Mariners were totally outplayed on a frustrating night at the Seongnam Tancheon Sports Complex.
The result left the Mariners sitting last in Group G and likely needing to win their final two games against Tianjin Teda (home) and Nagoya Grampus (away) to have any chance of reaching the knockout stage.
Nagoya were held to a scoreless draw at home against Tianjin in Wednesday's other group match.
With the Mariners feeling the effects of a hectic schedule, Arnold made a handful of changes from Saturday's loss, with Mustafa Amini, Trent McClenahan and Sam Gallagher all brought into the starting line-up.
The Mariners were under the pump early but Adam Kwasnik almost put them in the lead against the run of play in spectacular fashion in the 29th minute.
The striker controlled Michael McGlinchey's cross brilliantly with an outstretched foot, swivelled, and unleashed a left footed volley that sailed just wide.
It proved to be one of only a few bright moments for the visitors, however, and some sloppy play saw them go a goal down in the 39th minute.
Oliver Bozanic lost possession just shy of halfway and the home side took full advantage, with Brazilian Heverton striding forward and finding an unmarked Lee Chang-Hoon to score.
Heverton turned provider again as Seongnam doubled their advantage four minutes later, looping a header to fellow Brazilian Santos, who finished with a neat volley.
Troy Hearfield and Trent Sainsbury were brought on after halftime in place of an injured Kwasnik and Bozanic but the Mariners struggled to find their way back into the contest.
Seongnam continued to piece together some impressive passages of play and could have added to their lead with Santos failing to finish a fine move in the 64th minute.
It mattered little, though, when Seongnam added another two goals in the space of four minutes.
Kim Sung-Hwan scored in the 69th, finishing superbly with a volley from a near-impossible angle before Santos scored his second with a 73rd minute spot kick.
The rout was complete when Santos provided Vladimir Jovancic with an easy finish in the 84th minute.
Mariners coach Graham Arnold paid tribute to Seongnam after the match and apologised for his side's performance.
"But there is one very good reason behind our performance," Arnold said.
"We had to play on Saturday night 120 minutes in a finals game, plus a penalty shoot out.
"The older players were quite physically tired because of the heavy schedule and we played with four 19-year-olds and an 18-year-old.
"So yes, I am disappointed with the result but I am very proud of the effort that my players put in after what they have been asked to do.
"It's a difficult task through the season of play to still only have a squad of 23 players, with three youngsters compared to clubs in Korea and Japan that have 35-man squads.
"... It's not an excuse, it's reality. Reality that to perform at international level, it is very difficult to play 120 minutes on Saturday night, travel all day Sunday and play against a very good football team in Seongnam on Wednesday."