Mariners paying price for Sydney loss
Central Coast remain defiant they can claim the A-League minor premiership despite paying a heavy price for their dramatic 5-4 loss to Sydney FC in Gosford.
As many as six Mariners from Saturday night's remarkable NSW derby could be sidelined for the league leaders next week, with three key players already confirmed out.
Socceroos hopeful Dean Heffernan suffered the biggest blow, with the defender undergoing surgery on Sunday to have a screw inserted in his right leg after sustaining a season-ending broken tibia.
Joining him on the sidelines for the New Year's Eve match against Melbourne will be goalkeeper Danny Vukovic and striker Adam Kwasnik, both suspended after receiving red cards.
Worse still, Socceroos striker John Aloisi, midfield star John Hutchinson and attacker Greg Owens are also be in doubt, with all three to undergo scans on Monday on knee complaints.
Aloisi's injury was the most concerning for the Mariners after the World Cup hero was forced off in the 59th minute with a twisted knee.
After leading 2-0 before losing from the last kick of the game, Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna admitted the defeat would be "soul destroying" for his side.
But Central Coast skipper Alex Wilkinson insisted he was "100 per cent" confident the club would rebound and claim the minor premiership.
"We're going to pick ourselves up," said Wilkinson, whose side still holds a three-point lead over Queensland Roar at the top of the table.
"We're still top of the league, there's four games to go for us to get the minor premiership.
"So we might have made it a bit harder for ourselves, but I'm still 100 per cent sure that we can win the minor premiership and go on and perform well in the finals."
Heffernan's injury was a cruel blow to not just the Mariners but the 27-year-old's international ambitions.
After returning from a year in Germany with Nuremberg, the left back has been amongst the best defenders in the A-League this season and appeared destined to feature for the Socceroos in their World Cup qualifiers in February.
Instead, he faces a lengthy stint on the sidelines after breaking his leg in a clash with Ufuk Talay near fulltime.
"It's shocking that that happens, he was in line to get picked for the Socceroos," McKinna said.
"Heff gives 100 per cent effort, getting forward, getting in the box, having shots, he just typifies the team.
"I think the boys will want to do even better now for Heff."
The win sees Sydney climb above Adelaide and into the top four.
Despite triumphing in the most action-packed game in the A-League's three-year history, Sydney coach John Kosmina said it was vital his side backed up against Adelaide on Friday.
"We had to win that game to get in the four, now we're in there for the first time this season, now we need to back-up next week to make sure we stay there," Kosmina said.
Talay sealed victory for the visitors when he converted from the penalty spot deep into injury time.
But Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna believed there would have been no Sydney fightback had Vukovic - who received a red card in the 16th minute for handling the ball outside his area with the Mariners ahead 2-0 - not been sent off.
"We keep 11 men on the park then we win the game comfortably," said McKinna, whose side finished the match with just eight men because of Heffernan's late injury and Kwasnik's hand-ball send off which led to Talay's winner.