Mariners draw with Pohang Steelers
Central Coast claimed a point from their first Asian Champions League match after holding on for a 0-0 draw against Korea's Pohang Steelers at Bluetongue Stadium on Wednesday night.
While disappointed not to have made the most of their home ground advantage, the Mariners would be relieved to come away with a share of the points after the visitors blew two clear-cut chances in the second half.
The result at least snapped a seven-game losing streak for Central Coast, who lost their last five A-League matches and two friendlies in China in preparation for this tournament.
But it did continue the trend of A-League sides struggling to score against Asian opposition after Newcastle's 2-0 loss to Beijing Guoan on Tuesday and a domestic-based Socceroos side's 1-0 defeat to Kuwait last week.
The Mariners, without striker Dylan Macallister due to a virus he picked up in China, defended well under pressure but failed to make the most of the few chances they had in front of a small crowd of 6,870.
Socceroos striker Matt Simon had the Gosford side's best opportunities but ultimately lacked composure in front of goal.
The first real chance of a scrappy first half did not come until the 19th minute when crafty Pohang midfielder Kim Jaesung blasted a volley over the bar from inside the box.
The home side had cries for a penalty turned down in the 24th minute when Korean international Choi Hyojin looked to have hand balled in the box, but Simon should have put them ahead two minutes later.
The big frontman collected a clever ball from strike partner Nik Mrdja and steadied well before blasting a low drive straight into the arms of Steelers goalkeeper Shin Hwa Yong.
Simon was again in the thick of the action in the 39th minute but could not get the necessary power or direction on a header from a fine Pedj Bojic cross.
Korean FA Cup champions Pohang looked the better side for most of the second half and would be ruing two wasted chances in particular.
The first came in the 61st minute when Macedonian international Stevicka Ristik blasted a powerful header over the bar from point-blank range off a corner from Kim Jaesung.
They had another golden chance in the 72nd minute when defender Kim Kwangsuk headed just wide after intercepting a powerful shot from Brazilian substitute Denilson.
Mariners goalkeeper Danny Vukovic had barely needed to make a save all match until he tipped over a long-range stunner from Hyojin in stoppage time.
Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna was most pleased that his side had kept the Koreans scoreless, finally plugging a defence which had leaked 16 goals in its last seven games.
"Overall with the run we've had, not conceding a goal is a big start for us and I think we can build on that as we go through now," McKinna said.
"The first game's always the hard one, we don't know a lot about them ... but once we got going we looked reasonably comfortable throughout the game.
"We're happy with a draw ... we probably thought we deserved a wee bit more, but comfortable with a draw."
McKinna was also confident the result put his side's horror form slump behind them and expected them to improve further when they travel to China next week to face Tianjin Teda.
Macallister is expected to recover in time for that match.
Pohang's Brazilian coach Sergio Farias was not as pleased with the draw, saying his side was not at 100 per cent because it had come into the match on the back of two tough K-League matches.
"Even though this was an away game we were expecting to win this game so I'm not quite happy to draw," Farias said through a translator.
"I'm not quite satisfied with the draw result but I'm sure that we can win the (return) game in Korea."