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May 19, 2009

Mariners knocked out of Asian campaign

Central Coast's nightmare run continued as their Asian Champions League campaign finished with a disappointing 1-0 loss to understrength Chinese side Tianjin Teda on Tuesday night.

A 65th-minute goal to Tianjin striker Mao Biao ensured the Mariners finished a clear last in Group H, with just two points from six matches in their maiden ACL campaign.

The loss also continued their winless run in both the ACL and A-League that now stretches back 11 games to New Year's Eve last year.

Central Coast, without injured strikers Matt Simon, Dylan Macallister and Nik Mrdja, looked good in patches and dominated possession until Biao's goal came against the run of play.

The striker was released by a fine through-ball from Ma Leilei, then beat the challenge off Nigel Boogaard to coolly slot the ball past Danny Vukovic with his left foot.

The goal failed to spark much response from the home side in front of 5843 fans at Bluetongue Stadium, with headed attempts from John Hutchinson, Dean Heffernan and Adam Kwasnik all going wide to sum up a frustrating campaign.

Tempers flared late on, with Tianijn players dubiously dropping with regularity in set pieces, but their scrambling defence ultimately denied the Mariners an equaliser.

Tianjin, who are sitting third in the Chinese Super League, fielded a weakened side featuring only three players who played in their 1-1 league draw with Shanghai Shenhua on Saturday.

Biao had the first chance of the game in the tenth minute but his attempt was well blocked by Mariners captain Alex Wilkinson.

Adrian Caceres, playing in a makeshift frontline with Kwasnik, was lively early and came close twice in the first half, flashing a header just wide in the 27th minute and forcing a good save from Zhao Yanming with a swerving free kick in the 37th.

The Mariners did find the net in 33rd minute when Kwasnik turned in a header from Hutchinson but the flag went up for offside.

On-loan Sydney FC striker Mark Bridge was handed a rare start for Tianjin but was forced off in the 64th minute with what looked like a hip injury.

Encouragingly for the Mariners, former Socceroos winger Ahmad Elrich looked sharp in his first start in nine months after recovering from knee surgery.

Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna said the defeat had reflected his side's campaign and admitted he was somewhat relieved it was over.

"Tonight probably summed up (our games) ... we had the possession, creating chances, and then copping one," McKinna said.

"On stats we deserved to win the game, but stats don't win you games.

"Probably now at this stage it's `get it over, have a break and come back' ... probably now it's a relief (that it's over)."

McKinna said the club would now turn its attention fully to recruitment for the upcoming A-League season with Socceroos winger Mile Sterjovski top of the shopping list.

The coach criticised the Tianjin players for their late diving and time-wasting antics.

"They were winning the game and I don't think there's any need to do that," said McKinna, then praising Syrian referee Mohsen Basma's handling of the match.

"That kind of stuff it just brings the game down, and especially because the Australian public is not used to that kind of stuff."

Tianjin finished third in Group H and coach Zuo Shusheng praised his side's efforts.

"I am satisfied and I admire the performance of our young players in such a difficult game," said Shusheng, who said his players had not been trained to dive and time waste.

Korea's Pohang Steelers topped the group after upsetting Kawasaki Frontale 2-0 in Japan on Tuesday night. Tianjin Teda finished third with five points.

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