Brisbane win right to host the grand final after first-half scare

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Second half goals to Thomas Broich and Henrique rescued Brisbane Roar after two goals in a minute from Central Coast leveled the tie in a mouth-watering match in front of 25,168 fans at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.

Daniel McBreen’s strike in the 39th minute was followed by a wonder-goal from Oliver Bozanic as the Mariners made the impossible seem possible, bringing the aggregate score to 2-2. Broich’s intelligent goal in the 63rd minute provided the lead for Brisbane before Henrique’s 91st minute goal kept Brisbane’s unbeaten streak going.

The 4-2 aggregate win means the final will be played at Suncorp. While Brisbane didn’t have their best game technically the conclusion is deserved after a remarkable season.

A rigid zonal marking defensive structure was, much like in the 3-3 draw between these two sides earlier this season, the base of the Mariners game-plan. With three flat lines of defence and disciplined positioning the away side were able to nullify the threat of Brisbane’s creativity while keeping the game running at a slow and pedestrian pace. The only chances of the opening 15 minutes were a reaction snap-shot by McBreen and a Patrico Perez strike flying horribly over the crossbar.

The Mariners didn’t press Brisbane in a vain attempt to regain possession. The home-sides quick passing and physic movement craved that. Instead Central Coast sat deep and allowed Brisbane to hold possession in unthreatening positions of the pitch. When the visitors did press – Patrick Zwaansijk trying to halt Broich – Brisbane had their first chance. Kosta Barbarouses was slid through into the vacant space with a brilliantly weighted ball but failed to beat Ryan with his low shot.

With the match trawling along and the Brisbane attacking trio struggling to break the Mariners defensive hold, Ivan Franjic and Shane Steffanuto began to get forward and thus allowed the Brisbane wingers to pack the space in the center. A Franjic cross almost allowed Broich a free header but Ryan got to the ball first, only for his punch to fall to Matt Mckay who volleyed over the bar. The Roar defenders continued threatening in attack with Smith getting on the end of a corner, but the center back headed wide.

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Brisbane had a newly found attacking buzz and began to look more and more likely to score a pivotal third goal to practically end the tie. So when McBreen blocked Jean Carlos Solorzano’s header on the line after half an hour of play, the visitors breathed a huge sigh of relief. The Mariners knew they had used up all their get out of jail cards. With a defiant puff they came back at Brisbane with a sense of determination and courage.

Perez, in space in the center of the pitch, ran at the Roar with step-overs and dominance which demanded uncertainty. Instead of continuing with the run he passed to Bozanic on the wing. The low cross which proceeded found McBreen on the six yard box and his first touch rounded a flat-footed Milan Susak. McBreen’s bullet shot from a tight angle thundered against Michael Theoklitos and the rebound hit Matt Smith and then the back of the net. It was crushing for Brisbane but that was hardly the killer blow.

Just a minute later, with five left in the half, Perez and Bozanic teamed up again. Perez’s run drew two defenders before the playmaker found Bozanic in the space created. What followed was a brilliant accurate curved shot that beat Theoklitos and sent the Mariners into a state of euphoria as they levelled the tie and began to believe.

The early chances of the second half fell to Central Coast. Half-chances at most, maybe, but still a more positive intent than the home-side who, extremely uncharacteristically, often lost possession with loose passes. McBreen had an on-the-turn header easily caught before Adam Kwasnik had an effort blasted over the bar.

But, against the run of play, similar to the Mariners two goals, it was Brisbane who struck next. Broich, who moved to the right of midfield after the removal of Nichols, overlapped Franjic and no-one looked bothered in attempting to halt the German has he calmly dribbled down the by-line before firing past a poorly position Ryan. Leaving his near post open the young Mariners goalkeeper left an inviting offer too enticing to pass up.

The Mariners knew they needed just one goal to win the tie on away goals and remained defiant. A spectacular backwards header from McBreen was only bettered by Theoklitos’s save as the Brisbane shot-stopped dove low to his left to dent Central Coast’s spirits.

An ultra-defensive mindset just isn’t in Brisbane’s blood and it was on display again. Despite having the aggregate lead the home side continued to attack. Rather than sitting back, the gaps opening up in the Central Coast midfield – brought upon by their desperate attacking – was too attractive for the Roar as they tried to hit the Mariners on the counter.

The exciting young striker Bernie Ibini-isei was brought on as the Mariners played an extremely high line and pushed men forward in the final 10 minutes of the tie. A disciplined back four caught the Roar attackers offside on numerous occasions but one lazy foot a little too slow to push forward would see the end of the Mariners in this fixture. The other worry for Central Coast was the space Brisbane was able to exploit.

Barbarouses took advantage of this space as he cut past two defenders to release himself on goal but Ryan was too quick as he blocked the shot before it barely even left Barbarouses’s foot. Although there was nothing Ryan could do when Brisbane ensured their unbeaten record remained intact thanks to the right foot of Henrique.

Despite holding onto their aggregate lead for dear life Brisbane had five men forward against the Mariners three defenders. Franjic, still making gut-busting runs, easily found Henrique on the edge of the area. It got worse for the Mariners when Bojic received a second yellow just a minute from the final whistle.

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