Mariners book semi-final place

Central Coast Mariners have booked a date with their rivals Western Sydney Wanderers after striker Bernie Ibini slammed an emphatic winner against a fiery Adelaide United side. It wasn't their most polished performance of the season but perhaps their most memorable as the reigning A-League champions contained then killed-off the free-flowing Adelaide to take a giant stride towards retaining their title.

The club from the smallest region in the league is now just one game away from a record fifth grand final appearance and back-to-back titles despite enduring their most turbulent year to date but will come up against their greatest test yet - the Wanderers at home a day after landing back in the country.

"We're obviously 90 minutes away from the opportunity to defend our title but for me it's just another ninety minutes of efficient football," Moss said. "I think when a team like Adelaide comes to Bluetongue and changes their tactical plan for the first time this season, I think that just shows how much respect our squad has got amongst the league."

The Mariners also tweaked their formation to a defensive line that was at times five-man-strong and their unity was so strong that that the Reds' best chance on goal came from a deflected shot that tested Reddy's positioning, but hardly his handling skills.

Adelaide's Michael Zullo was a constant threat down the left flank but became the first player to enter Ben Williams' book when he was cautioned midway through the first half for a hard challenge on Mariners right-back Storm Roux. It was a rare show of ticker among the tiki-taka of one-touch passes by Adelaide.

By contrast, the Mariners only looked like threatening through Bernie Ibini, who would drift in from the flanks with ease towing his marker in his wake and drawing others out of position. His work in the build-up of play established a number of slick moves but much like Reddy, Adelaide goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic walked down the tunnel at half-time feeling calm.

The at times five-man defensive line of the Mariners was abandoned in favour of a slightly more attacking plan, and it was Ibini yet again who looked the most dangerous. Minutes after the restart, he dribbled in from the right flank to cut between a marker, a move becoming his trademark, and fired a low drive directed at the Adelaide no.1

It was nothing less than just reward then when Ibini scored the decisive goal. Another thoughtful ball by Anthony Caceres to the lively Mitchell Duke ended up at the feet of who other than Ibini. Just inside the box, the powerful striker made amends for his earlier misses with an emphatic drive into the bottom corner of the net that drew a raucous applause from the crowd of 9045 that nearly drowned out the echo of the infamous cannon.

That goal forced a more direct approach from the Reds, who deployed four players in their attacking line as substitute Bruce Djite assumed the focal role. Djite almost scored an equaliser twice in the dying minutes, first by almost dispossessing Reddy and then with a stinging shot from the edge of the area. More late drama followed, but there was no equaliser, just a flurry of cards, vicious tackles and heated exchanges that left Adelaide coach Josep Gombau conceding that for all their attention, this season was by no means a success.

"We play good football, the players know the movement. Of course this is difficult but we're doing it. But successful? No. Successful is to be in the final, to play in Asia... for the first year we did the first step to put in the style that the players know," Gombau said.

This story Mariners book semi-final place first appeared on Brisbane Times.