Central Coast Mariners' grand final nightmares are over. After three failed attempts and a painful semi-final defeat, Australia's smallest club are finally the A-League champions after defeating Western Sydney Wanderers 2-0.
It may not have been the dream ending many had hoped for, but it was one that has been eight years in the making. Daniel McBreen and Patrick Zwaanswijk scored the decisive goals to end the Wanderers' remarkable run, making them the oldest players to score in an A-League grand final.
Both the Mariners and the Wanderers took their time to acclimatise to the tense environment but there were signs that neither were willing to rely on defensive shifts.
The Wanderers failed to replicate their high-pressing game of the semi-final and Trent Sainsbury punished their more relaxed approach with an inch-perfect through ball for Mile Sterjovski. The former Socceroo was as surprised as anyone to be played through on goal but delicately lobbed Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic with his first touch. The Yellow Army celebrated too early as the ball bounced off the top of the crossbar and out of play.
A counter-attack in the 19th minute gave the Wanderers their best chance of taking the lead. Mark Bridge burst down the left flank and sent in a swerving delivery to the unmarked Dino Kresinger. The towering Croatian looked certain to score but he failed to attack the ball in flight and spurned an easy chance.
Despite the intimidation of the Western Sydney fans, the Mariners were creating the better of the chances in the first half. A quick exchange through the middle of the park exposed holes in the Wanderers' defence and Josh Rose was free down the left flank. A driven low cross found Bernie Ibini at the back post but the delivery outpaced the young striker.
A nervous moment for Mat Ryan nearly unravelled the Mariners' strong first half when he was tackled in possession by Kwabena Appiah-Kubi five minutes from the break. The Wanderers winger spared the keeper's blushes when he opted to shoot early but his poor attempt was comfortably saved.
The Mariners' mounting pressure eventually eroded the Wanderers' defence on the stroke of half-time. Veteran defender Patrick Zwaanswijk rose the highest to meet a Michael McGlinchey corner and the 38-year-old Dutchman emphatically slammed the ball into the net in front of 42,102 fans.
The Mariners emerged from the break understandably composed and it took a 15-minute lecture from coach Tony Popovic to finally elicit the high-pressing game that made the Wanderers such a success. A clumsy challenge by McGlinchey drew the game's first yellow card and hinted that the Mariners were still far from home.
Western Sydney dictated the play for the first time in the match and created a number of openings as the Mariners held a deep defensive line.
Aaron Mooy - with his knee heavily strapped - combined with Mateo Poljak to control the tempo and tighten the screws. Rushed clearances, nervous tackles and a six-man defensive line indicated that the Mariners were far from comfortable. But that soon changed.
As Daniel McBreen surged forward on the counter-attack, a cut back wasn't accounted for by Jerome Polenz. The German's challenge resulted in the ball ricocheting off his outstretched arm, leaving referee Peter Green no option but to point to the spot in the 67th minute. With the haze from a flare drifting across the box, McBreen stepped and doubled the Mariners' lead and became the first player to beat Ante Covic from 11 metres this season.