Luis Garcia magic not enough

By Corinthian (Paul Green):

Hyundai A-League – Season 11 – 2015/2016 – Round 16
7:35pm, Saturday 23rd January 2016 7.35pm – Central Coast Football Stadium

Central Coast Mariners FC 1  (Fabio Ferreira 67′)
lost to
Western Sydney Wanderers FC 2 (Mark Bridge 11′, Brandon Santalab 88′)

More than 13,000 spectators turned up at Central Coast Stadium when the Mariners took on Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday night.

That was a crowd figure well above the average for the struggling former Champions and currently last-placed team in the 2015-16 A League and while there was a sizeable and noisy contingent bearing the red and black colours of the Western Sydney team, there were  a great deal more in the stadium who were clad in yellow and navy.

Many of whom were drawn to the match by just one prospect; not necessarily beating the visitors, though that would have been nice, but to welcome new-signing, foreign marquee man, Luis Garcia, who was scheduled to make his debut on this occasion.

The former Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Liverpool favourite, now 37 years old, had been announced as a shock signing a week earlier and had only arrived in Sydney for his half-a-season playing stint on the Thursday morning.

It was a classic case of one training session, some quick introductions all round and then getting on with it.

The merchandise arm of the club had obviously been burning the midnight oil, as Number 10 Mariners’ shirts, with Luis Garcia, emblazoned on the back, were readily available at a substantial price and being worn all over the stadium.

All of this, sight unseen, with an unproven A League newcomer about to be unleashed on the enthusiastic locals and a visiting team, uncertain of the star man’s fitness, preparedness or indeed the ability to adapt at once to the local conditions.

Understandably, the Spaniard was named as a substitute, with an undertaking by the coaching staff to give him some game time, off the bench, at least satisfying those clamouring to see him in action immediately.

There was a huge cheer during the warm-up when a cannon was sounded to let Garcia know what he could expect to hear during the match every time his new club’s players found the net.

Apparently he’d asked for a demonstration, ahead of the game and got it, as he limbered up among his new team-mates.

The game was always going to be a hard one for the Mariners to win, the gulf in playing talent, the competing clubs’ respective budgets and form having much to do with that, but, undaunted, Central Coast took the field with some other less familiar names in their starting line-up.

During the preceding fortnight some of their squad members had been released, including Matt Sim, Nick Fitzgerald and importantly, the previous wearer of the prized number ten shirt, Anthony Caceres, who’d been transferred to Manchester City just days before.

Furthermore, key Irish striker, Roy O’Donovan, was suspended for six remaining matches and key defender, Josh Rose, was injured.

Recent signings, Francesco Stella and Matthew Fletcher were starting as well, so it was certainly a new-look Mariners that faced the all- conquering Wanderers.

The visitors had only skipper, Nicolai Topor-Stanley, absent from their regular squad, due to a one-game suspension, although the club’s expensive striker, Federico Piovaccari, was not even named on the bench for the Red and Black, amid rumours that he might be off-loaded during the current transfer-window.

The game was played at a frantic pace, for all of the first-half, with Garcia perhaps wondering if this was going to continue for the entire 90 minutes.

The Wanderers were dominant, causing huge problems down either flank, though still having to deal with the lively runs from both Storm Roux and Mitch Austin that kept their counterparts, Scott Neville and Scott Jamieson, busy as well.

All the same, for all their attempts on the counter-attack to trouble the Wanderers, the Mariners were under by far the greater pressure early on and had a lot of catch-up work to do, after a misdirected pass in defence, by Roux, was seized on quickly in the eleventh minute by an alert Mark Bridge to slam home for the Western Sydney lead.

The Wanderers were well in command in the opening period and did enough during the early stages of the second to suggest that they’d go on and win the game, having failed to extend their lead before the break.

But the arrival of star signing Garcia in the 59th minute immediately lifted the home team and their supporters, who got right behind the team.

Few expected Garcia to do much more on debut than show some of his skill on the ball and certainly not to play any significant role in turning around the team’s fortunes in this generally one-sided game, which it had been for the first hour at least.

Yet Garcia, holding a central-midfield position, was in the action so quickly that the Wanderers’ players barely had time to take stock.

They seemed mesmerised as Garcia became a major contributor to the Mariners’ cause, as if he’d been there throughout the campaign.

In the 64th he was there to meet a corner from the left and he was on target, too, only for the ball to deflect off a defender for another  corner.

Then in the 67th he played a sublime long ball towards the left of the penalty area, which Austin was able to get onto after running in behind the defence, before cutting it back to substitute Josh Bingham at the near-post.

Bingham wasn’t able to beat Wanderers’ keeper, Andrew Redmayne, but he’d done enough to force a fumble and the crumbs were gleefully picked up by Fabio Ferreira to level the scores.

The damage had been done and the Mariners grew in confidence, as Garcia again went close, this time from a free-kick from around the edge of the box in the 78th.

The Wanderers still had their fans urging them on, even as the Mariners began to go for the impossible; a win over their exalted visitors.

But all that unravelled in the 80th when Central Coast captain, Nick Montgomery, received a straight red card for a dangerous tackle on Golgol Mebrahtu, near the halfway line.

The ten men were then facing a few fresh legs among the Wanderers’ players, Dario Vidosic having made way for veteran, Brandon Santalab, in the 73rd, while the out-of-luck, yet highly-skilled Romeo Castelen, had been replaced by Mebrahtu, just moments before the Montgomery indiscretion.

Kearyn Baccus also came on in the 86th, taking over from Dimas.

The three substitutes then conspired to bring about the Mariners’ downfall and pull the game out of the fire.

In the 88th, with the Wanderers piling forward desperately, Mebrahtu did well to leave his marker writhing on the ground, before crossing smartly for Baccus, who’d played willing accomplice.

When Baccus tried to fire home it was the turn of the Mariners’ keeper, this time, to parry the effort and Santalab, as sound a poacher as the A League has ever seen, was there to grab the glory and the three points for his side.

It was a game most present would have certainly enjoyed and although it’s a cliche, the home team can certainly take positives from the match.

They were defeated by a side that went top of the league again with the win and yet the defeated team had a new man out there for half an hour who won the fans over from the moment he first touched the ball.

He’ll travel to Christchurch for the Mariners’ game against Wellington Phoenix next weekend and will again look to make an impression.

Before long, despite his lack of match practice, he looks capable of figuring for far more than the 30 minutes he enjoyed here.

And enjoy it he certainly did.

Match details

Crowd:   13,105

Central Coast Mariners FC: 1 Paul IZZO (gk);  2 Storm ROUX, 4 Jacob POSCOLIERO,  5 Harry ASCROFT, 21 Michael NEILL; 16 Liam ROSE,  8 Nick MONTGOMERY (c); 17 Francesco Stella (Luis GARCIA 59); 7 Fabio FERREIRA, 6 Mitchell AUSTIN (22 Jake McGING 86);  28 Matthew FLETCHER(19 Josh BINGHAM 65)
Subs Not Used: 13 Alistair BRAY (rgk), 15 Brad McDONALD

Yellow Cards: Jacob Poscoliero 38, Harry Ascroft 75, Mitchell Austin 81; Red Card: Nick Montgomery 80
Coach: Tony Walmsley

Western Sydney Wanderers FC: 20.Andrew REDMAYNE (GK), 12. Scott NEVILLE, 22 Jonathan ASPROPOTAMITAS, 17 Alberto AGUILAR,  (c),   3. Scott JAMIESON; 6. Mitch NICHOLS, , 21.  8. Dimas DELGADO (15 Kearyn Baccus 86), 18. ANDREU; 7. Romeo CASTELEN (14 Golgol MEBRAHTU 79), 10 Dario VIDOSIC (11 Brendon SANTALAB 73), 19 Mark BRIDGE
Subs Not Used: RGK 1. LIAM REDDY, 21 Jacob PEPPER

Yellow card: Dimas Delgado 53; Red cards: Nil
Coach: Tony Popovic

Referee   Ben Williams
Assistants: Owen Goldrick and Greg Taylor;  Fourth Official: Trent Nash

Points and ratings

Player points:
3. Alberto Aguilar (WSW)
2.  Harry Ascroft (CCM)
1.  Dimas Delgado (WSW)

Match 8/10
Pitch 6/10
Referee: 5/10

Report and photos by Corinthian