Mariners back from the dead: Stajcic

Success-starved Mariners fans can look forward to a bright A-League future, says coach Alen Stajcic.
Success-starved Mariners fans can look forward to a bright A-League future, says coach Alen Stajcic.

There was to be no happy ending to the Central Coast's A-League fairytale this season.

But coach Alen Stajcic is confident the Mariners can write a successful new chapter despite suffering a shock 2-0 elimination final loss to 10-man Macarthur FC at Gosford on Saturday night.

Central Coast began the season as wooden spoon favourites after a horror stretch in which they finished bottom of the ladder four times in five seasons.

However the 2013 champions defied the odds to finish third overall this season, booking a finals berth for the first time in seven years.

And they looked poised to extend their dream run at home on Saturday, boasting a 3-0 head-to-head record against newcomers Macarthur - and a 6-1 goal aggregate - this season.

But the Bulls overcame the 75th-minute sending off of defender James Meredith to celebrate their finals debut with a win sealed by extra-time goals.

Stajcic cut a devastated figure at the end of the match but could see a silver lining.

"We have had a great season," he said.

"Some people have called it a fairytale but to fizzle out like that is very disappointing.

"It hurts a bit and a lot of boys are in there feeling that hurt. But I know it will make them bigger and stronger for the future."

Disappointment quickly turned to pride for the Mariners mentor when he reflected on their season's journey.

"It has been remarkable. I can't think of enough superlatives for the players," Stajcic said.

"They have brought this club up basically from the dead.

"We only have a small football staff. We have to make do with the barest of resources.

"For all of us to pitch in, fight for each other every week and bring this club up from almost the bottom of the ocean is a remarkable effort."

A cheeky banner reflected this season's huge turnaround.

Frustrated fans infamously strung up a 'Gone to the Pub' sign at Central Coast Stadium during the Mariners' horror wooden spoon run.

But on Saturday night there was a very different feel among finals-starved Mariners fans, with a 'Back from Pub' banner proudly flying.

"To have these fans out here back at Central Coast Stadium at Gosford supporting football is really the big win for the game and the club," Stajcic said.

He admitted his side missed injured skipper Oliver Bozanic (leg) in extra-time when they dropped their guard and the Bulls made them pay with Charles M'Mombwa's extra-time header finding the back of the net.

Macarthur iced the result through teenage substitute Michael Ruhs in the dying moments.

"We got a bit of our own medicine," Stajcic said.

"The moment we were on top and dominating, we got the sucker punch when we fell asleep for one second.

"After that we were chasing the game and we weren't good enough."

Australian Associated Press