Our Central Coast Mariners have gone down in their Matchday 3 Asian Champions League clash against Chinese heavyweights Beijing Guoan 2-1 on Wednesday night in the Chinese capital.
Despite the loss, the Mariners can take many positives from the trip after defending with integrity and depth for the majority of the game, and showing valiant fight up front despite a lack of meaningful chances.
Nick Fitzgerald got on the board for the Yellow and Navy on 85 minutes, sending the Beijing keeper the wrong way from the penalty spot after being held in the box, however it proved to little to late as two earlier goals either side of the half time interval saw Beijing Guoan take home their first victory in the group stage of the ACL.
Earlier, a standout performance from newly resigned Central Coast stopper Liam Reddy kept the home side at bay for the majority of the first half, but could do nothing about the opener by Beijing right on half time.
Chinese international Shao Jiyai collected the ball just inside Beijing's attacking half and powered through the middle of the Mariners defence before firing from all of 20 yards with a blistering shot that found the back of the goal on Reddy's near post, all but breaking the back of the net on impact.
The goal wasn't without controversy, however, as Central Coast striker Matt Simon was dragged down on half way but the referee failed to award an obvious free kick, and the resulting turnover lead to Jiyai's finish.
The two sides headed into half time with tempers flared after a rash challenge on Nick Fitzgerald from behind on the near touchline did not earn the ire of the referee, but did earn Mariners captain John Hutchinson's attention who was quick to come in and defend his young player which led to the handbags coming out and a State of Origin like brawl ensued. The players did have the decency to withhold the punches, and it was broken up soon after.
Beijing striker Peter Utaka rounded Reddy and placed the ball home on 64 minutes to send the club 2-0 up, before Fitzgerald's goal made for a tasty final stage of the match, but unfortunately nothing came of it for the Coast.
The Mariners now slip to the bottom of Group F on three points, but an extremely tight group means the return match in Gosford on April 1 stands as a must win for our Mariners, as victory will send them (however fleetingly) to the top of the group.
HAVE YOUR SAY: How did the Mariners perform overseas and where is improvement necessary for our match against Melbourne Heart on Sunday?