The Central Coast Mariners have carried their recent run of form in the domestic competition to Asia as they upset Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan 1-0 in Gosford on Tuesday night.
A stunning volley by defender Marcel Seip provided the scoreboard difference between the two sides, however a standout performance between the sticks by Liam Reddy layed the foundations for the Yellow and Navy to go top of Group F in the Asian Champions League.
A draw in Korea between FC Seoul and Sanfrecce Hiroshima means that the Mariners sit top of their group after Matchday 4 with six points from their fixtures with the trailing pack all sitting on five.
After playing out a spiteful match in the Middle Kingdom only two weeks ago, the Mariners showed from the outset that they planned to exploit the physicality of Beijing, earning four free kicks in the first 5 minutes. The last of which saw a lazy and late challenge on Korean ace Kim Seung-yong awarded controversially just outside the box with Mariners fans and player arguing in unison that the foul had occured in the box. Replays later showed that the Sri Lankan referee had correctly adjudged the dead ball to be taken from outside the 18 yard line, and the resulting free kick saw Kim fire a blank straight into the wall of defence and come to nothing.
The game never really gathered pace in the first half, with both sides eager to earn crucial points as we edge closer to the Round of 16 in the premier Asian knock-out competition. Beijing's attacking pair of Peter Utaka and Joffre Guerron provided constant harrassment to the Central Coast defence, however the most significant of opportunities were regularly brought to an end by the linesmans flag. Meanwhile, Bernie Ibini spurned two genuine chances for the Central Coast, the first of which had him play the ball into the side netting from close range, whilst the latter minutes later saw Ibini blast a relative one-on-one straight at the Beijing keeper after latching on to a magnificent Mitchell Duke through ball.
Reddy was called upon just before the interval, providing an important stop to prevent the Coast from conceding at the break for the second time against Beijing.
Shao Jiyai seemed a certainty to score when he ghosted in at the back post to meet a low cross from the far touchline. Just as it seemed a mere inevitability, the perfect positioning and strong arm of Liam 'Rocket' Reddy parried the ball away over the dead ball line. A scrambling Reddy almost seemed dissapointed he had let the ball cross for a corner after making such a magnificent save.
The Mariners keeper would remain in the thick of the action, and was called upon again on 66 minutes when recalled defender Brent Griffiths brought down a speedy Guerron with a clumsy challenge in the box. Beijing number 10 Zhang Xinxin stepped up to the spot, however he couldn't make the chance stick in front of the travelling faithful, as Reddy's low dive to his right allowed the keeper to deflect Xinxin's penalty wide of the goal sending the majority of the 3,316 crowd into rapturous applause.
The save changed the balance of the match in favour of the home side, as the Mariners upped the tempo and began to provide a genuine pressure on the Beijing back third, and unlike their Chinese counterparts, the Mariners took their opportunity with two hands.
A deflected Bernie Ibini shot fell to the feet of Nick Montgomery 30 yards out from goal. The defensive midfielder found Kim Seung-yong unmarked inside the box, whose intuitive one touch cross found a similarly unmarked Marcel Seip. His right foot volley left the Beijing keeper planted to the spot as the ball rifled into the back of the net and see the Dutchman grab his first goal for the Mariners since his arrival in the off season last year.
Beijing tried everything to level the ledger, but to no avail, as the Mariners held on for their second home win of the ACL.
The attention of the Central Coast now turns to Saturday nights A-League clash with Perth Glory in WA, where three competition points will put the Mariners in pole position to claim second place and a guaranteed spot in next seasons Asian Champions League for the third year running.
HAVE YOUR SAY: How do you think the Mariners performed on Tuesday night and who was your Man of the Match?