In this week’s Retro Corner, we’re going back eight years ago to the day when all roads led to Gosford…
It’s easy to forget just how much Glory were the underdogs heading into the 2011-12 Hyundai A-League Preliminary Final.
The Mariners had secured the Premiership, losing just once at home along the way and conceding only 24 goals in their 27 games.
Having been pipped on penalties by Brisbane Roar in the previous year’s Grand Final, Graham Arnold’s men were determined to make amends and looked eminently capable of doing so.
They also enjoyed a dominant record against Glory who had never won a regular-season game in Gosford and to be honest, rarely even threatened to do so.
With a squad strong enough for the likes of Trent Sainsbury, Bernie Ibini and Daniel McBreen to be left on the bench for the do-or-die Preliminary Final, everything seemed to point to the Mariners booking another Grand Final appearance without too much trouble.
Glory, however, were more than happy to embrace the underdog tag.
Ian Ferguson’s men had, after all, already been written off that year when they managed to win just four games in the first half of the season and appeared more likely to pick up the wooden spoon than reach the finals.
But reach the finals they did, suffering only three defeats between January and the end of the regular season before accounting for Melbourne Heart and Wellington Phoenix in two thrilling home finals encounters.
And so the scene was set.
Following a tense opening half-hour, Adam Kwasnik made the breakthrough for the hosts, crashing a close-range shot into the roof of the net after the Glory defence had failed to clear a corner.
Before any gloom could set in among those of a purple persuasion, however, the in-form Shane Smeltz drew the visitors level.
Liam Miller played Billy Mehmet into the box, he squared the ball as Matt Ryan came rushing out of goal and Smeltz clipped home his 17th goal of a memorable campaign.
The hosts were always likely to crank up the pressure after the break and duly did so, soon earning a penalty after Steve Pantelidis was harshly penalised for what looked like a fairly innocuous tangle with Kwasnik.
Patrick Zwaanswijk, however, was unable to convert from the spot, sending his penalty crashing against Danny Vukovic’s crossbar, before Kwasnik missed two decent opportunities later in the half.
With both sides unable to find another goal in extra-time, to a shootout we went and initially, it looked as if a long night could be set to get even longer.
Glory were taking their penalties first and once Smeltz, Mehmet and Miller all found the net, McBreen, Alex Wilkinson and Ryan duly followed suit for the Mariners.
But after Dean Heffernan put the men in white 4-3 up, the whole complexion of the game changed in an instant.
Michael McGlinchey, usually the model of consistency in midfield for the Gosford side, lost his composure altogether and skied his effort wildly over the bar.
That meant if Glory skipper Jacob Burns could beat Ryan, the WA side would be heading for a first ever A-League Grand Final appearance.
It was never in doubt.
The midfielder’s run-up oozed confidence and Ryan didn’t even bother diving as the ball arrowed its way into the bottom corner.
Cue wild celebrations among the players and fans inside the stadium, scenes mirrored by the thousands clustered around TV sets here in the West.
A trip to Brisbane beckoned and the scramble for tickets and flights began almost immediately, but that is a story for another day.