Orlando Engelaar’s moment of magic wasn’t enough for Melbourne Heart, whose chances of playing in the A-League finals have been all but ended by a 2-1 defeat against Central Coast Mariners.
Heart’s marquee Dutchman struck a wonder goal from inside his own half to open the scoring but Central Coast won through a first-half injury time goal to Seung-yong Kim and a 77th-minute winner by Bernie Ibini.
After a dire opening half hour, Engelaar spotted goalkeeper Liam Reddy on the edge of the box and struck a sweet 55-metre effort.
While Reddy backpedalled sharply, he could only watch the ball sail over him and into the net, sparking jubilant celebrations in the 5,418 crowd.
Such was the excitment that surrounded the strike that Kim’s equaliser seemed mundane in comparison.
Referee Hiroyuki Kimura missed a foul by Matt Simon on Patrick Kisnorbo, who found Kim for the midfielder to steady and finish neatly past goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne.
With Heart going for a win, Ibini’s breakaway goal hit the Heart fans like a hangover after Engelaar’s goal had them punch-drunk.
Marcel Seip headed the ball into the path of Ibini on the right flank, and he rifled past Redmayne in impressive fashion.
The result was tough on Heart, who had the lion’s share of the chances – particularly through David Williams – but could not find the net in conventional fashion.
Williams blazed two first-half chances high and wide, while the impressive Mate Dugandzic had a centre cleared off the line by Zac Anderson.
Substitute Harry Kewell also saw two back-post headers saved but it was not to be for the Heart, who huffed and puffed without success.
Mariners coach Phil Moss paid tribute to his side, who travelled straight to Melbourne after their Asian Champions League defeat in Beijing.
“China in particular is a very tough trip,” he said.
“It was a performance and result full of courage, mental strength, belief, solidarity and all the things that make us such a good club.”
Heart boss John van ‘t Schip said Engelaar’s goal spurred them on to take the game to the Mariners.
“We had really good chances, to concede another goal almost the same way we conceded the first one, that’s hard,” he said.
“If you look at this game it’s more or less the story of the season.”
“Creating, playing, not punishing in the moment that we can and then conceding easy goals.”
Van ‘t Schip allowed himself to reflect on Engelaar’s goal but he couldn’t escape an obvious conclusion.
“It’s nice for the game but I think Orlando and I would prefer the three points.”