It was always going to be mission impossible for Melbourne Heart to make the play offs after their horror start to the season, and their faint hopes were all but mathematically extinguished following their 2-1 home loss to Central Coast Mariners at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon.
The win strengthens the Mariners' chances of defending their title in the A-League play offs, but this game will be remembered for one thing, and one thing only – an extraordinary goal by Heart midfielder Orlando Engelaar.
Anything Wayne Rooney – or David Beckham, for that matter – can do in a Manchester United shirt, Engelaar, it seems, can do in a Heart strip.
Rooney made global headlines over the weekend with his super strike from just inside the West Ham half as he lobbed the Hammer’s goalkeeper Adrian to put his team in front in their Premier League clash.
Engelaar will surely generate just as many plaudits – at least in this country – for a long range goal from his own half which soared over Central Coast goalkeeper Liam Reddy just after the half-hour mark – a strike that is destined to become a YouTube classic.
Engelaar may be well past his best these days, but his touch, vision, judgement and technique have not deserted him, The goal that put his side in front on Sunday combined technique and imagination with instinct and audacious improvisation.
This was a game that had been going nowhere for the first half hour, with neither side creating any clear chances save for one early opportunity that fell into the path of Heart frontman David Williams, who dispossessed Mariners midfielder Nick Montgomery before blasting over the bar.
Apart from that it had been heavy going – until Engelaar’s moment of genius.
Heart had broken up a Mariners attack and the ball had been cleared to Engelaar, loitering close to the centre circle inside his own half.
He didn’t bother taking a touch, instead letting the ball roll into his path. As he looked up, he spotted Reddy well off his line and chipped the goalkeeper with the precision of a tournament golfer hitting a nine iron on to the green in a major.
It was a perfect goal in one – little wonder his teammates mobbed him.
Heart had the chance to double its advantage before the break when Ben Garuccio’s low cross from the left was driven across the face of the Mariners goal, but Williams could not get a touch to what would surely have been a second goal.
The Mariners struck back just before he interval through South Korean import Kim Seung-Yong.
Matt Simon, whose robust and physical style often attracts the ire of referees, upended Heart defender Patrick Kisnorbo, himself no shrinking violet, but official Hiroyuki Kimura waved play on. Simon slotted a pass through to Kim who made space well before slotting an angled shot past Andrew Redmayne, who had been little troubled to that point.
Williams had a number of other opportunities to restore the advantage in the second period, once when he as played through by Rob Wielaert, another when his header from a Mate Dugandzic cross (after an excellent through ball from Engelaar) was saved by Reddy.
Its axiomatic in football that if you don’t take your chances you will be punished. And that’s exactly what happened to Heart in the 77th minute when a long ball forward was headed on by Mariners full back Marcel Seip into the path of substitute Bernie Ibini, who kept his cool before firing past Redmayne to give the visitors the points.