Max Balard running on a soccer field
Max Balard's crucial goal kept the game alive and gave his team the chance to secure the double of championship and premiership in 2020. Photo: Supplied

It was the Central Coast substitutes who made the difference, Matthew Hatch and Harry McCarthy both scoring doubles in extra time. On an evening of high drama, Mariners midfielder and UNSW Elite Athlete Program member Max Balard sent the game into an additional 30 minutes, levelling the scores after Will Hodgson had given the Tigers a 2-1 lead with seven minutes left in regulation.

There was a good tempo to the contest from the opening whistle, even though play started in very warm conditions. Both teams looked to play out from the back when in possession and press high up the pitch when defending, leading to a fascinating contest as they traded jabs early on.

The game’s first real chance came on 17 minutes when Mariners forward Alou Kuol raced clear and fired wide. Northern Tigers had their first on-target effort a few minutes later after Lachlan Lloyd and Nick Drummond combined to release Oliver Scott, who shot straight at Zenden Hart.

Midway through the first half, Tigers shotstopper Elliot Carwardine made a brilliant save to deny Kuol’s header as Central Coast looked to take the ascendancy. The Mariners defence were heavily involved and not just in a defensive sense, with Daniel Hall and James Bayliss frequently stepping out of the backline to support attacking moves.

Central Coast’s pressure paid off on 32 minutes when Kuol won a spot kick – he picked himself up and was ice cold from 12 yards, calmly rolling the ball past Carwardine for the opening goal. The Premiers would hold onto their lead until the interval, with William Foristal’s 35 yard effort the only other time their goal was threatened in the first half.

After the break, the sun began to set and the temperature cooled, however the action on the field only got hotter. Hart was again forced to save from Scott, while Damian Tsekenis headed over after getting on the end of Hatch’s cross.

In the 68th minute, Oliver Wiggin won a spot kick, giving the Tigers a golden opportunity to equalise. 2015 Grand Final hero Shervin Adeli matched Kuol’s earlier coolness from the spot, sending Hart the wrong way to make it 1-1.

Ten minutes after the equaliser, Adeli nearly turned provider when he found Lloyd in space, with the midfielder’s 20 yard strike flashing inches wide of the post.

Having levelled the scores with a player from their 2015 Grand Final victory, Northern Tigers then took the lead thanks to a ballboy from that very game. Wiggin made a typically mazy run into the area on 83 minutes, and when his low cross was parried by Hart, Hodgson was in the right place to slam the ball into the net, putting the Tigers in front for the first time all game.

However, that lead didn’t last long. Four minutes later, the Mariners won a free kick in a dangerous position. Balard produced a dead ball special to keep his side in the contest, curling the ball around the wall and into the bottom corner.

Max Balard celebrating scoring a goal
Balard is in his second year of a double degree in Economics and Commerce at the UNSW Business School. Photo: Supplied

Normal time ended in the most frantic of ways. McCarthy passed instead of shooting when a loose ball fell his way and Hodgson headed wide from Wiggin’s cross. Cameron Windust was involved at both ends in stoppage time, putting his body on the line to block Adeli’s shot and then heading over when Hatch picked him out from the left flank.

In extra time, Central Coast’s fresher legs began to tell. Mariners coach Nick Montgomery had introduced Hatch, Cahill and McCarthy during the second half and they would all play key roles as their side established a firm grip on proceedings.

Central Coast re-took the lead on 95 minutes. Hatch exchanged passes with Cahill and sprinted into the area, skipping past a challenge before sliding a low shot past Carwardine.

Goalkeeping heroics at both ends followed: Hart flew to his right to save Lloyd’s 30 yard thunderbolt, then Carwardine made an extraordinary double stop to deny Cahill and Hatch.

The Mariners ran away with it in the second period of extra time. It was 4-2 on 106 minutes when McCarthy glided past several defenders at the north side of the field, then cut the ball back for Hatch to slam a right-footed shot into the top corner.

Three minutes later, McCarthy’s close control was on show again as he weaved through a crowd of opponents and slotted the ball away to give his side a three goal cushion. The eighth and final goal of an astonishing match came in the 113th minute after another substitute, Louis Khoury, threaded a brilliant pass behind the defence – McCarthy made no mistake with the one on one chance.

The result capped off a perfect season for the Central Coast senior NPL sides: not only did they do the Double in 1st Grade, but their U20s won their Grand Final 5-1 against Hakoah Sydney City East, also securing a Premiership/Championship double.

Mariners skipper Daniel Hall was named Man of the Match after a commanding display in the heart of the defence, one which saw him frequently involved in attacking play as well.

Match Stats

Central Coast Mariners 6 (Alou Kuol 32’, Max Balard 87’, Matthew Hatch 95’ 106’, Harry McCarthy 109’ 113’)

Northern Tigers 2 (Shervin Adeli 68’, Will Hodgson 83’)

This story originally appeared on the Football NSW website