'It’s one of the best groups I’ve worked with': Birighitti praises teammates after penalty heroics
Penalty shootout hero Mark Birighitti believes his match-winning performance is a result of his quickly-formed connection with his Central Coast Mariners teammates.
Birighitti only arrived in Gosford earlier this month but has immediately endeared himself to Mariners fans after saving two penalties in the shootout to help his side overcome Brisbane Roar on Wednesday night.
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After scores were locked at 2-2 after 120 minutes, the Perth-born gloveman denied both Roy O'Donovan and Tom Aldred from the spot to send the Mariners into the last eight for the first time since 2014.
Speaking to the Mariners' official website after the match, Birighitti said: “I’ve loved it here from day one and the result tonight speaks for itself, I’m so happy for the boys.
“It’s one of the best groups I’ve worked with and I’m not just saying that for the sake of it.
“From day one they’ve welcomed me with open arms, and I enjoy going to training and having a laugh with these boys but at the same time working hard on the training pitch.
“I couldn’t be happier and prouder of this group and I’m proud to represent this club and play for this group."
After taking a first-half lead through Matt Simon's penalty, the Mariners conceded immediately after the break via Bradden Inman's goal.
Alen Stajcic's side then looked to have won the match in normal time when youngster Sam Silvera scored with less than 10 minutes left, only to give away a penalty a minute later, which O'Donovan converted.
That setback could have derailed the new-look Mariners squad but they regrouped in extra-time before some Birighitti brillance sent them into the last eight.
“The game kind of swung both ways. We had our opportunities, Brisbane had their opportunities and going into extra-time it was never going to be easy," the former Reds and Jets keeper said.
“After 90 minutes that extra half hour kills the boys and I kind of had the feeling it was going to penalties.
"I was just happy I could play my part for the team and the boys in that dressing room."
The Mariners have been drawn to play Victorian NPL side Hume City in the last eight, with the match to take place on either Tuesday, September 17 or Wednesday, September 18.
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