The Central Coast Mariners played in Ballarat for the first time as they took on high flying Western United in the Isuzu UTE A-League Men’s on Saturday afternoon.
After the Mariners took a first half lead through Jason Cummings, Western would reply with an own goal and an Aleksander Prijovic header which pegged the visitors back.
Jason Cummings would not be out-done as he replied almost instantly and then was involved late on, finding his penalty saved by Jamie Young in goal as both sides shared the points.
The Mariners and Western United came into this match in differing form with the visitors unbeaten in five, travelling to Victoria looking for their first win in eight years. Western on the other hand have stalled a little after their impressive start to the campaign.
Nick Montgomery’s Central Coast Mariners were forced into a number of changes with injuries and sickness plaguing the squad this week, as Brad Tapp, Academy captain, earnt a deserving call up to the bench.
The Mariners started well as Jason Cummings fielded an early effort wide and were resolute in defence at the other end as Jacob Farrell blocked twice and Noah Smith header one over the top from milestone man Nikolai Topor-Stanley in game number 359, the most in A-League history.
Nick Montgomery has the Mariners playing some beautiful football this season and that almost came to fruition as Nisbet combined with Farrell and Noah Smith on the left and wandered his way into the area, sadly unable to find a free Marco Ureña with his final pass.
After Mark Birighitti saved well from Lachie Wales from close range, at the other end, Cummings would have the ball in the back of the net after Béni Nkololo’s low driven cross, however the flag was correctly up for offside in the build-up. Cummings wouldn’t have to wait much longer for his first goal outside of New South Wales though.
From a Noah Smith corner, Cummings was unmarked inside the six yard box and after Jamie Young missed his punch, the Scot turned Australian, was quick to nod the ball down off his thigh and into the net for the opening goal. VAR would check for a handball but no hand was seen from the former Rangers striker and the Mariners would head into the sheds ahead.
After such an impressive first half, the Mariners were pegged back early in the second as Noah Smith attempted to get his head on a Western United free-kick, haphazardly looping the ball over the top of Mark Birighitti who couldn’t prevent it from finding the net.
Western United had the momentum early in the second half and would score a goal out of nothing with the brilliant movement from Aleksander Prijovic who peeled off the back of Kye Rowles and nodded a Lachie Wales cross past Birighitti.
A response was needed from the Mariners and they did so instantly from Jason Cummings who combined with Noah Smith on the left, marauded his way into the box and rifled a shot into the bottom corner of Jamie Young’s net to the delight of the 26-year-old. He was now on a hat-trick and eager for more goals.
Marco Ureña had one of his quieter games in recent weeks but sprung to life late on as he almost swivelled and dispatched a Max Balard header on the volley.
After Cummings hit the side netting from a delicious Josh Nisbet pass, he would get the chance for his hat-trick from the spot.
Ureña was involved with contact from Leo Lacroix who appeared to choke the Costa Rican as the ball floated onto the head of Jacob Farrell at the back post. Farrell’s header landed on the roof of the net and then attention turned to the prone Mariners striker, who, upon review of the play, was adjudged to have been choked by Leo Lacroix and referee Lachlan Keevers pointed to the spot.
Jason Cummings wanted the ball and strode up with confidence for his first hat-trick in Australia but he was met by a plunging Jamie Young who saved the blushes of Lacroix ensuring that both teams left Mars Stadium with a share of the spoils with a fine penalty save.
The visitors now travel back home to the Central Coast and will face Wellington Phoenix on Tuesday night at Central Coast Stadium.