Marco Tulio stars again as Mariners seal passage to AFC Cup knockout stages

The Central Coast Mariners secured their place in the knockout stages of the AFC Cup with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Stallions Laguna in The Philippines on Friday night.

Mariners came into the game as strong favourites against the side bottom of Group G, but tough weather conditions as well as an unfamiliar artificial surface, meant a professional and disciplined performance was needed from Mark Jackson’s side and that is what followed.

The visitors controlled possession from the first whistle and got the opener midway through the first half through Marco Tulio. Substitute Christian Theoharous doubled the score after coming off the bench in the second half and Tulio wrapped up the scoring with ten minutes to go.

Jackson made four changes from the side that beat Western United 4-0 in the Isuzu UTE A-League on Friday evening.

Nathan Paull returned from injury to partner Dan Hall at centre-back, two other changes in the back four saw Mikael Doka replace Storm Roux and Harry Steele come in for Jacob Farrell in the left-back position.

The final change saw Will Wilson return to the starting eleven in place of Angel Torres, whilst Miguel Di Pizio and Jing Reec both maintained their starting spots, fresh from making their starting A-League debuts on Friday.

Mariners enjoyed large amounts of possession early on, Stallions goalkeeper Hayeson Hereda Pepito called upon for the first time just before the 10 minute mark, punching clear Wilson’s wicked delivery. 

We had to wait until the 23rd minute for the breakthrough though and once again in the AFC Cup it would come through Tulio. 

Maybe not quite on the level of his stunning strike on Friday, but still a stylish finish from the Brazilian as he perfectly lofted a bouncing ball over Pepito to make it 1-0.

Mariners wisely managed possession and conserved energy in the Philippine heat. They did need experienced goalkeeper Danny Vukovic to be on his toes on 33 minutes when a bit of smart play from Stallions presented an opportunity for Junior Ngong Sam, however our skipper stood his ground to make the save.

The second half continued in the same manner, with Mariners happy to keep the ball without too much pressure from Stallions. We gained even more control of the game when Theoharous’ deflected effort wrong footed Pepito to make it 2-0 after 64 minutes.

To their credit, Stallions didn’t go out without a fight and almost made it interesting when a free-kick was curled round the wall and off the post on 77 minutes.

The scoring was wrapped up though on 79 minutes by the star of the group stage Tulio. Another cheeky and clever finish, as he shaped to cross before sneaking the ball past the keeper at his near post following a neat one-two with Nisbet, was eighth in six games so far in the competition.

Job done in the AFC Cup Group Stages for Jackson and the team, but attention now returns to a tough, unforgiving A-League schedule which sees the Mariners fly back to Australia for consecutive away trips to Melbourne and then Brisbane in the next eight days.