Valentine Sports Park was the location for a pre-season friendly between the Central Coast Mariners and Wellington Phoenix, on Tuesday morning.
With the season fast approaching, Mariners Head Coach Nick Montgomery took this opportunity to blend youth and experience with a starting eleven that contained three players who grew up on the Central Coast, and six players who have come through the ranks of the Mariners Academy, many of which had been coached by Montgomery as recently as last season.
The game was well contested by both from the first whistle and Wellington started the better of the two sides, with a header from an in-swinging corner that floated into the arms of Yaren Sozer.
The Mariners, playing in their FFA Cup red kit, worked their way back into the match with a delicious Max Balard free kick, that bounced awkwardly in front of the Phoenix shot stopper, Oliver Sail, who did well to hold on with Tsekenis looking for a tap in.
Late in the first half, the Phoenix got a lucky break of the ball in a 50/50 challenge. The ball was then squared for a tap in at the back post, leaving Sozer helpless, to take the teams into the break at 1-0.
The second half continued to be a tight affair and as Montgomery introduced experience off the bench, the Mariners gained the ascendancy in the contest. Tsekenis went close from a Nisbet cut-back and Nkololo tested Oliver Sail on multiple occasions before seeing another shot flash just wide of the far post. The combinations were starting to produce chances in front of goal and the Mariners almost had an equaliser when Matt Simon rose following a great cross from the right but he was out-jumped by Sail.
These late efforts were to no avail as the game would finish with a score line of 1-0 to the Phoenix. This will be a valuable exercise to Montgomery who used the 90 minutes to try a change of personnel and following the match, will now have a better understanding of which youth players should be in his thinking for the upcoming Isuzu UTE A-League season.
Attention now turns to the Mariners’ last pre-season friendly against Sydney FC, before a trip to Mudgee for the FFA Cup Round of 32.