The Mariners were beaten by an in form Wellington Phoenix 3-1 at Central Coast Stadium on Sunday in the 8th annual Pink Round fixture.
First half strikes from Liberato Cacace and Gary Hooper preceded a second half strike from substitute Josh Sotirio which gave the visitors a comfortable lead before Jair struck his first in Yellow & Navy to pull back a consolation.
Following on from last week’s difficult encounter with Western United, top goal scorer Milan Ðurić returned to the starting eleven alongside Daniel De Silva – ruled out last timethrough illness – and Lewis Miller, who slotted in to the backline for his thirteenth start this campaign.
The Mariners began with a flurry of half chances; the first a half volley from Ðurić which was gathered by Stefan Marinovic in the Phoenix goal, and he was forced into action again when Chris Harold latched onto a lofted ball from Eunsun Kim and fired at goal.
— Central Coast Mariners (@CCMariners) March 8, 2020
But with the Mariners seemingly on top in the early stages it was the Phoenix who struck the opener on 18 minutes with their first shot on target, as they worked a throw in well before a through ball from Ulises Davilla split open the home guard and found Cacace, and his shot squirmed under Mark Birighitti.
Josh Nisbet appeared to be bundled to the ground by Cacace moments later down the other end, but calls for a penalty were waved away by Adam Kersey.
The visitors grabbed a second through Gary Hooper just on the half hour mark, leaving the hosts with a lot to do.
The former Premier League striker raced onto a hopeful Reno Piscopo long ball before dinking his shot over the onrushing Birighitti and giving the Phoenix a two goal lead at the break.
The second half saw much of the same play the Mariners have produced so far this season, with several chances just lacking the clinical edge to find the net.
A shot from Ðurić found the side netting from close range before Jack Clisby stabbed a deflection just over Marinovic’s post as the hosts opened the half in strong fashion, and Alen Stajcic brought on Matt Simon & Jair to push for the elusive goal that would get them back into the game.
Again though it was the Phoenix who struck next, with substitute Josh Sotirio sent through on goal and he made no mistake with a low finish on the bounce from just inside the area.
Birighitti was called upon to deny David Ball’s snapshot and keep the margin at three, before Jair popped up to score his first goal as a Mariner with time winding down.
Sam Silvera fed the ball to the Brazilian on the edge of the area, and he dropped the shoulder before turning and firing an effort into the corner past Marinovic.
Attentions for the Mariners now quickly to Friday night, when they’ll take on the Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium.