The Central Coast Mariners travelled to Sky Stadium to face the Wellington Phoenix as football returned to New Zealand for the first time in almost a year in the Isuzu UTE A-League.
With the Mariners labelled as underdogs considering the importance of the occasion of Phoenix’s home-coming, they pulled out one of their best performances in history as they silenced the vocal home crowd and ran out comfortable winners. Béni Nkololo’s first half goal was added to in the second half by Jason Cummings and Moresche before Matt Hatch sealed the perfect performance with a fourth goal in stoppage time.
Nick Montgomery made three changes from Wednesday’s come-back draw with Western Sydney Wanderers as Storm Roux started at right back in the stadium he knew all too well as an All-White player. Max Balard was partnered with Josh Nisbet in the middle of midfield as Moresche replaced Marco Ureña up front.
From the opening minutes of the match, the Mariners weathered a strong storm from the hosts who were backed by a loud vocal crowd who were attempting to suck the ball into the back of birthday boy Mark Birighitti’s net but Wellington failed to generate a testing effort.
As the visitors then settled into the match, the passes found their mark and Montgomery’s men began to frustrate the Phoenix.
The Nix would have a big chance at one end denied by Birighitti which in turn set his team off for the opening goal. With David Ball bearing down on goal, Birighitti threw up a huge hand to deny the Englishman. As the Mariners picked up the scraps, Nicolai Müller controlled the ball, attacked into the Wellington half and spotted an on-rushing Béni Nkololo who entered the box and hit the ball in his stride and across Oliver Sail into the corner. A massive goal which swung the contest into the Mariners’ favour.
From this moment on, the visitors controlled the ball, and generated a number of chances with Béni Nkololo looking dangerous every time he got on the ball and Nicolai Müller finding space in the middle to try his luck from distance.
As both teams entered the sheds at half time, the crowd grew boisterous as they wanted the perfect home-coming present in a Phoenix come-back. What befall the second half was nothing more than complete dominance from the Central Coast Mariners.
Müller picked up where he left off in the first half and was next to try his luck from range as he saw his shot rise high. Max Balard found himself in similar real-estate to the German moments later and his shot matched the former Bundesliga player’s efforts as it troubled the crowd more than Oliver Sail.
The Mariners looked to turn the screw on the Phoenix and nearly had a second goal as Jason Cummings found himself inside the six yard box un-marked but the inch-perfect pass from Maxxy was on his weaker right foot and he couldn’t react in time to turn it goal-ward.
The visitors wouldn’t have to wait long to get their second though. Storm Roux was involved down the right with Béni Nkololo who played the ball into Nicolai Müller who found himself in space on the edge of the box. Müller paused with the ball at his feet and chipped a cross onto the head of Moresche who’s looping effort had Sail scrambling and beaten, but it cannoned off the crossbar and back out. Thankfully Jason Cummings was there picking up the scraps for the Yellow and Navy as he nodded into the empty net wheeled away with his famous Joker celebration.
Brazilian Moresche wasn’t denied for long though as he got his first A-League goal from open play thanks to beautiful work from Nkololo and Roux once again down the right. The Kiwi’s ball in made its way across to Moresche who volleyed home to silence Sky Stadium and show the Mariners are not out of the Top Six hunt just yet.
With the game well and truly in the Mariners favour, Montgomery was able to rotate a number of bodies, giving the likes of Josh Nisbet and Nkololo a rest after the heavy schedule through the back end of March and start of April, allowing more minutes to young talents Garang Kuol and Matt Hatch.
Garang Kuol has been talked about at large from those around the Mariners ranks after the impact his brother Alou made last season and in the cameos that Garang has produced this season, we can see why. This game was no different.
Garang late in the game showed the New Zealand crowd the talent he possesses as he danced his way through the Phoenix defence and fired a shot that was inches away from Sail’s goal.
Kuol didn’t stop there however as he picked up the ball in stoppage time and drew a number of defenders toward him, beating them with some good feet and releasing Matt Hatch who’s first time finish flew past the on-rushing Oliver Sail to make it an emphatic 4-0 victory to the Mariners.
A statement win from the Central Coast Mariners who continue to show that they are not to be underestimated this season as they spoil the home-coming party for the Wellington Phoenix.
The Mariners return home on Monday and will then turn their attention to the F3 Derby next weekend at McDonald Jones.