Another night of football in front of the palm trees of Central Coast Stadium, celebrating the 10th year of the Central Coast Mariners Annual Pink Round against Steve Corica’s Sydney FC.
An important clash to setup the run-in for finals footballs for both teams, and with the Mariners coming of a 5-0 drubbing of Wellington Phoenix earlier in the week, confidence was high heading into the fixture. A first half goal from Sydney’s frontman Adam Le Fondre sent Montgomery’s men into the break down a goal. A second half of clinical finishing from Sydney FC saw another four goals find the back of the Central Coast net, a harsh score-line reflective of the overall flow of the game.
Nick Montgomery only made one change to his starting eleven, with the injured Noah Smith replaced by last years Pink Round star, Matt Hatch as Cy Goddard came back to the bench as he returned from his hamstring injury.
Sydney FC flew out of the blocks early, attempting to camp possession within the Mariners final third within the first five minutes – however, the Mariners would work their way back into the contest through the determination of Lewis Miller and Béni Nkololo creating chances for Costa-Rican Marco Ureña to almost bundle the ball into the back of Heward-Belle’s net.
Miller would prove to be too difficult in the early stages for Callum Talbot with a strong marauding run into the box combined with some fleet-footed touches within the box, unfortunately blazing the ball over the bar in the 22nd minute.
Sydney FC would find their breakthrough in the 27th minute – Le Fondre found himself with the ball at his feet and as he bundled the ball past the Mariners defence and he found the back of Mark Birighitti’s net.
The Sydney FC backline held strong and defended resolutely, but in the 35th minute Nkololo was almost able to repeat his magnificent finish against Wellington earlier in the week, as his left-footed curling effort from the corner of the box hit the apex of the crossbar and the left-hand post.
As the two teams headed into the half-time break with only a goal to separate the sides, it was quite the even contest with the Central Coast Mariners fans getting behind their side throughout the first forty-five.
The Mariners came out firing to begin the second stanza, Nkololo and Ureña working the space inside the box well but just unable to get a shot away within a minute of the restart – and just a minute later, Jason Cummings clipped a lofted ball to the back stick as the ball narrowly floated over the head of his strike-partner, Ureña.
It was Sydney who had their finishing boots on tonight – as once again Le Fondre was a thorn in the Mariners side, as he cut the ball powerfully across the box as Caceres bundled the ball home ahead of an outstretched Dan Hall.
The second goal of the contest called Nick Montgomery into action as he made his first substitution of the game, which saw Marco Ureña and Matt Hatch leave the field as Nicolai Müller and Moresche enter the fray.
In the 55th minute, Béni Nkololo fashioned a chance again after good work for Cummings and Moresche in the buildup – as the Frenchman’s effort drew a good save from Heward-Belle once again in the Sky Blue’s net.
Sydney FC’s Trent Buhagiar found himself in space on the counter for Sydney, and after holding the ball up he found the late run of Le Fondre to grab his second of the match – and just 2 minutes later, completing his hattrick after a clinical display of finishing.
The Mariners continued to push, still creating chances and holding possession – with Béni Nkololo forcing another brilliant save from the Sydney FC shot-stopper after a back-post cross, the Frenchman rose high and headed back across goal, but a reaction save denied the Mariners faithful a Central Coast goal.
Deep into injury time, Sydney FC substitute Bobo would close out the fixture with another goal for the Sky Blues – a disappointing end to a fixture where the score line seemed harsh on a Mariners outfit who held the majority-share of possession and created many chances on the night.
Not the result that the Central Coast Mariners had hoped for on the pitch – however, off the pitch around $15,000 dollars had been raised in support of the Mariners charity partner the Cancer Council, a true show of community spirit in support the Pink Round once again as sometimes, it’s more than just football.
The Mariners will look to regroup as they head to CommBank Stadium on Wednesday 13th April, as they take on Western Sydney Wanderers to continue the push to play finals football this year.