On Saturday afternoon, the Central Coast Mariners travelled to WIN Stadium in Wollongong to face the Wellington Phoenix. It was a tight contest in the first half, however the action intensified with three goals in 15 minutes at the start of the second which proved to be the difference maker as a valiant Mariners effort went un-rewarded and the Phoenix ran out 2-1 winners.
While the conditions were less than ideal, there was a strong showing of support from the Yellow Army in Wollongong and Nick Montgomery named an almost unchanged eleven from last week, the only exception being the introduction of debutant Damian Tsekenis for the injured Béni Nkololo.
From the start, the Mariners looked deadly on the flanks and Storm Roux whipped in many dangerous balls into the area. One almost resulted in the opening goal when it found the feet of Tsekenis who laid the ball back for Ollie Bozanic, but the midfielder’s curling effort was held by Sail in the Phoenix net.
A minute later and the same move was repeated; Roux to Tsekenis to Bozanic and again the number eight was denied by Sail once more, with the New Zealander pushing this one away from danger.
As the first half wore on, both sides cancelled each other out, but the final chance of the 45 would fall to the Phoenix who fired over from a corner.
As soon as the second half began, it was action aplenty. Mark Birighitti did well to deny Reno Piscopo from a curling free-kick, however the home side would take the lead from the resulting corner after the ball bounced around and Gary Hooper poked home from a yard out.
The Mariners quickly rallied and almost equalised immediately when Max Balard fired inches wide from 18 yards out but they wouldn’t have to wait very long to see the net bulge after Marco Ureña pounced on an under-hit back-pass from Josh Laws and stroked the ball home to make it 1-1 after 5 minutes of the half had elapsed.
Nick Montgomery’s men were now in the ascendancy and began to create many chances with Josh Nisbet going close and Tsekenis looking dangerous in and around the box. The next chance would come from substitute Matheus Moresche who set up Ureña, who again was denied by the impressive Oliver Sail in the Phoenix net.
Completely against the run of play, the ball would find it’s way to Josh Sotirio on the right side who took an audacious shot which clipped Jacob Farrell’s ankle on the way to goal, spinning away from Ruon Tongyik and Mark Birighitti and finding it’s way to the net, off the base of the post.
Once again, the Yellow and Navy pushed for the equaliser and almost had it when substitute Matt Hatch began unwinding shots from the edge which were deflected wide on two occasions when Sail looked beaten.
Ollie Bozanic almost curled one into the far post from a corner after Jacob Farrell chested the ball down to him, but again it was frustratingly off target.
The chances didn’t appear to be falling kindly for the Mariners as Bozanic had a free-kick clawed away from the top corner as the contest went into its final minutes.
Wellington Phoenix thought they had a third goal when Ben Waine stepped up to take a penalty late in the match but Mark Birighitti showed why he is rated one of the best goalkeepers in the league when he dived low to his right to deny the 20 year old from 12 yards.
As the six minutes of stoppage time ticked through, the Phoenix went into defensive mode and sat all eleven players in their defensive third, making it very difficult for the Mariners to break through the lines.
It wasn’t meant to be in the end as the Nix held on secure the three points as the Mariners look to Wednesday’s journey back to Wollongong to face the Wollongong Wolves in the FFA Cup.