An inspired second half has seen the Wellington Phoenix hammer reigning A-League champions the Central Coast Mariners 4-1 on Friday night in Gosford.
Bernie Ibini’s 20th minute goal was cancelled out by Kenny Cunningham’s second half finish before a missed penalty from Mile Sterjovski proved costly for the Mariners as Carlos Hernandez, Stein Huysegems and substitute Jeremy Brockie all scored for the Phoenix who ran away with the game.
The result moves the capital outfit back into the top six whilst the Mariners now face a daunting away trip to Korea to face FC Seoul to open their Asian Champions League campaign.
Coming into the game on the back of three straight losses the Mariners suspended trio of Nick Fitzgerald, Joshua Rose, and Matt Simon were replaced by Mitchell Duke, John Hutchinson and A-League debutant Matthew Sim. Also, Kim Seung-young made his home debut with Anthony Caceres relegated to the bench.
Ernie Merrick’s men, having been humbled 5-0 by the resurgent Melbourne Heart last weekend promoted Reece Caira and Tyler Boyd with Matthew Ridenton dropping to the bench and Jason Hicks missing.
Both sides provided plenty of early fireworks with chances for Wellington’s Boyd and Huysegems whilst Ibini troubled the visitor’s early as did Eddy Bosnar with a powerful free kick.
After 16 minutes Wellington midfielder Cunningham was able to evade the attentions of Sim but could only head wide from Hernandez’s well placed free kick.
Mariners forward Duke nearly stole a goal moments later after a deep delivery from goalkeeper Liam Reddy saw Duke sneak past Wellington skipper Andrew Durante only to put his attempt wide to the left.
Phil Moss’ side’s effort was rewarded when Kim set-up Ibini in the 20th minute before the 21 year-old got in behind defender Ben Sigmund and then rifle home the ball into the right-hand corner of the net.
Despite the Phoenix dominating possession (52%/48%) in the first half the Mariners continued to control the game and Nick Montgomery had a long-range attempt miss late in the half as the Mariners safely held some Phoenix free kick set pieces.
Caught napping early in the second half after a great left-side run by Gosford-born Caira the Mariners saw Costa Rican Cunningham drive home the deflected cross to give up their lead after 47 minutes.
Seven minutes later a bizarre scenario saw Durante handle the ball in his own penalty area, when it appeared he was attempting to grab the ball in anticipation of his own side receiving a free kick.
Former Socceroo Sterjovski stepped up to restore the local’s lead but All Whites keeper Glenn Moss was equal to the task saving well to his right.
That moment spurred on the visitors with Hernandez involved in good phases of play twice in the six minutes prior to his 20 metre strike which snuck in under the crossbar.
Belgian marksman Huysegems scored his tenth goal for the season when he nudged home Cunningham’s header from across goal.
After his earlier penalty save Moss was superb again in the 77th minute when he tipped Sterjovski’s attempt onto the left-hand upright before collecting the ball to snuff out any Mariners looking for the follow-up attempt.
Six minutes after coming on the field Brockie finished off a ball from Huysegems as the Mariners defense was caught napping again.
A flat Mariners outfit had no response as the men in yellow and black continued to attack their goal looking for fifth but to no avail.
Central Coast Mariners 1 (Ibini 20)
Wellington Phoenix 4 (Cunningham 47, Hernandez 64, Huysegems 65, Brockie 77)