CENTRAL Coast Mariners suffered a narrow 1-0 loss to Western Sydney Wanderers in the Round 23 top-of-the-table Hyundai A-League clash at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday evening.
An 81st minute goal from substitute Labinot Haliti ensured the Wanderers extended their winning streak to eight matches.
Despite dominating plenty of the play, Graham Arnold’s Mariners failed to capitalise on the chances they crafted, and were left to rue their profligacy in front of goal at Alan Milliner’s final whistle.
The defeat ends Central Coast’s unbeaten run at Bluetongue Stadium this season, and means Wanderers leapfrog the Mariners into first on the A-League standings.
It was a cagey start to the encounter with relatively few clear-cut opportunities created by either side, as both teams tried to find their form in the wet and slippery conditions.
Nevertheless, the Mariners were in the ascendancy in the early stages and duly crafted the first opportunity of the game. In the 19th minute attacking ace Bernie Ibini fired a powerful right-foot effort from inside the area, but his shot sailed high of the woodwork.
Soon after, Shinji Ono failed to trouble Mariners shot stopper Mathew Ryan as his shot went high and wide.
The yellow and navy had a great chance to break the deadlock 30 minutes in, as the Hyundai A-League’s leading marksman Daniel McBreen unleashed a powerful shot from inside the box following a neat cross from right-back Pedj Bojic. Unfortunately for Arnold’s men, Wanderers defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley was up to the task for his team and cleared the ball to safety.
Central Coast started the second stanza the brighter of the two sides and had a few chances to open their account.
Indeed, referee Milliner awarded a penalty to the home team in the 51st minute following a challenge from Dino Kresinger on veteran defender Patrick Zwaanswijk inside the area. Unfortunately for the Mariners, Ryan’s effort failed to find its way past Wanderers shot stopper Ante Covic, the ‘keeper making a comfortable save.
Central Coast continued to press and came close to breaking the deadlock as Ibini made a marauding run down the right flank. Ibini stung the palms of Covic with a powerful shot that the in-form custodian managed to palm to safety.
Wanderers boss Popovic introduced Haliti for Kresinger with less than 20 minutes remaining and it was the substitute who would ultimately prove to be the hero for the away team.
In the 77th minute, McGlinchey made a good run down the left flank and found an outstretched McBreen. The Hyundai A-League’s top goal-getter connected purposefully with McGlinchey’s centre, but his strike rebounded off the underside of the crossbar and away from goal.
Haliti scored the only goal of the game with just under ten minutes remaining in the contest. A pass from his former Newcastle Jets teammate Mark Bridge released the attacker, who finished passed Ryan to secure all three points for his side.
Central Coast Mariners made several late raids on Western Sydney’s defence late on in a bid to salvage something from the match played out in front of a vociferous crowd of over 18,000 fans on a dreary Gosford night.
Nevertheless, lady luck wasn’t shining on Arnold’s team as the Mariners shifted from first to second on the Hyundai A-League table.
With four games still to play in the 2012/13 Hyundai A-League regular season, returning to the A-League’s summit is still a very real proposition for the Mariners. While the yellow and navy will have to rely on Tony Popovic’s team to drop point, Arnold’s men will themselves look to return to winning ways against Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium next Saturday 9 March.
Following the game against the Sky Blues, the Mariners travel to Japan to meet Kashiwa Reysol on AFC Champions League Matchday 2.
Central Coast Mariners 0
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Haliti 81’)
Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford
Central Coast Mariners: 1. Mathew RYAN (Gk), 2. Daniel MCBREEN, 3. Joshua ROSE, 4. Pedj BOJIC, 6. Patrick ZWAANSWIJK, 7. John HUTCHINSON (c), 9. Bernie IBINI, 14. Michael MCGLINCHEY, 16. Trent SAINSBURY, 18. Nick MONTGOMERY (5. Zachary ANDERSON 85’), 19. Mitchell DUKE (29. Nick FITZGERALD 67’)
Substitutes not used: 20. Justin PASFIELD (Gk), 11. Oliver BOZANIC
Yellow cards: Fitzgerald, Duke, Hutchinson, Rose
Red cards: Nil
Western Sydney Wanderers: 1. Ante COVIC (Gk), 3. Adam D’APUZZO, 4. Nikolai TOPOR-STANLEYM 5. Michael BEAUCHAMP (c), 6. Jerome POLENZ, 8. Mateo POLJAK, 9. Dino KRESINGER (7. Labinot HALITI 72’), 17. Youssouf HERSI, 18. Iacopo LA ROCCA (11. Tarek ELRICH 89’), 19. Mark BRIDGE, 21. Shinji ONO (10. Aaron MOOY 60’)
Substitutes not used: 20. Jerrad TYSON (Gk)
Yellow cards: Haliti, Polenz, Topor-Stanley
Red cards: Nil
Referee: Alan Milliner