Late goals from Central Coast midfielders Daniel Bragg and Patrick Dixon have eased the Mariners to a 3-1 National Youth League victory over the AIS on a hot Saturday afternoon in Canberra.
Bragg was on hand to capitalise on a loose ball in the 78th minute, while Dixon struck in stoppage time, to give the Mariners the three points against a hard-working and resilient AIS team that probably deserved more for a whole-hearted performance.
The AIS started off on the front foot, taking the game to their visitors from the opening whistle.
They were presented with a gilt-edged chance to take the lead in only the fifth minute when a sloppy back pass put Todd Norris free in front of goal but the striker fluffed his lines and hit his effort straight at David Bradasevic.
With wide players Alexander Gersbach and Bright Appiah causing problems down their respective flanks the Institute were playing with a confidence that was missing from many of their earlier matches.
With Joshua Barresi finding space in the middle of the park, the Mariners defence had plenty to keep them occupied in the opening stanza.
The Mariners initial forays into AIS territory were through the width provided by Kieren Paull, with the Central Coast full-back causing issues for Darcy Madden with his direct running on the overlap.
It was the AIS, though, who deservedly made the breakthrough midway through the half. Liam Rose was given time to supply a cross from the right flank and, as the Mariners failed to adequately deal with the ball, it was collected by Barresi who took a touch and drilled a low shot beyond the despairing dive of Bradasevic.
The Mariners equalised against the run of play 10 minutes later when a cross into the box caused problems for AIS goalkeeper Jordan Thurtell, who failed to claim, and the ball broke kindly for Louis Bozanic to tap into the empty net from six yards.
After scores were locked at the interval, a spate of substitutions around the hour mark interrupted the flow of a keenly fought contest.
Mariners' replacement Tomislav Cirjak fired into the side-netting from an acute angle seconds after coming on, while Dylan Pickert, a first half AIS change for Appiah who twinged a hamstring, offered an offensive weapon with some neat trickery with the ball at his feet.
Thurtell was called into action with 15 minutes remaining as Patrick Dixon tested his reflexes with a thunderous drive from outside the area, before Cirjak replicated the effort with much less venom.
But the Mariners were pressing and, with 12 minutes left, struck the killer blow. A through ball should probably have been taken by Thurtell but the AIS custodian was leaden-footed and crashed into a Mariners' forward allowing the ball to run free to Bragg who thrashed the ball into the roof of the net.
Norris had a chance to give the AIS a share of the spoils in the 85th minute, shortly after the Mariners' Morton had headed against his own crossbar, but dragged his shot wide of goal. And, as the match entered the dying throes of stoppage time, Dixon stretched to divert a cut-back into the far corner and deny the home team any festive cheer heading into the Christmas break.
AIS 1 (Joshua Barresi 23')
Central Coast Mariners 3 (Louis Bozanic 33', Daniel Bragg 78', Patrick Dixon 90+3')
AIS: 1. Jordan Thurtell, 2. Darcy Madden (5. Matthew Schmidt 56'), 4. Benjamin Warland, 6. Matthew Ntoumenopoulos, 8. Joshua Barresi, 9. Todd Norris, 13. Jeremy Tshongo (23. Rocco Pizzata 58'), 15. Scott Galloway, 18. Alexander Gersbach, 19. Bright Appiah (21. Dylan Pickert 21'), 22. Liam Rose
Central Coast Mariners: 1. David Bradasevic, 2. Nikola Stanojevic, 4. Kieren Paull, 5. Hayden Morton, 6. Daniel Bragg, 7. Adam Jenner, 8. Dillon Vorster (16. Joshua Forbes 60'), 11. Louis Bozanic (10. Tomislav Cirjak 57'), 12. Patrick Dixon, 14. Jordan Crighton (15. Steve Whyte 58'), 17. Anthony Caceres