Central Coast kept their Premiers' Plate hopes alive with a comfortable victory over Adelaide thanks to goals from Daniel McBreen and Mile Sterjovski
|By STEVE BARRETT
The Central Coast Mariners responded to a testing off-field week with a hard-earned 2-0 victory over Adelaide United at Hindmarsh Stadium on Sunday.
With the Mariners' financial woes in the spotlight and speculation of an interstate relocation rife during the week, Graham Arnold's men admirably continue to get the job done on the park.
A third minute goal to Daniel McBreen proved the difference with the Reds, winless against Central Coast since 2009, unable to muster an equaliser over the next 87 minutes.
Substitute Mile Sterjovski then added icing to the cake with a piercing strike well into injury time, with his first touch, having just come on for Mitchell Duke well after the 90-minute mark.
The Mariners' win keeps them in the hunt to win the Premiers' Plate, while the Reds will need to regroup quickly with finals just around the corner.
The visitors made an exceptional start and were quickly rewarded for their slick ball movement when veteran goal machine McBreen toe-poked one between the legs of Reds goalkeeper Paul Izzo on three minutes.
Following a series of silky passes, Oliver Bozanic dished the assist to McBreen who weaved past Iain Fyfe and finished from a tight angle.
It was McBreen's 16th goal this season, pushing him one ahead of Wellington spearhead Jeremy Brockie at the top of the leaderboard.
Under early pressure, the Reds made too many skill errors but they were not shy of opportunities to equliase, despite being well outplayed.
Tomi Juric drove forward with a solo attack on six minutes but, much to his frustration, had zero support and the Central Coast defence, with numbers, comfortably cleared.
Five minutes later, Cassio shot a long ball ominously into the path of Iain Ramsay, which was headed away by a Mariners custodian Justin Pasfield, rushing well outside his area.
Dario Vidosic and Jeronimo Neumann both took tumbles in the box four minutes apart, but their penalty pleas fell on deaf ears.
Otherwise the contest was on Central Coast's terms and it was almost 2-0 on 20 minutes when the outstretched Izzo had to leap to tip over a dangerously drifting Bozanic cross.
A golden opportunity went begging in the 33rd minute when McBreen's wonderful centring header landed in the lap of Mitchell Duke, whose relatively open close-range strike sailed too high.
Jeronimo provided some rare Adelaide dazzle in the 40th minute when, on a second-chance effort, the gifted striker cracked a deadly ball across the face of goal, forcing Pasfield to defend smartly.
On the back foot for prolonged patches, United came alive after the interval and went within centimetres of equalising in the 54th minute,
Ramsay pierced a low, swinging left-foot cross into the path of Jeronimo, who couldn't quite force the ball past a desperate Pasfield, who scraped it away, virtually lying on the ground.
Five minutes later, Ramsay was again in the thick of the action, this time almost pulling off one of the goals of the season, with a stunning one-touch volley from range, which smashed into the crossbar.
The Reds looked the fresher of the two sides for much of the back half of the contest until the Mariners found a second wind inside the last five minutes with Nigerian striker Bernie Ibini denied a close-range goal by a brilliant Izzo palm away.
A goal-mouth scramble from the resultant corner ended with another Izzo save, before the Adelaide keeper was again in the action, diving to stop a Duke strike from the edge of the penalty area in the 88th minute.
Sterjovski made an immediate impact and provided the exclamation mark with a goal after 90 minutes with a rifling shot from range for the rapturous visitors, who impressively withstood everything United could throw at them.