In a match that failed to reach any great heights, it was a moment of magic from Mariners defender Pedj Bojic that was enough to separate the sides
|By IAIN STRACHAN
Pedj Bojic's free-kick has earned Central Coast Mariners a 1-0 win over a lacklustre Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park, in one of the more forgettable matches to date in the 2012-13 A-League season.
Bojic curled home what proved to be the winner in the 51st minute on Sunday, one of few definitive chances created by either team in Melbourne.
Mate Dugandzic, left on the bench by Heart coach John Aloisi, impressed after coming on for Fred at half-time, but the bright spots for the hosts could be counted on one hand.
Josip Tadic will rue missing the Heart's best chance, failing to beat Mariners goalkeeper Mathew Ryan from close range in the 66th minute.
After contributing equally little to the meagre highlights reel, the Mariners can hardly lay claim to the tag of entertainers, but Graham Arnold's organised visitors kept their shape, suffocated the hosts, and can consider themselves deserved winners, albeit only just.
It was Central Coast's second win from four matches played this season, while Heart have now suffered successive defeats after going down 2-0 away to Perth Glory last weekend.
An entertaining start to the game saw plenty of attacking initiative from both teams, but produced few clear-cut chances.
For Heart, Matt Thompson was set-up by Fred three minutes in, but dwelled in possession and was quickly closed down.
Three minutes later, Michael McGlinchey surged forward and Bojic crossed, forcing Simon Colosimo to put the ball out for a corner.
The best early chance for Heart fell to Richard Garcia, who was played in behind the Mariners' defence by Dylan Macallister, but pulled his shot across the face of goal.
Those early forays faded away midway through the first half, the visitors happy to allow the Heart possession and relying on a compact midfield to deny the hosts opportunities to create.
In the 36th minute the Heart were forced to make an early change, Tadic coming on to replace Macallister who picked up a back injury.
The substitute almost made an immediate impact, narrowly failing to connect with David Williams' low, whipped cross.
At the other end, Central Coast carved out their best chance of the half with three minutes remaining.
Josh Rose advanced and passed wide to McGlinchey, who reached the byline and cut the ball back. Sterjovski connected with the delivery, forcing Clint Bolton into a smart stop.
Dugandzic, left out of the starting line-up in favour of debutant Ben Garuccio, was introduced by the Heart at half-time in place of Fred, the Brazilian veteran suffering from a tight hamstring.
Six minutes into the second half, the long deadlock was broken, courtesy of an excellent free-kick from Bojic, conceded by Garcia and Thompson for a foul on Tom Rogic.
The fullback rolled the ball forward to Sterjovski, who trapped it, allowing Bojic to advance and curl the ball beyond Bolton.
Five minutes past the hour mark, Central Coast coach Arnold made his first change, Bernie Ibini taking over from Sterjovski.
In the 66th minute the Heart missed a glorious opportunity to level the scores, Tadic foiled by Ryan at point-blank range after the striker was picked out by Dugandzic just metres away from the Mariners' goal-line.
Garcia did his best to threaten for the Heart, setting up Tadic on 71 minutes, only for the Croatian to be closed out by the Mariners defence.
Former Hull man Garcia then went far closer himself moments later, testing Ryan with a diving header from Marrone's cross.
Those half-chances proved to be the last incidents of note for the Heart going forward, and Aloisi will expect to see more from his troops when they travel to face Western Sydney on Friday night.
The Mariners meanwhile are due to host Sydney FC in Gosford on Saturday.