|By HAMISH NEAL
A Bernie Ibini double headlined a commanding Central Coast Mariners performance as they dispatched the Wellington Phoenix 5-0 on Thursday night in Gosford to move six points clear at the top of the A-League ladder.
Coming into the match 19 points ahead of the ninth-placed Phoenix, the gulf in class showed as Graham Arnold's men extended their run of form to seven games unbeaten.
Recent Club Brugge triallist Ibini was a spark for his side all night and he bookended the goals on the half-hour and in the 86th minute.
His first came after a pass from Joshua Rose deflected off Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante and a desperate attempt from defender Ian Hogg ended up in Ibini's path.
Four goals in 24 second-half minutes to Mariners captain John Hutchinson (65), veteran striker Daniel McBreen (69), Ibini (86) and Mitchell Duke (89) helped the Mariners equal the club's biggest ever winning margin.
Prior to Ibini's first goal the Mariners had two shouts for a penalty turned down by referee Kris Griffiths-Jones.
The first came in the 17th minute when an Ibini cross struck the right hand of former Portland Timbers MLS squad member Ian Hogg.
Then, as the Mariners dominated the possession another chance came about during a flurry of action after Michael McGlinchey jinxed his way towards goal.
However, the Mariners' cries for a spot kick were denied but Ibini's goal a minute later eased the pain.
Wellington did have moments of brilliance in attack with mid-season signing Isaka Cernak among the action in the 36th minute, forcing a save from Mariners goalkeeper Mat Ryan after a long-range attempt.
Shorty after, a glancing header from Jeremy Brockie was goal-bound before Mariners defender Trent Sainsbury headed the ball into the crossbar before it squirted away from the goal.
Returning to the starting line-up, defender Pedj Bojic spurned two great chances in the 57th and 61st minute before the Mariners cranked up in attack.
The home side finally struck a second when 33 year-old Hutchinson's goal was set-up after Mile Sterjovski breezed past Manny Muscat.
This was quickly followed by another as McBreen scored his 15th goal of the season when he drilled a header home courtesy of a McGlinchey corner.
The Mariners kept a sustained attack up towards the end which proved fruitful with Ibini scoring his second after latching onto a ball from McBreen to finish with his left foot.
Substitute Duke rounded out the win in the 89th minute with his third goal of the season.