|By HAMISH NEAL
Central Coast Mariners midfielder Michael McGlinchey scored a hat-trick and striker Mitchell Duke a double as the Gosford side regained the A-League lead by defeating Melbourne Victory 6-2 on a rain-sodden night at Bluetongue Stadium.
Coming into the match, the Mariners had lost top spot after the Western Sydney Wanderers defeated Perth 1-0 earlier in the day in Parramatta
McGlinchey's hat-trick came in 34 second-half minutes but it was Duke, who was elevated to the starting line-up in place of veteran forward Mile Sterjovski, who repaid the faith shown in him by coach Graham Arnold, scoring a double and having a hand in another which set up the result.
Both sides failed to adjust to the conditions early on with 50 millimetres of rain having fallen in Gosford between 9am and kick-off, as 10 fouls were conceded in the first 13 minutes of the fixture.
But the Mariners broke through when Bernie Ibini set up his fellow striker in the 17th minute after a Pedj Bojic pass. Victory shot-stopper Nathan Coe advanced towards Ibini in an attempt close the play down but was left stranded and Duke flicked the ball home despite the attention of two Victory defenders.
Ange Postecoglou's men had their first chance when Francesco Stella, in his second start, shot wide on 20 minutes.
After his opening goal, 22 year-old Duke was the centre of attention, conceding a foul inside the penalty box on Daniel Mullen to hand the visitors a spot-kick on 23 minutes.
Socceroo Mark Milligan calmly slotted home to the right-hand corner despite the best efforts of Mariners goalkeeper Matt Ryan.
The usually dependable Coe was embarrassed again for the Mariners second as Duke made amends in the 32nd minute.
The pacey striker rounded three-cap Socceroo Coe after a great pass from Josh Rose to restore the Mariners' lead.
Heavy rain persisted in the second half, as did the swirling wind, and the Mariners doubled their lead in the 56th minute after Scott Galloway failed to intercept a pass from Duke.
The 17 year-old's error only served to play the ball into the path of New Zealand international McGlinchey who scored the opening goal of his first ever top-flight hat-trick.
Daniel McBreen spurned a chance for a three-goal lead when he failed to convert a 66th-minute penalty which came about following an Adama Traore foul on McGlinchey.
Three minutes later Melbourne were fortuitous as a cross from substitute Diogo Ferreira was mishandled by Ryan and parried into defender Trent Sainsbury, who was cruelly credited with an own goal.
Substitute Nick Fitzgerald then got onto the scoresheet nine minutes from time before McGlinchey's second and third goals rounded out the 6-2 triumph.
The result will give the Mariners the perfect boost as they head into their first game of the Asian Champions League at home on Wednesday night against Korean side Suwon Bluewings.