|By JOHN GRECO
Sydney FC have moved back into the A-League's top six – and seriously dented Central Coast's Premier's Plate hopes – after a well-deserved 2-0 win at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
A goal in either half to defender Sebastian Ryall and substitute Joel Chianese was enough for the Sky Blues to snap their two-game losing streak and breathe life into their finals hopes.
The priceless victory – Sydney's sixth straight in front of their home fans - has seen Frank Farina's troops jump from ninth up to fifth on the A-League ladder with three games to play.
The Sky Blues could still drop out of the finals places this weekend if both the Melbourne Heart and Brisbane Roar pick up wins in their matches.
But they will be relieved to have defeated the Mariners for the second time this season to ensure their top six hopes remain in their own hands.
For the Central Coast, it was the first time this season they have lost back-to-back matches and the Western Sydney Wanderers could put one hand on the minor premiership if they beat Wellington on Sunday.
With their season on the line, Sydney made the brighter start with Alessandro Del Piero at the centre of most of their penetrating attacking play.
But it was the unlikely source of Ryall that gave the Sky Blues the opening goal on 25 minutes to send the crowd of 16,155 into raptures.
Skipper Terry McFlynn found the right-back with a cross-field pass, with Ryall cutting inside of Josh Rose before getting in a shot which deflected off Trent Sainsbury and rolled into the corner of the net.
It was the defender's third goal of the season and first-ever in front of his home fans.
The Mariners immediately looked to respond before the break with Michael McGlinchey having their best chance to equalise.
The New Zealand international found some space on the edge of the box, but his goal-bound shot was blocked by Adam Griffiths allowing goal-keeper Vedran Janjetovic to make a comfortable save.
Sydney were content to sit back and soak up the pressure early in the second half with the visitors continuing to struggle to create any clear openings.
But the Mariners should have equalised just after the hour when Janjetovic fumbled Rose's cross, only for Sainsbury to head the loose ball over the bar from close range.
The let-off seemed to spur the home side and Del Piero went close to doubling the lead 20 minutes from time when he turned past Zac Anderson in the box, but Mat Ryan denied him with a superb save down low to his left.
It took just three more minutes though for the Sky Blues to get the crucial second and give themselves some breathing space.
Chianese, who had only just come on to the pitch for Joel Griffiths, played a delightful one-two with Terry Antonis before racing clear and finishing confidently past Ryan for his first goal of the campaign.
The Mariners tried hard to get back into the contest but when Daniel McBreen and Mitchell Duke both squandered wonderful opportunities late on their fate was sealed.