Central Coast Mariners continued their solid form in the AFC Cup, making it back-to-back victories in the competition with a 6-3 win over Bali United at home.
Top of Group G heading into the reverse fixtures? Not a bad place to be in if you’re the Central Coast Mariners!
Mark Jackson’s side fought from a goal down to convincingly beat Bali United 6-3 on their home deck, snatching top spot in the group in the process.
A horror own-goal from Mariners keeper Jack Warshawsky saw Central Coast go behind inside the opening twenty minutes, but the reigning Isuzu UTE A-League champions stormed back to come away with a convincing victory against their Indonesian opponents.
Jacob Farrell responded from getting sent off in their 3-0 loss to Adelaide United last Friday with two sensational goals, Marco Tulio chipped in with two of his own from the spot, while Christian Theoharous scored his first in Mariners colours and Kadek Arel Priyatna also added an own-goal.
Cameroonian winger Privat Mbarga added one of his own shortly after half-time for the visitors, while speedster Jefferson Assis fired home a consolation.
Mbarga, however, was busy all night and it was his cross which was mishandled by Warshawsky – who deputised in place of Danny Vukovic – en route to Bali taking an unlikely lead.
The Mariners responded shortly after through Farrell, who fired home an unstoppable long range bomb to bring the scores level, before two penalties in three minutes saw the Mariners take the lead through a Tulio brace.
Tulio now has five goals in the AFC Cup this season, taking himself even with Trent Buhagiar as the highest scoring A-Leagues player in a single AFC competition season, since the 2012/13 season.
Bali hit back after the break through Mbarga, who brought the Indonesian outfit back into the contest with a pinpoint finish into the top corner. However, their resistance was short lived, as the fleet-footed Mariners attack carved through Bali’s defence for two more.
After coming close time and time again, Theoharous finally had his first goal in blue and gold, tapping home from close range, before Angel Torres’ shot was turned in by Bali defender Priyatna.
Farrell added another to make it six goals for the Mariners with a well-hit effort back across the goalmouth following a Torres corner.
The visitors pulled another back through Assis, but it was too little, too late for Bali, who fell to defeat.
Victory on Thursday, along with Stallion Laguna’s 2-2 draw with Terengganu, sends the Mariners top of the group heading into the reverse fixtures, kicking off with a clash away to Bali on November 8.
Central Coast will turn their attention to Macarthur on Sunday, in their first home game of the A-League Men’s season, before facing Bali in the reverse fixture next month.
The talking point
It was a baptism of fire for Jack Warshawsky on Thursday evening.
Deputising ahead of the absent Danny Vukovic, the 19-year-old keeper made a calamitous error en route to Bali’s opening goal. Privat Mbarga’s cross rolled towards Warshawsky, who failed to gather the ball, before it bounced off his foot and into his own net.
Warshawsky didn’t have much to do from a shot-stopping perspective for the remainder of the contest as the Mariners ran away with the victory.
It was Warshawsky’s first game in Asian competition, and second in a Mariners jersey after playing in their Round of 32 defeat to Sydney FC, following his move to Gosford from Western Sydney Wanderers this off-season.
Mariners Football Manager Mark Jackson, however, believes he will learn plenty from the experience and praised his ability to move past the early error.
“When you talk about not having a lot to do, you’re talking about a young man who’s made a mistake early on in the game there and had to deal with that mentally,” he said post-game.
“Maybe shot stopping, he’s not had a lot to do, but psychologically he’s had a lot to do, to deal with that so fair play to him.
“I said that to him at half time because he came back strong, when the balls are going back to him, he show composure and confidence to play out. So I’m really, really pleased for him.
“His teammates went up the other end and scored the goals for him and got him out of that, and that’s what we’re there to do.
“We’re there to be good teammates and help each other out through the tough times. Although physically, he didn’t have much to do, psychologically, I think he made giant strides forward today as a young goalkeeper.”
Jacob Farrell responded brilliantly after his sending off against the Reds, with a mature performance at left-back.
Farrell did most of his damage in the attacking half, bombing up and down the flank all evening, scoring two brilliant goals either side of half-time, along with winning the penalty en route to Tulio’s second goal of the evening.
He will be missed against the Bulls this weekend, but it was exactly the sort of response Mark Jackson would have been hoping for after a difficult performance last Friday.
What this means
Central Coast go into the reverse fixtures in pole position in Group G, but for the time being, the focus turns to the A-Leagues.
The Mariners will look to get off the mark in their first league game since winning the Championship this Sunday against Macarthur FC, before a trip out west to face Perth Glory.
Then, it’s a massive contest against Bali, which will have a major say in how things play out in Group G. Top spot guarantees a place in the next round. Second place, and they will need to have a good enough record to beat out other second placed sides.
An eleven goal boost to their goal difference won’t do their chances any harm, though.