Late Sotirio goal sinks Mariners as Phoenix snatch first win
Jaushua Sotirio’s late winner completed a smash and grab raid as the Wellington Phoenix escaped with their first win of the season, 2-1, against the high-flying Central Coast Mariners.
The 25-year-old attacker came off the bench in the 83rd minute and pounced five minutes later, holding off Stefan Nigro's challenge and converting Alex Rufer’s pass, to take a precious three points back to the Phoenix’s temporary home of Wollongong.
Mexican magician Ulises Davila had given the New Zealand outfit an early advantage at a rain-drenched Central Coast Stadium with a superb low strike following some fantastic improvisation by his Israel international strike partner Tomer Hemed.
But the Mariners hit back when Alou Kuol netted his third career A-League goal, all scored this season, after James McGarry’s mistimed jump allowed the 19-year-old to power in a free header in the 41st minute from Daniel De Silva’s corner.
Despite controlling the larger share of possession, Wellington were left clinging on to a share of the points in the closing stages. Alen Stajcic’s side had moved the ball quickly to create a stream of chances in a free-flowing second half, with Kuol spurning an opportunity to write his name up in lights once again from another free header.
But Ufuk Talay’s team survived the onslaught and left the Mariners empty-handed when Sotirio added a composed finish to score his fifth for the club, and first of the campaign, to lift the ‘Nix off the bottom and prevent the Mariners returning to the top of the ladder.
Searching for their first win of the season, Wellington got off to a strong start as James McGarry tried his luck from distance but skewed his shot wide in the opening two minutes. The Mariners asserted themselves on the game with Jack Clisby’s delivery a fraction too high for Matt Simon, before the pair again combined in the eighth minute with the veteran striker breaking through on goal but pulling his effort wide.
Ulises Davila would not make the same mistake in the 14th minute as the Mexican marvel played a tight return pass off Tomer Hemed, with the Israeli international flicking the ball back, and the Phoenix ace drilled a low 25-yard shot that skimming off the wet surface, through a congested penalty area, and into the corner of Mark Birighitti’s goal as the Central Coast gloveman was beaten for only the second time in five games.
The ‘Nix were beginning to dominate possession and their slick one-touch football opened up the Mariners defence in the 26th minute as McGarry’s pass set up Davila to curl a long-range attempt over the crossbar. Cameron Devlin was left cursing on the half hour after failing to connect with David Ball’s dangerous cross, before the hosts responded with Daniel Bouman firing into the side netting from a difficult angle.
The Mariners were under the pump as Davila lashed in a free-kick that Birighitti was forced to parry away, and Clayton Lewis fizzed a shot across goal, but Wellington were left to pay the price for leaving Alou Kuol open in the 42nd minute as the teenager headed in his third goal of the season from Daniel De Silva’s corner. The hosts closed the half on top with Clisby's 30-yard effort palmed away by Stefan Marinovic.
Oliver Bozanic suffered a painful landing on his shoulder before half-time but returned after ‘popping it back’, according to Mariners coach Alen Stajcic. The hosts lost Daniel Bouman to a hamstring injury but they continued to set the tone when Kuol headed a close-range chance off target in the 55th minute after another outstanding Clisby delivery. Ruon Tongyik saw his header blocked with Wellington pinned in their own half.
Wellington were forced to soak up wave after wave of Mariners pressure as the stricken Bozanic lined up a piledriver strike that was saved by the outstretched hand of Marinovic in the 71st minute, and the Kiwi gloveman denied the Central Coast midfielder from distance once again 10 minutes later with another fingertip save with Wellington dropping deeper and deeper.
With the clocking ticking closer to full-time, it seemed the Phoenix had managed to weather the storm and they launched a rare foray forward of their own. Alex Rufer spotted the run of Jaushua Sotirio in the 88th minute and delivered a floated pass, and the substitute showed his physicality to shake off the pursuit of Stefan Nigro, before seizing his moment to deliver a dagger to the heart of the Mariners.
Central Coast Mariners v Melbourne City
Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Venue: Central Coast Stadium
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEDT
Sydney FC v Central Coast Mariners
Monday, 8 February 2021
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Kick-off: 7.10pm AEDT
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