Gui Finkler's sensational double saw Melbourne Victory come from behind to defeat Central Coast Mariners 2-1 on Friday and move within one point of A-League leaders Wellington Phoenix.
Missing five players on national duty, Victory - also without the injured Kosta Barbarouses - were sluggish and fell behind in the 32nd minute after Isaka Cernak headed home.
Cernak, a former Victory player, saw his goal cancelled out five minutes before the break as Finkler curled in an excellent effort from the edge of the penalty area.
And the Brazilian was not done yet, bagging a 77th-minute winner with another curling strike that left Mariners goalkeeper Liam Reddy with no chance. Kevin Muscat's men sit second in the table, one point behind the Phoenix, who they face next week in a mouth-watering clash.
WHAT THEY SAID
"We made it hard for ourselves but end of the day it's the result we needed and that's what we got. It's always disruptive (to make changes) but everyone knows the structure in the team, everyone knows their jobs. The boys that came in were fantastic." - Victory midfielder Leigh Broxham
"We were playing away from home and Victory are a very, very good side but we came down and we put it to them and we were unfortunate to come away with nothing but fair play to them they deserved the points." - Mariners midfielder Isaka Cernak
0-1 (Isaka Cernak, 32')
Cernak - now at his sixth A-League club - reacted quickest after Nick Fitzgerald's header was well-saved by goalkeeper Nathan Coe, nipping in front of Mathieu Delpierre to nod in at the near post from close range.
1-1 (Gui Finkler, 40')
Finkler quickly restored parity with an excellent 20-yard effort that he curled in, via the inside of the right post. The finish was inch-perfect and brought a then-subdued AAMI Park crowd to life.
2-1 (Gui Finkler, 77')
Just when the match seemed set for a draw, Finkler produced more magic, curling a first-time finish past Reddy from inside the penalty area.
Central Coast were well worth their lead, enjoying success down both wings in an impressive first half. And although Finkler levelled before the break, they looked like claiming a well-deserved point as the match went on.
Victory were continually frustrated in their search of a winner, with overhit passes and smart defensive efforts from the Mariners meaning a draw looked the likely result.
Finkler ensured the natives went home happy, though, after Jesse Makarounas fed him, with a delightful first-time strike - that started outside the goal - nestling into the top-right corner.
OPTA DATA KEY STATS
Victory have now won four games in a row against the Mariners for the first time in A-League history. They are also unbeaten in their last six home fixtures against Central Coast.
The Mariners have now scored in each of their last eight trips to Melbourne to face Victory. Cernak's goal was his first in the A-League since scoring for Victory in a 3-0 win over Wellington in March 2012.
The battle between Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Hayden Morton down the left side of Melbourne Victory's attack was enjoyable.
Ben Khalfallah undoubtedly took the opening rounds, with most of Victory's best play coming down the left in the first half, including a mazy run from the Tunisia international that saw him beat four before shooting into the side netting.
It would have been a contender for Goal of the Season had it gone in, but Morton improved after the break and nullified the influence of Ben Khalfallah. And while it was a duel that the Victory man probably won, he did not impact the scoreboard and for that, interim Mariners coach Tony Walmsley would be pleased.
THE FINAL WORD
Now just one point behind Wellington, with a game in hand, Victory will have their eyes on Phoenix's clash with Sydney FC on Sunday. They then travel across the ditch to face Ernie Merrick's side next week. For Central Coast, a trip to the struggling Brisbane Roar on Thursday could see them register just their fifth win of the season.
Melbourne Victory: Coe, Broxham, Ansell, Delpierre, Murnane, Mahazi (Makarounas 69'), Valeri, Finkler, Thompson (Howard 82'), Berisha (Nabbout 89'), Ben Khalfallah
Central Coast Mariners: Reddy, Morton, Anderson, Bosnar, Rose, Hutchinson, Montgomery, Caceres (Trifiro 83'), Cernak, Ferreira (Kalik 91'), Fitzgerald
Scorers: Cernak 32', Finkler 40', Finkler 77'
Red Cards: Nil
Yellow Cards: Broxham 19', Montgomery 20', Anderson 51', Cernak 81'
Conditions: 16C, dry
Attendance: 18,205 @ AAMI Park
Wrap: Melbourne Victory 2 - Central Coast Mariners 1
Gui Finkler's sensational double saw Melbourne Victory come from behind to defeat Central Coast Mariners 2-1 on Friday and move within one point of A-League leaders Wellington Phoenix. Missing five players on national duty, Victory - also without the injured Kosta Barbarouses -
Preview: Melbourne Victory v Central Coast Mariners
Melbourne Victory have the Premiers Plate and the Championship in their sights but Kevin Muscat has lost a host of players to international duty. Can the struggling Central Coast Mariners take advantage and halt their hosts' charge this Friday night at AAMI?