Elasi hat-trick fires Victory

Melbourne striker Nathan Elasi scored a brilliant hat-trick as a dominant Victory beat Central Coast 4-1 in the National Youth League at the Veneto Club on Saturday afternoon.

Melbourne striker Nathan Elasi scored a brilliant hat-trick as a dominant Victory beat Central Coast 4-1 in the National Youth League at the Veneto Club on Saturday afternoon.

In stifling hot conditions, Elasi benefited from a superb performance by Hyundai A-League regular Nick Ward, who made a successful return from a golden staph infection that has kept him out since September.

Ward controlled the midfield and set up three of Victory's goals - two to Elasi and one to captain Aziz Behich - while Panagiotis Nikas scored the Mariners' only goal.

The match looked destined for a draw until Behich scored in the 77th minute after a cracking pass from Ward. Behich found himself in plenty of space and despite Mariners goalkeeper Nikodin Matic getting a hand to the shot, he couldn't keep it out.

Three minutes later, the Victory sealed the deal when Ward broke clear down the right flank before finding Elasi with a perfect cross that he easily finished at the far post.

Elasi then completed his hat-trick three minutes later when he calmly slotted past Matic after being played through on goal by Behich.

After a cagey opening, the deadlock was broken in the 41st minute when Elasi fired home after his initial shot cannoned off the post. The striker latched onto Ward's perfectly waited pass, cut inside the defence and then fired a shot into the right upright before reacting quickly to prod home the rebound.

Nikas equalied 20 minutes into the second half when he converted from the spot after his mazy run into the penalty box drew a clumsy challenge from Victory defender Matthew Foschini.

Central Coast's Ahmad Elrich had the first decent chance early on but couldn't hit the target with his shot from the edge of the area, while Brady Smith failed to test Melbourne goalkeeper Mitch Langerak after a great run into the penalty box.

Robbie Kruse had the Victory's best chance of the opening exchanges when he found himself in space on the edge of the penalty area, but his shot went narrowly wide.

Before scoring the opening goal, Elasi had looked dangerous with a powerful shot from distance smartly tipped over the bar from Mariners stopper Nikodin Matic.

After equalising, the Mariners looked the more likely to score with Nikas' cracking free kick just whistling over the cross bar in the 68th minute.

With the heat taking its toll on the players in the final 15 minutes, the game opened up and Ward showed his class to set up the Victory win.

Melbourne Victory 4 (Elasi 41, 80, 83, Behich 77) Central Coast Mariners 1 (Nikas 64p) Crowd: 350 @ The Veneto Club, Melbourne