Mariners in dreamland as Simon breaks Phoenix hearts
Matt Simon was the match-winner as the Central Coast Mariners opened up a four-point lead at the top of the A-League following a comfortable 2-0 win against ten-man Wellington Phoenix.
Simon was involved in the decisive moments at WIN Stadium, as David Ball’s dangerous challenge on the 35-year-old frontman resulted in the English striker being shown a straight red card in the 27th minute, leaving the Kiwi club with a mountain to climb.
The Mariners’ all-time top scorer then netted his second of the season with clinical 40th-minute finish after Costa Rica World Cup star Marcos Ureña carved open the Phoenix defence with a precision through ball, and Simon celebrated by racing over to join a group of Valentine’s Day competition winners having a pitch-side picnic.
Ufuk Talay’s side continued to unravel after half-time when substitute centre-back Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, on to replace the injured Josh Laws, dived in to foul Daniel De Silva in the 50th minute and Oliver Bozanic stepped up to score his first A-League goal in five years from the penalty spot.
Battling for for more than an hour with 10 players, Wellington were unable to come close to breaching Alen Stajcic’s well-drilled defence as the exiled New Zealand side fell to a third straight defeat in their temporary home at WIN Stadium in Wollongong.
Central Coast should have added to the score in the closing stages as Bozanic’s dominant midfield performance led his to a third straight victory in 11 days, as their unlikely rise from a three-time wooden spoon outfit to table-toppers continues following a sixth win in eight games this season.
Despite missing midfield enforcer Cameron Devlin and target man Tomer Hemed through injury, Phoenix asserted themselves on the opening exchanges, dominating possession and controlling the tempo. Rene Piscopo was causing Stefan Nigro problems on the Phoenix left but Ulises Davila was not able to reach the Olyroo’s deep swinging cross as the clock ticked past 10 minutes.
Jack Clisby provided the first threat to Wellington, looping a header over the home side’s crossbar from Michal Janota’s delivery, and Matt Simon was soon testing Stefan Marinovic’s reflexes with a vicious, swerving strike from the edge of the area on the quarter hour after the Mariners frontman had made his presence felt with a physical challenge on the All Whites international gloveman.
The Central Coast backline were scrambling after a Wellington corner but Luke DeVere could not divert Piscopo’s cross on target, but Phoenix were in trouble moments later when David Ball flew into a mistimed tackle on Simon and saw a red card for his reckless actions. Ufuk Talay's plans were further scrambled when Josh Laws fell awkwardly on his ankle and was forced to be replaced by Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi.
Oliver Bozanic gave Wellington a scare with a fizzing, 25-yard drive that Marinovic had to punch away in the 33rd minute and the ladder-leaders made the breakthrough five minutes before half-time when Ureña delivered a precision through ball and Simon drifted between defenders and added a composed finish, before celebrating with the Valentine's Day competition winners in the corner of the WIN Stadium pitch.
Introduced at the interval for Janota, Mariners midfielder Josh Nisbet cracked a left-footed strike back off the goalpost less than two minutes after coming off the bench, but the Phoenix's resistance was shattered again in the 50th minute after Daniel De Silva was tripped in the box by Hudson-Wihongi and Bozanic slammed his penalty kick into the roof of Marinovic’s net.
Simon had chance to double his tally as the away side stretched the hosts, with Marinovic making two saves to deny the Central Coast veteran, before Bozanic one again tried his luck from distance without hitting the target. With Simon and the Ureña replaced in the closing stages, Nisbet and fellow substitutes Daniel Bouman and Alou Kuol came close to added an exclamation point but neither could not hit the target.
Next fixtures – Matchweek 9
Adelaide United v Central Coast Mariners
Friday, 19 February 2021
Venue: Coopers Stadium
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEDT
Wellington Phoenix v Western Sydney Wanderers
Sunday, 21 February 2021
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Kick-off: 6.10pm AEDT
Ways to watch
SIMON HILL: The A-League stars with African origins lighting up the 2020/21 campaign
REARRANGED GAMES: A-League 2020/21 Fixture Updates – Matchweek 8
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