Mariners clinch double chance

Central Coast Mariners have sewn up second position and the double chance and ended Gold Coast United's slim hopes of the same with a clinical 3-1 win at Skilled Park on Wednesday night.

Central Coast Mariners have sewn up second position and the double chance and ended Gold Coast United's slim hopes of the same with a clinical 3-1 win at Skilled Park on Wednesday night.

All three of the Mariners' goals were the debut senior strikes for National Youth League starlets Bernie Ibini-Isei, Mustafa Amini and Mitchell Duke, who all stepped into the squad to fill the shoes of a host of injured players and never looked out of place, capping off a dominant performance from Graham Arnold's men.

The win ensures that the Mariners will meet premiers Brisbane Roar in the major-semi final, with the first leg likely to be played on Saturday 19 February at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford - but given how they cruised past United they will be confident of going the distance with the men in orange.

With Central Coast needing just a point to secure second spot, the onus was on the hosts to attack and they were in control in the opening stages of the game - until the Mariners struck in the 13th minute with a goal largely against the run of play.

Daniel McBreen and Joshua Rose linked up on the left hand side with a quick one-two and Rose was away on the flank, cutting back to Ibini-Isei who laid on an expert finish to blast the ball into the top of the net.

Eighteen-year-old Ibini-Isei leads the NYL's goalscoring charts but in just his second game at senior level - the first, a 20-minute spell off the bench last season - he showed maturity beyond his tender years in finding the target.

But Gold Coast's own fledgling youngster Chris Harold couldn't hold his nerve from point blank range in the 27th minute.

German midfielder Peter Perchtold floated in a cross that was cleared high in the air over the penalty spot and even as Dina Djulbic took control and laid it on for him, the pacy striker's shot flew well wide of the target.

It only took 10 minutes after that miss for Miron Bleiberg to drag him for fellow striker Andrew Barisic but the change in personnel mattered little as the Mariners had their second five minutes from the main break - and another debut goal, this time from Amini.

It was Rose again who floated in a cross that was dealt with by Adama Traore, but the Ivorian's clearance went straight into the path of Amini who fired a first-time bullet from the top of the box that whizzed past Glen Moss to double their advantage.

Central Coast didn't lift their foot off the pedal after half time, with Trent Sainsbury hitting the woodwork mere minutes after the two sides returned from the sheds.

With his side unable to penetrate a stingy Mariners rearguard, Bleiberg injected former prodigy Tahj Minniecon and the striker showed glimpses of the Tahj of old, with his mazy runs and slick skills giving United a lifeline in a contest that was slipping away from them.

But they could never turn his spark into a fire and were punished in the 67th minute when Oliver Bozanic put Duke one-on-one with Moss, and he kept his cool in slipping the ball home for another goal finished by Central Coast's brigade of youth.

The hosts nabbed a consolation goal six minutes from time after Barisic flicked the ball onto goal machine Shane Smeltz and though the Kiwi made no mistake from close range, there was no danger of a late surge from United.

Bleiberg's men now must end Brisbane's 24-match unbeaten run in Saturday's M1 derby to have any chance of finishing third - but that is a massive ask with the Roar on fire and returning to Suncorp Stadium for the first time since the floods, in front of an expected crowd of 20,000 that will see their side presented with the Premier's Plate.

Gold Coast United 1 (Smeltz 84') Central Coast Mariners 3 (Ibini-Isei 13', Amini 40', Duke 67') Crowd: 2037 at Skilled Park, Robina