The Mariners saw their hopes of advancing in the 2014 AFC Champions League take a hit as they suffered a 2-1 defeat away to Beijing Guoan overnight.
The Central Coast Mariners saw their hopes of advancing in the 2014 AFC Champions League take a hit as they suffered a 2-1 defeat away to Beijing Guoan overnight.
Goals from Shao Jiayi and Peter Utaka at the Workers' Stadium sealed a first victory in Group F for the Chinese Super League side, who jump to top spot on five points after Sanfrecce Hiroshima defeated last season's finalists FC Seoul 2-1 earlier on matchday three.
The A-League title holders pulled a goal back from the penalty spot late on through Nick Fitzgerald, but were unable to force an equaliser in the remaining five minutes.
The defeat leaves Central Coast bottom of the group on three points, albeit just one point back from their Japanese and Korean rivals, and two back from Beijing.
The Mariners went into the game on a high after beating Sanfrecce at home last time out, but they bore far more resemblance to the team that struggled to get the ball off Seoul during a 2-0 away defeat in their group stage opener last month.
The first warning signs arrived in the sixth minute, when Nigerian forward Utaka twice advanced into the area, drawing a good low stop from Liam Reddy and then forcing Eddy Bosnar into a desperate saving tackle.
Midfielder Shao then rose unmark to head wide from the resulting corner.
All that the visitors could manage to produce by way of a response was a half-chance volleyed hide and wide by Bernie Ibini in the 30th minute.
Beijing meanwhile continued to threaten. An unmarked Yu Yang headed into the ground when he should have done better, while Reddy was called upon again to tip over a Piao Cheng strike from outside the area.
In first-half injury time Zhang Chengdong's sideways pass teed up Shao, but the former Bundesliga player produced a tame shot which Reddy dealt with easily.
However, the 40-cap China international improved on that disappointing effort a minute later, advancing on goal and dispatching an excellent effort from range which snuck in at the near post.
The Mariners' frustration at going behind boiled over soon after. John Hutchinson and Zhang both entered the referee's notebook after a heated confrontation between players on both sides, sparked by a tackle from behind on Nick Fitzgerald.
The task got tougher for the visitors at half-time, with Beijing coach Gregorio Manzano bringing on South Korean Dae-Sung Ha to partner Darko Matic in midfield.
And although the Mariners did manage to fire a warning shot in the form of an awkward Bosnar free-kick, it was the hosts claimed the all-important second goal.
Shao turned provider on this occasion, slipping in Utaka for the 30-year-old to dribble around Reddy and slot the ball home.
A late Mariners onslaught finally began to produce chances for the away team, and they were awarded a penalty when Chengdong was deemed to have dragged down substitute Isaka Cernak inside the area in the 84th minute.
Former Brisbane Roar man Fitzgerald stepped up to smash home the spot-kick, and that might have made it a nervy finish for the home side, but they were in fact relatively untroubled during the closing stages.
Next up for Central Coast are games away to Melbourne Heart and at home to Western Sydney in the A-League, before the return fixture against Beijing in Gosford on April 1.